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The Benevolent People Premise

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#1
dan_edge

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By Dan Edge from The Edge of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

Ayn Rand's "Benevolent Universe Premise" (referred to in various essays, letters, and journal entries) is her description of a rational man's fundamental psychological perspective on reality. Operating on this premise, one views the universe as a place where he can succeed and be happy. He has a generally positive attitude about life -- he expects to be happy. This does not mean that he is never sad or never experiences failure, but that he believes happiness and success are his natural state of being. He does not repress or ignore negative emotions, but neither does he dwell on them unnecessarily. He focuses on the positive.

Rand contrasts this perspective with the "Malevolent Universe Premise," in which one sees the universe as a place where failure and pain are the norm. One who holds this premise may live virtuously and enjoy continuing success in life, but he is always waiting for the other shoe to drop -- he expects failure and unhappiness. When things are going his way, he begins to experience happiness anxiety. When something bad finally does happen, he feels miserable -- but justified.

For years, I have watched (mostly young) Objectivists struggle with a specific form of the Malevolent Universe Premise. I call it the "Malevolent People Premise." One with a Malevolent People Premise expects the worst out of each new person he meets. He realizes that everyone has the capacity to be rational, but he expects those he meets to be irrational. While he may develop relationships with new people who seem virtuous, he always expects to find faults, and he carefully scrutinizes new friends or lovers for any evidence of irrationality. When he discovers a flaw in the person, he feels betrayed and angry -- but justified.

I believe that the Malevolent People Premise is a subset of the Malevolent Universe Premise, and is psychologically destructive for the same reasons. Either premise can lead to happiness anxiety and severely limit one's capacity for joy. The alternative - a benevolent view of the universe and its inhabitants - is a critical component of a healthy mind.

I must stress that I do not advocate failing to properly judge people. Just as one with a Benevolent Universe Premise always must be ruthlessly honest and judicious in his evaluation of a particular aspect of reality, so one with a Benevolent People Premise must be honest and judicious in his evaluation of a particular person. When Mrs. Rand talked about the Benevolent Universe Premise, she often included a parenthetical like the one found in her Journals. One ought to maintain a Benevolent Universe Premise only "(if he remains realistic, that is, true to reality observed by his reason)." (Rand, Journals of Ayn Rand, pg 555). One can properly judge an aspect of reality, or an individual human being, while maintaining a positive general view of reality and mankind.

I consider myself to be a good example of someone with a Benevolent People Premise. I always expect the best out of people, particularly when meeting them for the first time. When I meet someone new, I am generally very enthusiastic, respectful, and friendly. This reflects my sincere expectation that the person will be rational and virtuous. No matter how many irrational people I meet (and believe me, I've met a lot), I still always expect the best from each new person. This does not mean that I ignore the possibility that people may be irrational, only that I do not consider that to be the natural order of things.

When I say that I treat all people with a certain degree of respect I mean all people. I am friendly to the Latino guy who does the landscaping at my office. I am courteous to the young man who sells me coffee at the gas station on the way to work. I am respectful to the very Orthodox Jews with whom I share this office building. I am kind to the children of the Hatian immigrants who populate my apartment complex.

If I looked carefully, I could find a reason to be wary of each of these people. The Latino guy doesn't speak very good English, and I oppose the multiculturalists who believe he has no responsibility to learn our national language. Perhaps the Latino guy sides with the multiculturalists, and chooses not to learn English on principle. The young man at the coffee shop has accepted a low-wage job, and many people who work as gas station attendants remain in those jobs because they have no ambition. Perhaps the young man is one of those people. The Orthodox Jews are famously ritualistic and devoted to faith-based principles. Perhaps some of my co-workers blindly follow a destructive philosophy which will negatively impact our working relationship. The Hatians are mostly poor and uneducated. Perhaps my Hatian neighbors fall into this category, and their children are trouble-makers.

All of these are legitimate possibilities, and they are things that my subconscious looks out for. I do not want to associate closely with those who will negatively affect my life. However, I am also aware of the potential positive impact these people can and do have on my life. The Latino man works to make the grounds outside my office look aesthetically pleasing; the young gas station attendant works to make coffee and gasoline accessible to me; some of the Orthodox Jews are my business partners, and made it possible for me to start my own company; and the Hatian children play sports in the apartment parking lot each day, displaying a youthful exuberance that is a joy to behold.

