Archive for September, 2005

A Retrospective

by Jason Stotts

Today after taking another practice LSAT I decided to go home for a visit – both because I had not been home in over a month and also because my brother is leaving tomorrow to move to Augusta Georgia. It’s a rather weird experience to have your little brother move 650 miles away to start a new career (albeit as a store manager for one of my uncle’s chicken restraints).

Well, since I’ve been gone my aunt (with whom I used to live) has sent my old stuff from her house over to my mom’s house, meaning that when I got home I had the happy task of trying to sort through lots of old clothes, papers, and assorted other things.

I must admit it was amusing to see some of my old clothes that I hadn’t seen in years – although some of them made me want to cringe ever so slightly.

As to the assorted others things – it’s funny how you keep things that at the time seem valuable or seem as though they may be valuable in the future. Turns out that most of the crap I kept was not, nor will it ever be, valuable.

The papers, however, did hold my interest for awhile – for in them I found an avenue to my past and to memories which had not seen the light of day in quite some time. I found old papers I had written in high school and old papers from freshman year of college. I also found a couple things that when I recognized them for what they were sent a shiver through my body.

The first thing that I found was an essay by Kim (the first betrayal) on how her and I would be life long friends and that there was nothing in this world that could stop our friendship and love for each other – ironically it was less than a year after this that she forsook her life and my friendship.

The second set of things which I found that sent me reeling into the past was a box of old pictures of me and Katy, some of them from oh so long ago in my sophomore year of HS when we first fell in love. Accompanying these poignant pieces were old notes from her to me – notes in which she lamented her condition and professed her undying love for me. These were quite bittersweet for me, for on the one hand I will always have those memories of that past which will always be able to bring a smile to my face with their simple passion and naïve sense that nothing could be more appropriate in the world than our happiness. But, on the other hand these mementos served to remind me of exactly what I had lost over the years. First the innocence and certainty are gone from me – replaced by a sense of almost apathetic resignation nowadays. Second, and perhaps most obviously, is the fact that that relationship which once was, no longer is.

I must admit that while these recollections brought back some painful feelings for me – it was not near as severe as I would have expected and it was more of a sense of loss in the past and not a present loss. Hopefully this means I’m finally getting over everything.

One of the things that all these memories sparked in me was the vast difference between the relationship I had with Katy back then and what came about later. Somewhere along the line it went from being a blissful loving relationship, to a power struggle, and then to a dominance relationship with one of us always playing catch up.

Well, if you could keep up with that rambling little story, then I guess you know that it’s an interesting time of transition in my life and if I manage to persevere through this, then certainly I can make it through anything.

I only wonder whether the course on which I find myself is the right one…

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The Morality of the “Bigger, Better, Deal”

by Jason Stotts

This piece was written this summer and was revived due to a discussion we had at this week’s Objectivist Club meeting. I’m not sure any longer that I agree with the stance advocated in this piece, so think of this as an interesting starting point for discussion, but not as my actual position

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The Morality of the “Bigger, Better, Deal”
-or- An Objectivist Disagrees with Orthodoxy

When reading Atlas Shrugged, one is confronted with the heroine’s (Dagny Taggart) search for a true hero as expressed in her romantic relationships. She starts with Francisco D’Anconcia – the man so full of potential that at that point he had only been able to actualize little of its true extent. She later moves on to Hank Rearden – the man who knows how to do things and do them well. Finally, she winds up with John Galt – who is of course the hero of the story and the man who becomes the iconic ideal for an Ayn Rand hero.

Now the question that I want to address is not specific to this book or this context, although I will draw from this as an example, it is my intention to arrive at the underlying moral principles regarding what I term BBD syndrome. Specifically BBD syndrome is when one is not content in a relationship if one knows that there is potentially a BBD, a bigger better deal (i.e. there exists a better person). More loosely I will use this term to designate a person who is not satisfied in a relationship not because of any flaws in the relationship itself, but rather because of an assumed potential for a better partner.

Now, the issue is that, like in the story, some people will go from one relationship to another with the only provocation needed is to observe a better partner and we need to investigate whether it is moral for one to do so.

In the story, when Dagny is with Hank, she is very much in love with him and finds herself very attracted to him – an attraction that becomes a relationship on both a physical and spiritual level. But, when Dagny meets John for the first time, she immediately falls in love with him and forgets Hank for him, even though at this point Hank is risking his life trying to find her.

Let me add another example here so that we may have a more clear cut case. Let us assume that there are two people in a relationship J and K, and that this relationship is a good one with very few problems and many positives. Now, consider the implications if K left J because she thought that there existed a potential for a better partner and she was determined to find this potential person.

Both examples are clear cases of one person leaving another: in the first it is for a specific person, in the second it is for a potential person – yet in both cases the person leaving did so because they hoped to find something better.

Now what can we say about such people? What sort of moral analysis do we have to offer to this situation?

My first inclination is to decry the actions of the people doing the leaving on the grounds that being in a relationship implies that one has some commitment to one’s word given to the other person, to the trust that one built up in that other person, and to the relationship that one is abandoning (provided that it had no serious problems or that the good greatly outweighed the bad).

