Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Personal Transmutation

As part of the natural process of getting older, growing up, maturing or however you may describe it, it becomes essential to ask questions. Since man is a being of volitional consciousness and not born with innate ideas, it is proper for him to find answers to the questions we face every day. By doing so, we come to learn more about ourselves and what we value in life. These values give our lives focus and as a result an unfettered pleasure. Not a pleasure that is born out of whim and ephemeral but one for which we can evaluate our lives by as if to say, "This, is what life is meant to offer. This is my life."

I think one of the things that helps us to conceptualize this idea is for people to have a favorite quote. Quotes are usually taken to form the essence of another's theme, argument, or speech. In a way they can be thought of as Matryoshka dolls, relating one idea to a vast number of supporting ideas. I myself have a favorite quote, one that is from Ayn Rand's essay "The 'Inexplicable Personal Alchemy'" in her non-fiction book The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter. In one’s youth that conviction is experienced as a self-evident absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one's mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.
I like this quote because it says a lot about today's current culture even 38 years after the essay's publication. From an early age, young minds strive to understand this world we live in. Their most direct form of knowledge is first-hand by that which they perceive. Percepts are an absolute, they can't change their identities, i.e. A is A. From this frame of reference the young mind begins to conceptualize and abstract principles that will hopefully, he thinks, allow him to grasp greater truths about reality. Obviously, not everyone thinks in these terms but implicit throughout is the fact that ideas are what drive action and as Rand stated "the conviction that ideas matter".

Unfortunately, this is not a self-actuating process. As said before, since man's consciousness is volitional and he is therefore fallible, he must always check his ideas by an objective standard. He must know that his ideas have validity in reality and are not subjective constructs of his own mind. It is usually later in life that we begin to see individuals who have defaulted on the responsibility to think, to take ideas seriously. They begin to doubt in man's ability to grasp facts about reality because they lose objectivity. When this happens they think that man must cheat reality in order to live.

From today's dominant morality of altruism this is most evident. Altruism states that man must sacrifice for others as the standard of good. So if sacrifice is always the good, then anything that is done for ourselves-be it the wealth we accumulate, the food we eat, or the house we live in-is what we do by way of stealing or cheating reality in order to go on living. All of this, as a consequence instills uncertainty in a person's mind. It is the "original sin" made real as sanctioned by that individual.

This gray is what makes it so contrast with that of the youth's radiance in Rand's quote and what in essence is Rand's method of thought in her writings. This to me this is what many people find appealing in her writings. Of course this is only one aspect of her writings, as there are many others well worth of note. But they are for another time.