Everyone I meet has the potential to have a positive and/or negative impact on my life. While I am prepared for the negative, I focus on and expect the positive. Those around me detect this positive attitude, and most respond in kind. People can also easily detect the opposite -- one with a Malevolent People Premise sticks out like a sore thumb. If you have ever been pounced on by a crabby Objectivist you just met for some miscommunication on technical epistemology, then you know what I'm talking about.

Many young Objectivists are disheartened by the overwhelming tide of irrational philosophy in our culture. They feel alone and isolated in high schools and on college campuses. This is a natural reaction to the discovery of widespread irrationalism. However, one should watch out that this reaction does not become ingrained and solidify into a Malevolent People Premise. Keep in mind that every individual possesses free will -- each man has the capacity for rationality and virtue. You owe it to yourself to maintain a Benevolent People Premise, and open your heart to the great potential values that can be found in other rational beings.

(The Benevolent People Premise is also very important in the context of long-term friendships and romantic love relationships. Unfortunately, I am short of time, so that will be a discussion for another blog entry. )

To the best within us,

--Dan Edge

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#2
~Sophia~

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Very good essay, Dan! I absolutely agree.
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
—Thomas Jefferson

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
Citizenship in a Republic, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours." - Ayn Rand

#3
Spano

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I agree, nice post. Other people, particularly in free mostly rational societies, are an enormous value, even despite the fact that they may not be fully rational. It's a shame that some people approach the world as if everyone else is hopelessly depraved and irrational.

#4
Cavalier0509

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Very good essay, Dan. This made me evaluate whether I identify with the Malevolent People Premise or the Benevolent People Premise. I won't share the particulars of this evaluation, but I will say that I am going to consciously try to operate under the Benevolent People Premise from now on.

Thanks for the insight.

#5
aequalsa

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I agree that it is a very good essay, Dan. As a minor variation, I have often noticed with myself, that individually I view people in a benevolent fashion. I usually assume the best about them from the beginning. However, with groups of people I often assume the worst. The level of worst is proportional to the size of the group. So, for example, when some referendum is on the ballot to raise taxes to fund the national steal everything I own to give to people who don'd deserve it agency my first thought it, "10 to 1 odds the retards will vote yes."

I haven't sorted it out for myself yet, but I think it stems from the fact that I am confident that I can talk an individual or small group out of idiocy with reason. Large groups have a kind of inertia to them that seems to reduce the collective IQ and reasoning abilities of its members.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
...or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.-Teddy

#6
Inspector

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I've got a "reply" up here.

#7
KendallJ

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I've got a "reply" up here.


Mind giving us a little summary on this board?

Agree, Disagree, Main point, etc.

Otherwise I (and possibly others) am not much motivated to click through.
Respectfully,
Kendall Justiniano
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"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." - Herbert Spencer

#8
Inspector

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Oh, sure.

Here:

Dan Edge has a post up, called The Benevolent People Premise that he implied to me was at least partially a response to something I said.

Dan, I started to reply on your blog, but found I had quite a bit to say. The short answer is that I think you have a good idea, but a number of mistakes and package deals. Anyhow, I hope I can clear this up for you…

Without further ado:

While reading Dan’s post, I noticed that a commenter honed in right away on an important point:

I agree with Rand (and your post) that the only thing we owe others is respect until we get good reason or proof to withdraw that respect.

..."However, I do believe that you and i will also agree on the fact that there simply *are* more irrational people than rational, just like there are more average people than geniuses."

(I changed up the order there, for presentation purposes)

I agree, but would like to add the caveat: Most people are “irrational” in the sense that they are not completely rational; i.e. a mixture of rational and irrational. More on this later…

I would also like to add: This is simply the product of an irrational culture. When you live in an irrational culture, especially one with government-enforced progressive education, the kind of genius it takes to reject that irrationality is simply not common enough that the rational expectation, statistically speaking, is that *most* people you meet are going to be irrational.

