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Benevolent Universe

The Early Ayn Rand, in a story preface by Peikoff:
“Good Copy” reminds us of another crucial aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: her view that suffering is an exception, not the rule of life. The rule, she held, should not be pain or even heroic endurance, but gaiety and lighthearted joy in living. It is on this premise that “Good Copy” was written.

... Their objection was not to the story’s flaws but to its essential spirit. “It is so unserious,” the criticism went. “It doesn’t deal with big issues like your novels; it has no profound passions, no immortal struggles, no philosophic meaning.”

Miss Rand replied, in effect: “It deals with only one ‘big issue,’ the biggest of all: can man live on earth or not?”

She went on to explain that malevolence—the feeling that man by nature is doomed to suffering and defeat—is all-pervasive in our era; that even those who claim to reject such a viewpoint tend to feel, today, that the pursuit of values must be a painful, teeth-clenched crusade, a holy but grim struggle against evil. This attitude, she said, ascribes far too much power to evil. Evil, she held, is essentially impotent (see Atlas Shrugged); the universe is not set against man, but is “benevolent.” This means that man’s values (if based on reason) are achievable here and in this life; and therefore happiness is not to be regarded as a freak accident, but, metaphysically, as the normal, the natural, the to-be-expected.

Philosophically, in short, the deepest essence of man’s life is not grave, crisis-ridden solemnity, but lighthearted cheerfulness.
This particularly stood out to me:
even those who claim to reject such a viewpoint [malevolent universe] tend to feel, today, that the pursuit of values must be a painful, teeth-clenched crusade, a holy but grim struggle against evil.
lots of people are scared of embracing FI/reason/etc, they think of it like a holy but painful struggle. that's so very wrong. there's nothing to be afraid of. values do have a chance in this world. try for it.

reminds me of The Virtue of Selfishness, "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?":
And then, on some gray, middle-aged morning, such a man realizes suddenly that he has betrayed all the values he had loved in his distant spring, and wonders how it happened, and slams his mind shut to the answer, by telling himself hastily that the fear he had felt in his worst, most shameful moments was right and that values have no chance in this world. [my emphasis]
values do have a chance. and like the tramp who steals a ride on Dagny's train says in Atlas Shrugged, make a try for it:
I think that it's a sin to sit down and let your life go, without making a try for it.

Elliot Temple on October 19, 2015

Comments (10)

The tramp probably died. Cherryl died. Eddie died.

Leo at 10:31 AM on October 20, 2015 | #4247
> lots of people are scared of embracing FI/reason/etc, they think of it like a holy but painful struggle. that's so very wrong. there's nothing to be afraid of.

I do try for it. But it is a painful struggle.

It's not painful every day. Some days I enjoy the pursuit of reason.

But some days it's torture and I just want to hide from my mind. I try not to give in, to work through the torture my doubts and conflicted ideas inflict on me and find certainty again. Sometimes I succeed and am free to enjoy it, but too often I fail and seek escape from reality.

I fail less often than I used to. I'm resolving conflicts faster, recovering my will to be honest faster. I'm making progress, but there are a lot of moments of pain between the moments of joyous progress.

I don't think reason is a painful struggle when you're already there. But getting there through a mess of anti-rationality is. That's what anti-rational ideas are, right? Bad ideas that hurt you for challenging them.

> values do have a chance in this world. try for it.

I agree with this though. I wouldn't be trying if I didn't.

Anonymous at 12:58 AM on October 21, 2015 | #4254
> and find certainty again

Eh. I couldn't think of any better word but this is a poor choice.
"and resume solving conflicts" is perhaps better

> The tramp probably died. Cherryl died. Eddie died.

Cheryl killed herself (gave up on reason)
The others might not have died. Eddie might have fixed the train or found some other way to safety. The tramp - why do you think he probably died?

But that's beside the point. People dying doesn't mean good values don't have a chance.

It means (at most) that good values are not a guarantee of survival.

Anonymous at 3:29 AM on October 21, 2015 | #4255
> Cheryl killed herself (gave up on reason)

She killed herself because she had no other way out. She let evil ruin her life.

Cherryl understanding evil enlightened didn't make it better for her. It made it worse. This is the part of the message of the story you fail to understand.

I also feel I have no other way out. I am stuck in a limbo.

> The others might not have died. Eddie might have fixed the train or found some other way to safety.

Eddie had no knowledge or means to fix the train or even hunt a rabbit.

> The tramp - why do you think he probably died?

Because he was left behind. They weren't chosen by John Galt. They weren't good enough.

Another thing I don't understand about this "benevolent universe" concept is that FI sees the world outside it as quite a malevolent place. So there's some contradiction here. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding something.

Leo at 10:47 AM on October 21, 2015 | #4257
Relevant for all those who agree with Elliot http://lesswrong.com/lw/m1/guardians_of_ayn_rand/"

Anonymous at 4:19 AM on October 22, 2015 | #4259
Oxford boy, is that you?

Elliot is not a closed system Objectivist. He likes Popper. Why do you think this article refers to him?

Also, there's no criticism whatsoever of Ayn Rand's philosophy in this article.

Anonymous at 4:45 AM on October 22, 2015 | #4260
I didn't post the original link & don't know why the OP thought it was relevant to Elliot.

The OP explicitly said that it was relevant to "all those who agree with Elliot". Which is of course a set that includes Elliot himself, though I don't know if that was intentional.

I take the primary relevance to be to other people who agree with Elliot. And I take the message to be: don't treat Elliot as an authority, as some of Ayn Rand's followers treated her.

I agree with Elliot sometimes, disagree sometimes, and I was already aware not to treat him as an authority.

I've seen times when people treat Elliot as an authority, and times when he tells them not to do that.

As the linked article points out, explicitly telling people not to do it and people actually not doing it are different things.

I see the danger of inner circles, insiders and outsiders, etc. also.

So is the lesson of the article good to keep in mind for those who think Elliot is right about some (or all) controversial subjects? Sure.

Is it reason not to read and consider and discuss arguments made by Elliot, Rand, or anyone else, and agree with them when you think they're right? No.

Is it reason not to participate on FI? No.

PAS at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2015 | #4261
> I agree with Elliot sometimes, disagree sometimes, and I was already aware not to treat him as an authority.

The way you say this you make it seem like you do it arbitrarily.

Leo at 5:31 PM on October 22, 2015 | #4262
> The way you say this you make it seem like you do it arbitrarily.

Why?

Anonymous at 2:55 AM on October 23, 2015 | #4263
Relevant for the person who linked to lesswrong:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Passion-Ayn-Rands-Critics/dp/1930754671/

Anonymous at 5:10 AM on October 29, 2015 | #4363

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)