Archive for 2007

Healthy Sexuality

by Jason Stotts

When I was younger, I would often hear the term “dirty mind” derisively used to describe someone who had erotic thoughts. Obviously, this is no more than a base attempt to denigrate sexuality and eroticism.

I, however, do not believe in disparaging natural aspects of humanity.

Proper sexuality is a sign of being a healthy human being. There are fundamentally two kinds of people in the world: the flourishing, whose lives are ascending to a zenith, and the decadent, whose lives are descending to a nadir. Sexuality can be indicative of a healthy life, flourishing, and a life well lived: a sign that one respects and loves oneself and has found another worthy of one’s love and devotion. Sexuality, on the contrary, can also be a way to attempt to deceive oneself and others: it can be a sign of decadence and a thinly veiled attempt to cover this fact by partaking in the sacred act. Sexuality, like all values, can be perverted and turned against life.

There are some goals, let us call them “apparent values”, that appear to be legitimate, but which are not. These are caused by the perversion or misidentification of a legitimate value. These supposed “values” are in fact detriments to their holder: while those who falsely value drugs destroy their minds and bodies, those who falsely value sex destroy their very humanity with its perversion. This punishment is not doled out by a fictitious celestial father-figure, but dealt by their very nature and reality itself. Life exacts a price for decadence. Those who falsely value that which harms their minds, lose their minds. Those who falsely value that which harms their bodies, lose their bodies. Those who falsely value that which is anti-life, get exactly what they asked for – death comes as a fulfillment of their wish for the anti-life.

Sexuality, in the true flourishing sense, is one of the most sacred of acts: it is an affirmation and celebration of oneself, one’s partner, and of existence. Sex, properly conceived, is an act of love. There is more to sex than just the physical act; it is fundamentally a spiritual act as well. Sex is more than just bestial copulating, more than just hedonic indulgence, more than a mere “wriggling of meat” – as it has so uncouthly been called. Sex is a celebration of the life that two people are sharing together and their mutual value to each other.

A healthy sex drive requires a true understanding of the nature of sexuality, self-esteem, pride, and the knowledge that your lover is a good person who will contribute to your flourishing. A “healthy sex drive” is precisely that – healthy. A healthy sexuality indicates that one is not only flourishing in life, but that one knows this and is purposely flourishing, rather than merely doing well in life by chance.

Let us conclude by asking: what kind of person could hate sex? To hate sex is to hate one’s humanity: sex is integral to being human. To hate sex is to be fundamentally mistaken about sex: one cannot hate the good. To hate sex is to hate life: it is unbridled decadence. Thus, the only kind of person who could hate sex is the kind of person who hates life.

On Natures

by Jason Stotts

The nature of any existent is that aspect or attribute which explains the greatest number of characteristics and/or actions of the existent. A “nature” is an epistemological device of identifying existents by their fundamental characteristics. It has no metaphysical existence aside from the facts of reality that allow it to be formed by a person. The rules for identifying natures are as follows:

  1. All inanimate existents that are non-artifactual must be explained in terms of physical constitution, which is ultimately explained in terms of chemical composition.
  2. All inanimate existents that are artifactual must be explained teleologically, since men created them to serve a particular purpose.
  3. All living existents must be explained in terms of survival: what they use to live and how they do it.

The characteristics used in the identification must be those that are fundamental to the existent. A diamond, for example, is certain type of gemstone. It is transparent, it is hard, it can scratch glass, it can have a prism effect on light depending on its cut, and is highly valued by humans for its beauty and as an enduring store of value. Which one of these characteristics is the diamond’s nature? None of these explains the others. This is because the nature of non-artifactual inanimate matter must be given in terms of its physical constitution, ultimately explained in terms of its chemical composition. In this case, it is the unique Carbon bonds that give a diamond all of its characteristics.