The brilliant; the rational; the prime movers are not and have never been "most people." There is nothing inherent in human beings that means this must be so – this is simply the power of philosophy – and the absence of good philosophy throughout most of history (and its non-prevalence today).

Now, I’m going to repeat a bit of that, because it is absolutely critical: There is nothing inherent in human beings that means this must be so. To truly hold a benevolent people premise is to know and expect people to live up to the capacity for rationality and goodness with which they are born. It is not to expect, statistically speaking, that one will encounter a predominance of rational people in a predominantly irrational culture. (notice the two uses of the word, “expect;” one a metaphysical expectation and the other a statistical one)

How irrational is our culture? Well, most people that I meet are dangerous only to themselves (except on election day). They can frustrate my attempts to deal with or appeal to the rational sides of their nature, but they don’t represent a negative value to my life; that is: so long, and only so long, as I am allowed privacy from them, so that I may deal with them only on the terms that I choose. (i.e. deal with them when and inasmuch as they are being rational)

If I lived in the ghetto, a small fundamentalist town in the south, or Berkley, CA, then that might be a completely different story. But luckily, if you are a reasonably productive person, our society does allow you to move to an area where everyone else must have at least some modicum of productivity (i.e. rationality) in order to live next to you.

Dan, I’ve seen people with a truly malevolent people premise. And it is very much tied into a malevolent universe premise. I think your characterization here is accurate:

While he may develop relationships with new people who seem virtuous, he always expects to find faults… When he discovers a flaw in the person, he feels betrayed and angry -- but justified.


I don’t ever feel “justified” when I encounter foolish behavior. I feel only annoyed, or betrayed, depending on the circumstances. But I would have to remind you that a malevolent universer/peopler does not feel all that angry. To him, he has simply encountered more of what he metaphysically expects of people. Sure, he is a perpetual crank, always grumbling about how people cost him this and that, but the true moral outrage of one who expects the best of people will elude him. It is only with the benevolent universe/people premise that one is capable of feeling outraged: angry at the people who fail to meet your metaphysical expectation that they will be the rational animals that they are and should be. This is the difference between a statistical expectation and a metaphysical one.

Another package deal that I found in your post, Dan, is that you have equated a statistical expectation of benevolence with manners. The fact is that I am a big proponent of manners, especially when you have reason to have poor statistical expectations of peoples’ rationality. When most people are mixtures of sane and insane, which side is a rude, disrespectful person attempting to engage with? And which side, therefore, will a rude person bring out in people?

Which side, by contrast, is a polite, respectful, well-mannered person attempting to deal with? And which side will he bring out? A rude, boorish person may as well be painting a big target on his back for the crazies to come and get him. They know how to smell out their own.

Another important point to bear in mind about people is that they, like our culture, are mixed cases. The kind of irrationality present in most people is not so pervasive that it is the controlling element in their actions 100% of the time.

As I said,

most of them manage to juggle those sides into a semblance of a sane life (at least, I assume so given the number of things in the world that are not on fire)


This mixture means that there is some level on which you can interact and deal with most people (again, except if you live in a particularly bad area). But, again, as I said before:

I'm actually quite practiced at deflecting their crazy sides and bringing their not-crazy sides to the surface so I "get along" quite well with most people. But it's draining to me.


It takes effort, in other words. Patience and effort. That’s fine for dealing with the random people that you meet in public; even for co-workers to a degree. But the more involved your relationship with someone, the more total your interaction with them. And if they are a mixed case, the more their irrational side will turn up, and the more effort it will take for you to deflect it. The more irrational the mixture, the less suitable for more involved dealings, friendships or closer relationships a person is.

The solution, as I said before, is privacy. The ability to deal with others only on the terms of your choosing (i.e. only with their rational sides) allows you not only to avoid their irrationality, but also to rest from the effort of juggling the mixture. This is why a rational person in today’s society will likely keep most people at arms’ length at least.

When I said before that I look forward to a day when I can be free from having to deal with irrational people, that was only because I have a loving wife, family, and so many good friends that it just wouldn’t make sense for me to subject myself to the, at the very least tiresome, process that it takes to grapple with the oafs of the world.*

There is nothing “malevolent universe” about that.

