A Major Trend in 2017

Welcome to the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. It has been a year for the history books, from Trump’s inauguration to #Metoo to sex scandals plaguing politics and pop-culture to new scientific and technological discoveries to new Star Wars and new Thor to so many other good and bad things, it seems hard to identify any connecting or integrating thread behind the good and bad events of this past year; however I submit that there is at least one thread that ties all these disparate events together. That thread is the fundamental idea of how individuals believe they should lead their own individual life across its entire span.

In the following post, I will breakdown the 3 primary classifications of how I see a variety of individuals leading their life. At the outset I will input my standard disclaimer and two other caveats: very, very rarely have I actually observed someone fully, consistently, and with conscious intent conduct themselves in a ‘pure’ form of any of the following 3 categories; rather, I observe a mixture of all three in the total sum of an individual’s actions, but the majority of categorizations that I observe are the most damaging to an individual’s life and concerning to those whom value individual human life. Additionally, these observations I have accumulated over the past few years; however it is only recently that I have acquired sufficient understanding of the philosophical, moral/ethical, and psychological mechanisms underlying and driving these phenomena.

The first category that I have noted I describe as self-sacrificial. This refers to an individual who takes actions that, irrespective of their intentions, have the objective and long-term outcome of a net loss to the actor i.e the net total sum [both material and spiritual] of any particular action is a negative for that individual. This means that the person is acting in such a way as to sacrifice their values. This means one of two things: either they act to give up a value that is of higher value than what they receive in return for their act [if they get anything in return at all!] or that which they give up can be objectively evaluated to be a higher value than what was received (as compared to the former which may or may not be an objective evaluation of the transaction). As a simple example, say person A gives up 1 American dollar to a random stranger and receives absolutely nothing in return. This is a self-sacrificial action because that person gives up a positive value of $1.00 and receives absolutely nothing in return; hence a net sum loss [assuming that the giving did NOT generate a higher emotional value than the material value given up]. In mathematical terms, one would express this as 0–1=-1. Thinking this way might strike one as utilitarian in notion and to an extent it is; however the underlying principle of rational self-interest indicates a deeper philosophical/ethical meaning as to why acting in this manner is so bad. However I submit that this simple example reveals the negative nature of acting in this way, and the principle of rational self-interest [as formulated by Ayn Rand in The Objectivist Ethics] provides the comprehensive explanation of why one should NOT act in this manner, assuming one values one’s own life and is committed to striving towards and achieving rational values and enhance one’s own individual human flourishing. Therefore, I submit that it is this type of action that should be avoided, assuming one’s standard of morality is one’s own rational self-interest and individual human flourishing.

That being said, there are still two other modes of acting that I have observed that each require their own discussion and analysis.

The second category I describe as self-respecting or self-actualizing. As one might expect, this category features actions taken by individuals that, on the whole, generate a net positive for the actor. That being said, the net increase in value for the actor comes by acting in accordance with virtues derived from reality in pursuit of rational values that better one’s own life, and, in the cases where other individuals are involved, NO sacrifice occurs. This means that all of an individual's’ actions are taken to achieve some actual or potential rational value that aligns with one’s short AND long term interests/goals. To determine what one’s long-term goals are, the virtues one needs to acquire it, and what specific values [both concrete and abstract] one needs to consider before acting, one must first choose to engage one’s mind and take cognizance of reality while integrating what one’s particular interests, skills, and emotional desires are before embarking upon any particular path. This means that every single action one takes must be integrated into one’s emotional and rational evaluation of the particular action as weighed against all possible alternatives. This means taking total responsibility for all aspects of one’s life and thinking to the best of one’s ability to act in accordance with owning one’s own life. This means accepting that every individual’s life is theirs by right and you should only engage others based on the actual or potential value they offer you as mutually agreed by both/all parties involved. Specific examples of this are hard to find and describe, so I will encourage all of you who’ve read this far to reflect on your own life and determine how you are living according to this description. For idealized models of this, I refer you to the protagonists in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Two down and one to go. This final one is the one that I have seen the most and that I find the most troubling and saddening.

The third and final category deals with behavior that I characterize as self-destructive or hedonistic activities. Specific actions taken by individuals in this classification include {but are not necessarily limited to}: drug use [legal or illegal and of varying levels/frequencies/etc.], alcohol consumption [for the express purpose of extreme inebriation], multiple sexual partners [as characterised by ‘one-night-stands’], impulse buying, a lack of intelligence [as admitted/flaunted by the individual], and a lack of Purpose in their life. My observations indicate that most millenials and the current generation of K-12 students act in a dominant fashion within this categorization. For more details into the causes of this trend, I refer you to Ayn Rand’s analysis in Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution; for now it suffices to note that those individuals who are trapped within this category face the worst of possible human existences: a fleeting yet present desire to live life and find value in it, yet not having a unifying and driving purpose in that life; rather they drift/float through life while ‘enjoying’ the baser pleasures but never living a full and fulfilling life. Those individuals who are trapped in this vicious cycle have little hope of breaking it, unless an internal shift [caused by some means] in perspective occurs or an external stabilizing force pulls them in a positive direction.

My analysis of this category will conclude with some personal thoughts on those acting in accordance with this category as differentiated from the 1st and 2nd categories.

While this 3rd category might share similarities with the 2nd category, i.e. one might argue that “drug use [legal or illegal and of varying levels/frequencies/etc.], alcohol consumption [for the express purpose of extreme inebriation], multiple sexual partners [as characterised by ‘one-night-stands’], impulse buying, a lack of intelligence [as admitted/flaunted by the individual], and a lack of Purpose in their life” are ‘values’. To an extremely limited and short-range extent, this is true; however, those actions are not conducive to an individual’s rational self-interest over the long-term. These actions are, by their nature, self-destructive; hence it is a contradiction to claim that acting in a self-destructive manner is in one’s own rational self-interest, since acting in one’s own rational self-interest necessitates a long-range approach to life. That being said, the fact remains that those in this category have an edge over those in the first category. That edge derives from the fact that those acting in a self-sacrificial manner are, consciously or unconsciously, acting in a manner that treats their life as belonging to someone else i.e. they view themselves as slaves to others; whereas those in the 3rd classification ‘love’ their lives and, to an extent, want to keep living. Unfortunately the want to live does NOT translate into the means to live, nor does it translate into the specific actions one takes to actualize said means to achieve said ends. This is a truly pitiable situation, which brings me to my final question on the matter.

While my discussion clearly indicates that both the 1st and 3rd categories are inimical to individual human flourishing, the question remains: what can one do to both prevent others from acting in accordance with the 1st and 3rd categories and how to ‘assist’ those who are continuously acting in accordance with those same categories?

I do not know the answer to this question, nor am I convinced that an answer does exist. If it does, then I lack the means to discover it.

Hence to those of you who choose to read this far, please give my question some thought and provide me whatever thoughts you have on the answer.

As always, my thanks for reading