Also, we must be careful to determine whether an inanimate object is artifactual; i.e. man-made. A knife is a manmade object used to cut other objects. It can be made out of a wide range of materials and can come in a variety of shapes. A knife can never be explained in terms of its physical constitution because that is not what is fundamental about it. A knife must only be harder than that which it is designed to cut: a piece of string makes a perfect knife for clay. Also, note that a nature does not need to explain all attributes of the existent, but only the fundamental ones.

Furthermore, one can only speak of the nature of the entire existent and not of the nature of its parts. It is the nature of a panther to be a predator. One of the things a panther uses to kill its prey is its claws. What is the nature of its claws? They do not have one; they are a part of a larger entity. While we can talk about their harness or how they are retractable, they can only be understood as a part of a larger entity.

Thus the nature of an existent is the fundamental attribute or aspect by which we can identify an existent.

On The Role of Fiction

by Jason Stotts

Fiction serves a unique purpose in our lives: in it we see whole new worlds, new situations, and new people. We experience something that in the ordinary course of our days we do not get to experience in a pure form. We get to experience life in a microcosm, life under a slide, life without its usual subjective attendant complications.

We see in fiction a stage upon which the actors act out their lives and through this we see similarities to our own lives. We use fiction as a mirror into our own souls so that we can see what our lives would look like to us if we could step back from them and see them from the outside.

Through this we are better able to understand the turmoil around us, better able to understand our own situations, better able to understand our own lives. We use fiction to sort out what we really believe. When we see things in a work of fiction with which we agree, it resonates with us and this resonance causes us to look at our own lives with a different light, a light borne of encapsulated understanding from seeing a principle we agree with in action.

Our lives are led by principles, implicitly, explicitly, sometimes confusedly and contradictorily, yet we are led by principles nonetheless. Often our principles are held as vague abstractions, such as cheating is wrong. Fiction then becomes for us the genesis of the principle from the abstract to the concrete: we see in fiction principles born into a world of their own which allows us to take an objective stance on them and judge them in a way we are often unable to do with our own principles we hold in our real lives. We are better able to judge those things extrinsic to us, better able to see fault in others than ourselves, and better able to judge our own principles when we see them played upon a stage by actors who embody them. When we read in a novel, or see in a play or movie, the characters living their lives through their own principles this gives us the chance to judge our principles against theirs and to see whether our principles hold up to this analysis.

Fiction is a necessary part of our lives because we need this check on our principles, we need to see whether what we believe in still moves us with moral passion when we see others do them on a stage, we need to make sure that we do not live our lives by false principles and false ideas. Fiction becomes the light that casts away the shadows of uncertainty and allows us to look at the unbridled essence of the world and say: “This is what I want my life to be like; it is time to take my destiny into my own hands and make it so!”

The World of Our Dreams

by Jason Stotts

Our world today is permeated by nihilism. It is a black cloak of faith, irrationality and death that is encompassing our world and slowly extinguishing the noble spark of the human spirit. Unfortunately, it cannot be destroyed: there is no way to destroy a nothing. But just as light drives away the shadows, so too can reason rid of us this mindlessness by replacing its vacuousness with true human values.

Consequently, I think that it is time for Objectivists to mobilize, I think we are seeing the final twilight before the coming darkness and soon it will be too late to bring about a change. There is a point, which I think is rapidly approaching, where the tide will be overwhelming and we’ll have to go to ground; where stagnation will overcome achievement and retrogression will begin.

Our economy is already bad and getting worse with every new law. Our schools are teaching religion covertly, our universities are being overrun with an unprecedented resurgence of religion. The intelligent man has always been a minority, but now we seem to be a hunted minority.

I am less concerned with the world’s end – than I am with its beginning. When will it begin? When will we have the world we desire? A world of freedom, of the light of reason, of the glory of man?