-Inspector

*…Although, given my interest of professions (i.e. an intellectual), I will still have to deal with their ideas. There may be a connection between that fact and my desire to be free of them in my daily life…

PS. Hey, Dan: I really agree with your characterization of people with the malevolent universe/people premise. They really are… well, downers. By contrast, you should know that I am a genuinely lighthearted and humorous person (except for when the situation is serious; then I take on an intensity). I mean, come on; the numerous jokes in my post should at least tell you about where my focus is, vis a vis the “positive.” :thumbsup:

PPS. Saw you with the plunger. Hahaha! Yeap, that's my kind of silly.



#9
KendallJ

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Now, I’m going to repeat a bit of that, because it is absolutely critical: There is nothing inherent in human beings that means this must be so. To truly hold a benevolent people premise is to know and expect people to live up to the capacity for rationality and goodness with which they are born. It is not to expect, statistically speaking, that one will encounter a predominance of rational people in a predominantly irrational culture. (notice the two uses of the word, “expect;” one a metaphysical expectation and the other a statistical one)


Thanks Inspector, Appreciate that.

The premise for your response is based upon the following characterization of benevolent unverser/peopler, which I believe is incorrect. The distinction between metaphysical expectation and statistical is superfluous, because a. its the wrong characteristic, and b. your metaphysical expecation incorrectly equates potential and actual.

To put benevolent peopler this way is sort of like saying that to hold a benevolent universe premise is to expect the sun to "live up to its capacity" to shine through every day. That's not what it means. It's more the fact that other people are (as they show up) a metaphysical given. The fact that other people take effort to deal with (regardless of their level of rationality) is a metaphysical fact, and I have options for how I choose to do so. THere is noreason to be angry, annoyed or whatever, at this fact. It simply is. While it can affect me, just as a rainstorm or typhoon might, it cannot affect in any way, my ability to act as a virtuous person.

I think Dan has the characterization more correct than you do.

Edited by KendallJ, 21 June 2007 - 08:28 AM.

Respectfully,
Kendall Justiniano
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"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." - Herbert Spencer

#10
~Sophia~

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I do expect 'goodness' and a positive interaction from every new person I meet. I don' find that draining at all. Most of those people will never become my close friends so expectations are not the same. Maybe we don't share a lot of similar values but I often find that they mirror at least some of them. I focus on the things people can offer me instead on the things they can't. Every trace of rationality that I find in others is very reafirming to me. I guess I look at the glass as half full.
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
—Thomas Jefferson

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
Citizenship in a Republic, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours." - Ayn Rand

#11
Inspector

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The fact that other people take effort to deal with (regardless of their level of rationality) is a metaphysical fact


I very much disagree. The fact that certain other people (statistically, most of them) are an annoying mixture of the rational and the irrational is a man-made fact. The metaphysical fact is that they can be either rational or irrational or various mixtures. You should not have the same attitude toward irrational people as you do a rainstorm.

Also, the most important part of that paragraph is that the benevolent people principle means that you understand that there is nothing inherently evil in human nature. It does not mean that you expect, statistically, that most people will be good.

#12
Inspector

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I do expect 'goodness' and a positive interaction from every new person I meet. I don' find that draining at all. Most of those people will never become my close friends so expectations are not the same.


What is it you don't find draining? Expecting goodness? I don't find that draining. What is draining is grappling with their irrationalities - having to constantly persuade them to follow the rational elements of their mixture rather than the irrational ones. The more irrational a person is, the more you have to do this. And the more tiring they are to you. Friends, by contrast, are people who give me energy. Who I can relax and recharge around. Talking to and interacting with them makes me feel invigorated - the opposite of how dealing with most people makes me feel. It's not a "half-full" or "half-empty" thing.

#13
KendallJ

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I very much disagree. The fact that certain other people (statistically, most of them) are an annoying mixture of the rational and the irrational is a man-made fact.