My second inclination is to say that if we allow such action as moral on principle, then there would be no basis to stay in a relationship because all one would have to do is observe some other person who is better in some aspect. Let us say that one went through a number of relationships in the manner described above until she found the “best” person out there and was with this person for years, until she observes someone new that is better in some respect above the current interest and then she leaves her current partner for this new man. I ask: What is there to stop such a malicious chain? Given the acceptance of this principle will people ever have any reason to stay in a relationship? Wouldn’t such a principle destroy the very idea of a committed relationship? These questions seriously disturb me and I think them warranted given that we are speaking of principles of action and in particular what sorts of things are permissible for relationships.

Let me just say that it seems absurd to me to leave a good relationship with someone who loves you merely for the potential to find something better. Such a potential may or may not actualize, but either way there still remains the fact that you destroyed a perfectly good relationship and caused much suffering to another merely on speculation.

I think part of the problem that people need to recognize is that the word “best” is a relative term and an objective term. By this I mean that one can only be “best” in relations to others – if there is only one ball it is neither the best nor the worst, it is the only one (it would be absurd to claim it was the best and the worst at the same time). It is also objective because the standard of comparison can be objective. One knife is better than another (in a teleological sense), one person is better than another (in a moral sense), one actor better than another (in the sense of skill) – all these things presuppose the fact that there is an objective telos for things by which we can measure their success and/or failure.

When a woman is looking for a better man she needs to realize that this implies that this man is in some respect better than her current partner, however just because one man is better than another objectively in skill or morally, this does not make him better for her. In a relationship you are not looking to date the best person possible in some abstract objective sense – that person may be a real ass who you don’t get along with. In a relationship you are looking for the best person who is also the best person for you!

Let me end by saying that I do not think it is morally permissible to just jump from relationship to relationship – I think that one is obligated to a relationship to which one has committed oneself until such time as that relationship proves untenable and/or problematic.

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Sometimes we wish the object of our love to be happy away from us.

~Aristotle (1245b26)

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“Philanthropists” are not Philanthropists

by Jason Stotts

So when someone says that they are a “philanthropist”, what does that mean to you? Does it mean someone who is selfless and cares for others, someone who does community work, someone who helps needy people, or does it mean someone who loves Man?

If you said the last one then you’re right, otherwise you’re using a stolen concept.

You see, “philanthropist” literally means “a lover or Man”, a person who values Man and who wants Man to succeed in his endeavors. I am of course referring to Man as the species, not the gender…people who love man the gender are called women.

Anyway, a person who is typically called a “philanthropist” usually has the type of mentality that says “this person cannot help themselves so must be cared for”. This however, is a horrible mistake. It is a violation of Rule 2 (The greatest harm can result from the best intentions) because by “helping” someone in this way, you destroy their ability and/or drive to help themselves.

Part of what determines the kind of person that we are is our independence and our ability to care for ourselves. A person who is dependent upon others and who is unable to take care of themselves is not autonomous and is less of a person than one who can. Just as a child is not a full person (partly for their dependence and partly for their lack of development), a person who cannot take care of themselves is deficient and not a full person. It is for this reason that people who are mentally retarded are considered to be less than full people, they are not cognitively developed properly and cannot take care of themselves.

So, the point of that digression is that people typically called philanthropists are actually hurting people in many cases and as such cannot be considered lovers of Man.

Let us be true Philanthropists and advocate the adoption of a rational objective system of Morality and be proud of our nature as humans, there are no nobler creatures in all existence.

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Why Would We Even Want Relationships?

by Jason Stotts

It seems that even though I have been struggling out of darkness and into the light of day, there are still moments which are covered in shadows – although thankfully these are becoming more rare. One of the pleasant things about coming back out into the light is that a lot of the fuzziness that had been in my mind is dissipating. For awhile I was not myself and I fear that I am not fully recovered, yet the recognition of the problem is the most important step to recovery.

So, while in one of these darker moments, there were times when I had to pose the very question “Why would we even want relationships anyway?” But while I’ve had to seriously ponder this question in my darker moments, the answer is truly quite simple.

We want relationships because we want what any normal person wants, we want to be happy. This is why we seek companionship – there is great pleasure in being with a good person.

We want a significant other who is our best friend, who means the world to us, and is a good kisser as well ;). We want love – we want to find someone who upholds our values and who loves us in return for the same reasons. We want someone who makes the world seem brighter and more fun, who makes the mundane extraordinary, who makes going even someplace dull into an adventure. We want someone with whom we feel completely comfortable, as if they were the other half of us that we had been missing. We want someone to give our hearts to and who will hold ours safely as we hold theirs. We want all this because there is of course great selfish pleasure in having someone to call your own, someone who is there for you, someone to love and who loves you in return.

I shall end with a quote from me, which I just came up with and happen to like. 🙂

Let us not fear for the future and instead be happy in the present, for it is eternally the present and what better time is there to be happy than now?

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William James on Habit

by Jason Stotts

The following if from William James’ The Principles of Psychology (1890), Chapter 4 – “On Habit”; their appearance here is not me condoning Pragmatism, but I think that there is some very useful information here. Note that these passages are not contiguous in the piece and have been excerpted so the relevant context may be missing.

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[…] in the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall re-enforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

[…] Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right.

We must be careful not to give the will so stiff a task as to insure its defeat at the very outset; but, provided one can stand it, a sharp period of suffering, and then a free time, is the best thing to aim at,

Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.

There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.

The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.

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