We need to mobilize and recreate the world in our ideal, we need to wipe away the scourge of mysticism and erect temples of reason. I think we’re in a great position now with Objectivist organizations like the ARI and various groups around the country. But we need to make ourselves known, even in everyday situations. We need, as a movement, media attention, something high-profile, like suing the government for unconstitutional practices, or something else sensational: perhaps refusing to pay taxes and accept jail time all over the country in protest. Look at the civil rights movement: they risked their life and got the change they needed rolling. Are we too afraid to risk even our comfort?

I’m tired of waiting to live in the world I want, I’m tired of having to suffer through an irrational world. The rage builds inside me for its destruction, the passion mounts for the world of my dreams: the world I can live in, the world I can love in, the world that celebrates life. It’d be so easy to incite the right kind of person into action, why don’t we? Why don’t we mobilize them? There is no one else to do it.

Even if we only pass the flame on to one more person, think of how quickly the conflagration will spread!

Talk to people who respect you, they’ll listen to you. It wouldn’t take much effort to pass the flame to them, to harden them to what needs to be done, not for “society”, but for each of our individual lives.

Imagine living the rest of your life knowing that the radiant world around you is the one you helped to create, that it was by your deed and will that the history of the world changed. The time will never be right – we must make it right. It’s not like the southerners wanted to give rights to blacks; the blacks demanded them. The world will not change for us; we must change it. The change has to take place like this; there is no other way for it to happen.

The worst thing we have to lose is our lives and to live knowing that you upheld your ideals in a valiant struggle to reclaim, that yours was the courage it took to change the world, that yours was the integrity of a total dedication, that it was your will alone that was what was needed to create your dream – how can we not fight for this? Are our lives worth as much if we don’t, even if we lose them?

The author Terry Goodkind said that “Your life is yours, rise up and live it!” Isn’t it high time we did so? The philosopher Ayn Rand said: “Those who fight for the future live in it today”. Wouldn’t you rather live in the world of your dreams than the world that stifles them?

I’d rather fall in a radiant descent into the daybreak of man than live to witness its final sunset.

Don’t waver on your moral ideals, saying it’s a pleasant dream, but this is the real world. It is precisely because this is the real world that we need our dreams. Ours is the way of life and of right, let us never take up the cause of our enemies against ourselves.

Something inside me has broken today and I know that I will never be the same. The issue is too poignant now. I can see my life in the harsh glare of truth and I cannot allow the shadows of doubt and fear to once again touch my soul. I must either turn my back on my ideals or wallow in hypocrisy. Yet, I cannot permit myself the latter, as long as I wish to live.

Do you feel it in your own soul? The fire? The fear? The burgeoning sense of expectation, the distant vision of the world as it should be and will be? Why shouldn’t we be the ones to usher it in? Why shouldn’t we take the world upon our shoulders and hold it aloft, letting the warm glow of the sun of reason burn away the shadows of humanity’s dark past? The golden rays of truth will dissolve the black quagmire of faith.

You know the issue as clearly as I do; you understand what our continued inaction entails: the slow death of our souls, spark by irreplaceable spark. Now is the time for us to rise to our feet and proclaim our pride in being men!

My soul burns with the passion of a thousand suns, my soul aches with the pain of a rational mind living in an irrational world, my soul shrinks from the compromise of a world created on half-truths and fear. It is fear that has created our world, the fear of independent thought, the fear of independent judgment, the fear of standing on your own judgment and the fear of falling should you make a mistake. Should we trade the ability to stand as men for the safety of crawling on our bellies? Should I flee instead of fight? Should I let my values wither in the face of no more than my fear of my own independence? Should I shackle myself to my weakness?

Every day that passes is one more day we lose of our precious lives. But every person we convince is one step closer to the world of our dreams. It’s that easy, one person at a time.

We can achieve the world of our dreams.

What Causes Sexual Attraction? (Revised)

by Jason Stotts

The issue of sexual desire is one of the great mysteries of the ages; it is a phenomenon that has persisted since before the Greeks, a phenomenon as old as sexuality itself. The issue, at first, seems as though it should be painfully obvious: have not all of us experienced sexual desire? Yet, for most, introspection becomes revelation: few can explain why they are attracted to some and not to others. This, then, is our purpose here – to explain the nature of sexual attraction and its causes. We must begin in the only place possible to us, the brute fact of sexual attraction.