I wonder then if you believe you are out of the statistical "most" or is it perfectly rational for me to find you an annoying mixture of rational and irrational? :thumbsup:

The fact that you base your annoyance on what other men make is exactly my point. Your annoyance at others volitional actual does not match up to their volitional capacity is annoyance at the metaphysically given. Actuals aren't potentials, and there is nothing about the fact that those are volitional actuals that should impinge upon you. It is nothing I have control over a priori, which is what the use of the term man-made refers to.
Respectfully,
Kendall Justiniano
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"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." - Herbert Spencer

#14
Inspector

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I wonder then if you believe you are out of the statistical "most"


Of course I do! To not acknowledge this is to put yourself into that statistical "most." :thumbsup:

The fact that you base your annoyance on what other men make is exactly my point. Your annoyance at others volitional actual does not match up to their volitional capacity is annoyance at the metaphysically given. Actuals aren't potentials, and there is nothing about the fact that those are volitional actuals that should impinge upon you. It is nothing I have control over a priori, which is what the use of the term man-made refers to.


Eh?

Any natural phenomenon, i.e., any event which occurs without human participation, is the metaphysically given, and could not have occurred differently or failed to occur; any phenomenon involving human action is the man-made, and could have been different.


The choice of some people to be irrational is a man-made fact. Whether you personally control it or not doesn't enter into it.

Besides, it isn't their choice that annoys me. It is the instances where I must deal with them and their choice that annoys me. If I don't have to deal with their stupid in some way, then I usually find it quite amusing.

Edited by Inspector, 21 June 2007 - 09:25 AM.


#15
KendallJ

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Of course I do! To not acknowledge this is to put yourself into that statistical "most." :thumbsup:


So it is perfectly rational for me to find anyone else in the "most" category annoying, but not you. :)


Eh?

The choice of some people to be irrational is a man-made fact. Whether you personally control it or not doesn't enter into it.


Yes, I know the definition. Maybe I should clarify. By "metaphysical fact" I meant something which I have no control over a priori. THat is, regardless of what could have been, I take other people as they are as a given.

Could I have a reference please, in context of a benevolent universe discussion? See, you certainly have clarified her definition of man-made, but not that she would have used that particular characterization (i.e. the man-made) in a discussion about benevolent universe/people premise. Make that link for me please. Your logic amounts to I can be annoyed with anyone who is not purely rational simply because they could have been so. And since "most" people fit this bill, it seems to me that you'll be annoyed with "most" of the people you interact with. Except your friends of course, who I assume are as purely rational as you are since they don't make you feel this way. Isn't this a malevolent universer in every sense of the word?

Besides, it isn't their choice that annoys me. It is the instances where I must deal with them and their choice that annoys me. If I don't have to deal with their stupid in some way, then I usually find it quite amusing.


Well, these instances are themselves man-made things as I've given the context for above, given your choice to interact with these people. Why are you transferring your annoyance to others when the issue is with your choice? Your choice is a more fundamental cause of your annoyance that what others "could have" been. That is, everyone could have been purely rational, but you're only annoyed with those people you chose to deal with. (By the way, if you answer that sometimes you can't help but deal with the irrational, if you want to attain some goal, isn't that a metaphysical fact - see the contrast - you can't help but have to deal with them, but they could have helped who they were.)

While I'm editing, one last question. Now that you and Dan have put your positions out there, I'm wondering exactly what you think the practical difference is an actions either Dan or you will take in a given situation, other than the fact you'll be annoyed with people when he won't? You see, I think an interesting litmus test is if you annoyment actually leads to any difference in action. Dan has already differentiated between his perspective and still passing judgement, so I'm wondering what good all this annoyment does for you?

Edited by KendallJ, 21 June 2007 - 10:04 AM.

Respectfully,
Kendall Justiniano
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#16
JASKN

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Dan has already differentiated between his perspective and still passing judgement, so I'm wondering what good all this annoyment does for you?

I think this is a good point, Kendall. For me, getting annoyed with people hasn't done anything but put me in a bad mood.

I have also noticed that the "Benevolent People Premise" is self-propelling in that the less annoyed I get with people, the easier it is to not be annoyed in the first place. The rational and good aspects of another person begin to just stick out more.

Also, I think people will usually respond in a more positive and rational way than otherwise to someone who first exudes a benevolent attitude.
"I made my fortune on the seas, and in the mines, and in the cattle wars of the old frontier. I made it by being tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties. And I made it SQUARE!" - Mr. Scrooge McDuck

#17
~Sophia~

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What is draining is grappling with their irrationalities - having to constantly persuade them to follow the rational elements of their mixture rather than the irrational ones. The more irrational a person is, the more you have to do this.