Let us say that you see a beautiful woman and you are instantly sexually attracted to her. Now, what if you were told that this same woman had a deadly disease that is easily sexually transmitted, would you feel the same? What if, instead of having a deadly disease, this woman were the mother of three children; would you be more or less attracted to her than you were initially? What has changed about the woman?

Let us say that now you see a rather nondescript man and you feel no attraction to him. Would you suddenly find yourself attracted to him if you found out he was an extremely popular musician? What if you were dying of cancer and found out that this man had just found the cure that would save you and countless others; would you find him arousing then? Did anything change about the man?

What if you meet a person through correspondence, whether by letter or online, and you are very attracted to his intelligence, his wit, and his ability to see the best in every situation, but find out (upon meeting him in person) that he is also hideous in appearance, would this affect your attraction? What if, instead of being hideous, he instead lied about his gender, would this affect your attraction? What changed about the person?

It’s clear that there is something strange going on here: attractions that appear at first to be solely physical are either heightened or destroyed by intellectual judgments, while attractions that appear at first to be solely intellectual are either heightened or destroyed by physical considerations. The issue is not whether, your personal attraction actually changed, but the fact that such change is possible based on different kinds of judgments. Clearly, there is some connection between judgments and sexual attraction.

One should carefully note that I have just shown that there is a connection between judgments and sexual attraction: an obvious, but historically vehemently denied, connection. Perhaps it’s due to the immediacy of the response or perhaps it’s due to poor introspective skills; either way, few people recognize the element of judgment in sexual attraction until it is pointed out for them. Thankfully, once the aspect of judgment is elucidated, most people are able to introspect on their own situations and see that it is indeed operative in their own lives. To say that judgment is operative in sexual attraction is merely to find a starting point – the apparent profundity of the position lasts until one realizes that judgments are not irreducible.

It’s clear that judgments can be based on different things: above we saw judgments based on beauty, on intelligence, on gender, on fame, et cetera. In each judgment, an individual is judged according to his possession, or lack, of certain characteristics. These characteristics are either values or disvalues to the judge – consequently, they are either pursued or avoided. Clearly attraction is based primarily on a specific kind of judgment: value judgments.

A value is that which promotes our lives; a disvalue is that which retards our lives. Given that we are mortal agents, we must identify values and act to acquire and secure them for ourselves; failing in this endeavor is literally deadly. Evaluation is the particular type of judgment that deals with values; it can be performed either consciously (explicitly) or sub-consciously (implicitly). Conscious evaluation is done by identifying an existent or state of existence, judging whether this thing would improve or retard one’s life, and then acting to either pursue it as a value or avoid it as a disvalue. Yet in our fast-paced, dynamic lives, we do not always have the leisure to analyze the situation sufficiently to render a conscious judgment. Consequently, by the time that we are adults, we have become so adept at quick value judgments that we rarely need to perform this process consciously. This subconscious evaluation is based on prior value judgments that we have made and is experienced instantaneously as an emotion.

All emotions are the existential experience of our automatic value judgments. When we experience an emotion, we are experiencing an instantaneous result of prior value judgments. We are judging, albeit implicitly and instantly, that the object of our emotion would either be a value or disvalue in our lives. Because of the immediacy of our emotions, it is easy to think of them as unanalyzable primaries. However, we can analyze them in terms of the antecedent value judgments upon which they are based. For instance, if a dog attacks a child when young and injures him, then the child will fear dogs when he gets older. Clearly this emotion can be changed by rational reflection, i.e. if this person realizes that not all dogs are hostile, but this person will grow up to be afraid of dogs, unless he consciously changes this judgment. While this example is of a simple emotion resulting from the judgment of only one experience, most emotions are more complex than this and have many antecedent judgments. Indeed, even an emotion as complex as sexual attraction can be understood in terms of antecedent judgment.