I don't have to and I don't do that with strangers (short of few exceptions).
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
—Thomas Jefferson

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
Citizenship in a Republic, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours." - Ayn Rand

#18
Inspector

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Yes, I know the definition. Maybe I should clarify. By "metaphysical fact" I meant something which I have no control over a priori. THat is, regardless of what could have been, I take other people as they are as a given.


No, you must take what other people are as a fact (a man-made fact), not as a given. If someone is a bastard, then he wasn't "born that way." He chose to be one. You should pass judgment on him.

If you don't believe that's what was meant, I can provide more source material:

The Metaphysically Given as Absolute

The Objectivist view of existence culminates in the principle that no alternative to a fact of reality is possible or imaginable. All such facts are necessary. In Ayn Rand's words, the metaphysically given is absolute.

By the "metaphysically given," Ayn Rand means any fact inherent in existence apart from human action (whether mental or physical)—as against "man-made facts," i.e., objects, institutions, practices, or rules of conduct that are of human origin. The solar system, for example, is metaphysically given; communication satellites are man-made. The law of gravity is metaphysically given; the laws against murder are man-made. The fact that man's life requires food is metaphysically given; the fact that some men, such as ascetics or anorectics, prefer to starve is man-made.


Substitute "prefer to starve" with "prefer to be irrational" and there you go. The fact that all men can choose to be rational or irrational is metaphysically given. The fact that some men choose the latter is man-made.

Your logic amounts to I can be annoyed with anyone who is not purely rational simply because they could have been so.


Don't you think the irrational is itself annoying, from an intellectual perspective? Much less dealing with it?

And since "most" people fit this bill, it seems to me that you'll be annoyed with "most" of the people you interact with.


Not unless they are actively or visibly irrational as I am dealing with them. Although I think that ties back in some way or another to how it affects my dealings with them. When that one co-worker insisted to me that "crack is good for babies," I found that annoying (once I could bring myself to believe she was serious). Probably because it reminded me of just how stupid she was and the many ways in which that affected my workplace. I think if I heard a clip of someone saying that on the internet, I might just laugh. In fact, I did laugh at it.

Except your friends of course, who I assume are as purely rational as you are since they don't make you feel this way.


Anyone, friend or foe, annoys me when they are being irrational. Friends are, to phrase it very strangely, people with whom I don't expect to have that happen; at least not very often at all. (obviously, friends are much more than that, in terms of their positives)

Isn't this a malevolent universer in every sense of the word?


No, not in any sense that Objectivism uses it. "Malevolent universe" means that the universe itself i.e. the laws of nature are set against man and his happiness. Not that any given locality, society, person, or group of people are.

If one believes that the society he lives in and the people in it are irrational, that does not make him a malevolent universer. If one believes that said irrationality is the inevitable and unavoidable product of man's nature, that does make him a malevolent universer.

The "benevolent people premise" is one that Dan made up. If the term is to have validity, then it must follow the form of the benevolent universe premise. It cannot be the premise that most people are rational and morally good. (which is a statistical question, not a philosophic one) It must be the premise that people are not inherently evil, no matter how many of them actually choose to be.

Why are you transferring your annoyance to others when the issue is with your choice?


Are you saying, for instance, that it is my choice to live in a nation which levies taxes and not to go live on a desert island and therefore I have no right to be mad at the violation of my rights? Or that it is my choice not to live as a dirt-poor hermetic subsistence farmer and so I have no right to be mad when some jerk on a cell phone nearly plows into me on the highway? Or that it is my choice to work at a job so if someone I work with lies to me and tells me they will complete a project and then throws out the paperwork and surfs the internet all night that I don't have any right to be annoyed?

(in all uses above: moral right, not political right)

While I'm editing, one last question. Now that you and Dan have put your positions out there, I'm wondering exactly what you think the practical difference is an actions either Dan or you will take in a given situation, other than the fact you'll be annoyed with people when he won't?