To whom a particular person is attracted will depend upon his particular antecedent judgments, but we can easily show some general ways in which attraction operates. Let us say that we find a woman who is attracted to the sight of a man’s muscular back. Were we to ask her why she was attracted to this, she might be able to tell us or, more likely, she would not know. This attraction could be based on her thinking that a muscular back means that her lover can protect her. Alternatively, she might think that a strong back reflects a strong work ethic. It could also be that a strong back reminds her of her first lover who was the first male in her life to treat her as a woman and not as a child. The point here is not to determine why our example is attracted to muscular backs, but rather to show that all of us already think about attraction in terms of antecedent judgments. If our friend expresses attraction to a person to whom we do not feel attracted, our first response is always “what do you see in her?” We want an explanation in terms of value judgments.

However, sexual attraction is rarely so simple as to be based on a single feature. Most people have a collection of physical characteristics that they find aesthetically pleasing, certain character traits they desire, and a certain similar way of viewing life. If asked to explain why a particular man is arousing, a woman might not be able to tell us, but with careful questioning we would see that her attraction is based on a very large set of criteria. Indeed, sexual attraction is rarely based on either physical or psychological characteristics alone, but some combination of the two. Of course, a person’s attraction to certain individuals will be entirely based on his past experience and judgments, and we do not have direct access to these things. This, however, does not concern us because we are not trying to understand why person A finds person B arousing, but rather we are seeking to understand the operation of sexual desire itself.

Thus we have seen that sexual desire is the result of a person’s antecedent value judgments and it reflects characteristics that the person judges to be desirable. Yet, we have not come to the limit of inquiry quite yet. Although we cannot make exact claims about who will desire whom, we can make very precise claims about whom certain types of people will desire based on their underlying philosophy.

Airport Epiphany

by Jason Stotts

I was at Port Columbus Airport (CMH) last night and realized something interesting: there is no reason to ever put up a broken escalator sign, it’s more appropriate to just say “currently stairs”.

Review: Crosspoints

by Jason Stotts

Crosspoints: A Novel of Choice
by Alexandra York

In Crosspoints, Alexandra York weaves the story of three people whose passion for their work may or may not be the result of unacknowledged premises: Leon, whose artistic fame is rivaled only by the price of his commissions; Tara, whose passion for archaeology is driven by her need to find gods to look up to; and Dimitrios, world famous archeologist, and Tara’s mentor, whose interest in the past is being eclipsed by his desire for the present. The novel revolves around the events that will change the lives of all three people and will introduce each to himself.

I found the book to be a dramatic portrayal of the consequences of ideas. York’s characterization is superb and I couldn’t help but feel anguish for mistakes, anticipation for resolution, and joy at achievement. York has achieved the all too rare distinction of having written a true novel, with characters I’d actually be interested in meeting in real life.

I strongly recommend this book.

Holidays: Altruism’s Corruption of the Holy

by Jason Stotts

Recently I made a surprising discovery: my friend Karen’s favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. This rather astonished me as I had never before heard anyone identify the Fourth as her favorite holiday. It’s not that I’m stunned by the choice of days – the Fourth is a most deserving day for celebration: a secular celebration of freedom, rationality, and the greatest country in the world. No, it’s not that I thought her choice unworthy; rather I was surprised that a religious person would identify this secular holiday as her favorite.

This discovery surprised me because I knew that Karen is a Christian; I would have thought that she would pick a favorite holiday that was more consistent with her religious convictions. Realistically, the only people I would have expected to declare the Fourth as their favorite holiday would be Objectivists – people who understand the value of our country and what it represents in the course of human development.

Intrigued, I questioned her about her choice and was gratified when she paused and gave the question serious consideration. She told me that the reason why she likes the Fourth so much is because she is not obligated to get gifts for people that she does not want to and she only has to spend time with the people she loves and wants to be with. In effect, she told me that self-interest was the proper modus operandi and that she was only happy when she was acting in her own rational self-interest – which was why she hated the other holidays, they all entailed sacrifice.

This is perhaps one of the most poignant cases I’ve seen of the dire necessity of philosophy in life and the consequences of its absence or perversion. Through something as simple as holidays, Karen was starting to recognize the evil of Altruism and the good of Egoism. Her religion, accepted at an age before she had even gained control of her rational and cognitive faculties, had crippled her mind by corrupting her most fundamental premises. Left in a position where one knows that something is not as it should be because he feels that something is wrong that he thinks should be right is a deadly position for many.

Instead of questioning their contradictory premises, many people would instead begin to question themselves – since they “know” that it is wrong to act in their own self-interest and yet they only feel happy when they do, they began to regard themselves as evil. However, the trap is composed of nothing more than mistaken beliefs. Instead of starting with the premise that acting self-sacrificially is right, ask yourself why it is right. If you can’t answer the question of why it is right, then you’re certainly not justified in believing that it is right. Floating abstractions are worse than ignorance because ignorance is at least honest.

Through most of the history of the Philosophy it was taken as a given that man had to act self-sacrificially – it was only the beneficiary that was contested. The simple fact that man could live for himself seemed to escape the notice of these purveyors of death. Holidays, however, are supposed to be celebrations – and celebrations are life-affirming: no one would celebrate the fact that he had a debilitating disease. We do, however, celebrate the good things in life like graduations, weddings, new jobs, etc.

It’s through the perversion of morality via Altruism and the destruction of legitimate concepts such as “holiday” that this situation has arisen. By turning words that should be employed to praise the nobility of Man into words that are reserved for otherworldly father figures, Altruism has taken reverence for life and tried to substitute its antithesis. Why do we hate buying gifts for people whom we don’t really like and don’t want to be around? Clearly this is against our self-interest. If I do not like someone, I am not going to want to give him a gift – I either don’t value him or I value him less than the value of the gift. Yet Altruism would require us to sacrifice our self-interest and give the gift anyway – but this only causes ill feelings all around as everyone senses that acting contrary to their self-interest is wrong, while at the same time they feel that they are trapped and have no choice but to act self-sacrificially anyway.

In order to fix the seeming paradox of holidays we have to remind ourselves that if we want to be happy we must identify what this means and work to achieve it. We must question our premises and challenge our most basic assumptions – “why?” must become our credo. We must reclaim the words that have been stolen and perverted. We have to overcome the privation left to us by the betrayal of our philosophic forefathers and seek guidance from ourselves.

In order to live a moral life we must learn that Egoism is the path to Happiness: our lives are our responsibility and if we want to be happy we must concern ourselves with our own interests. We must be self-reliant and never ask another to sacrifice for us and never sacrifice ourselves for another.

In order to live a moral life we must throw off the chains of Altruism. All of our actions either further our life or diminish it – there are no other choices. If we want to live and be happy, we must recognize that Altruism is decadence. Self-sacrifice is clearly decadent; it asks us to renounce our judgment and our life. Duty demands that we purposefully act decadently; it asks us to willing and jovially relinquish our lives. Do you now see the monstrosity of Altruism, lauded as the supposed salvation of man? Sure, it can save us – from life.

There are so many ways in which we can take our lives back from the black pit of death; the most important is to merely recognize the nature of the struggle and what’s at stake. After this, all we need to do is recognize small changes we can make in our lives – such as with holidays.

Reclaiming holidays would require no more than for all of us to sever them from their religious basis and celebrate the values in our lives. Instead of sacrificing ourselves at the holidays, let us instead celebrate them with the people we love and want to see. Instead of getting gifts for everyone, let us get them for those we value. Let us turn holidays back into celebrations of life.