Dan thinks that merely believing that people, statistically speaking, are irrational makes one "malevolent," and also incapable of being polite and cheerful.

#19
Inspector

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I don't have to and I don't do that with strangers (short of few exceptions).


As I said, you don't have to do it with most people because you don't have to interact with most people on more than a superficial level. The coffee guy could be a complete mess in his personal life, but he only has to be rational enough to not screw up my coffee. Which is why privacy is such an important value in an irrational culture such as ours.

#20
Tenure

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I think Inspector is right here.

The benevolent universe premise is such that the world is not inherently evil. We expect happiness as a standard. When that is violated, when people force the happiness out of our lives, by coercing our ability to choose what is best for us, or even to choose in the first place, then we have every right to feel angry at those agents, but no reason to believe that this makes the universe evil, only that human choices have resulted in evil.

A benevolent people premise should be the exact same thing as the benevolent universe premise. It is the recognition that we rationally expect men to behave according to their nature - to pursue their happiness. When they don't, then we feel frustrated at the existence of this irrationality, because we personally value rationality so much ourselves.
When we see most men around us living in either complete irrationality, or in the position where they'll live in some hodge-podge half way mark that mocks the rationality in their own lives, then we can have every right to be frustrated at them. We don't expect men to act that way, so we can approach them in such way and not be considered as having a malevolent outlook - it is our own benevolent outlook that causes frustration when we see these frustrating people.

I think the problem is what you should do upon consideration that most men are not rational. How should you choose to approach each stranger? Well you should have expectations about what they should do, but you have no reason to act as if men automatically do act rationally. By approaching a stranger as if the fact of his existence is that he behaves rationally, is to deny reality.

Perhaps the problem rests between not thinking about irrational people, and being frustrated at them. I think it's wrong to act towards irrational people as if they are rational, and to treat them with that sort of kindness. They need to no that irrationality deserves no reward, that it is not the terms you wish to deal with them on.

Edited by Tenure, 21 June 2007 - 12:00 PM.

I see - you mean the 'philosophy' of Ayn Rand. No, we do not teach it and as far as I know it is not taught in any Philosophy Department in the UK.


'Who am I, what do I want, and how am I going to get it?'
'One breath, one thought, one action' 'Deny nothing, invent nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school'


#21
Inspector

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I think the problem is what you should do upon consideration that most men are not rational. How should you choose to approach each stranger? Well you should have expectations about what they should do, but you have no reason to act as if men automatically do act rationally. By approaching a stranger as if the fact of his existence is that he behaves rationally, is to deny reality.


I've found the best approach is to be polite, mind your manners, and put pleasantness out there. But don't trust them or put them in a position where their irrationality would harm you until you know they are of good character. As I said, since most people are mixtures, you want to be sure to deal with the proper part of the mixture. Going around being rude will ensure that you get the wrong part.

Perhaps the problem rests between not thinking about irrational people, and being frustrated at them. I think it's wrong to act towards irrational people as if they are rational, and to treat them with that sort of kindness. They need to no that irrationality deserves no reward, that it is not the terms you wish to deal with them on.


The key is to be selfish about it. If their stupidity isn't in a position to harm you, then it's not worth your time to bother with them, even if they deserve being bothered. Sooner or later, it will catch up with them.

#22
~Sophia~

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I think the problem is what you should do upon consideration that most men are not rational.


I don't agree. Most people are rational if only to the degree which is allowing them to survive. Most people I interact with are productive, they work and care about the quality of their work (whatever that happens to be), exchange values with others, care about their loved ones, and look forward to achieving more values in their lives.

Perhaps, most men are not fully rational.
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
—Thomas Jefferson

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings;
but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
Citizenship in a Republic, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours." - Ayn Rand

#23
Inspector

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Sophia,

Note that in my original post I said:

I agree, but would like to add the caveat: Most people are “irrational” in the sense that they are not completely rational; i.e. a mixture of rational and irrational.



#24
dan_edge

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Greetings All,

I'm so pleased that my blog entry has generated both positive and negative criticism. That's part of the reason I started blogging -- to get criticism that will help me improve the clarity of my thinking and writing. Plus, the positive criticism makes me feel all squishy inside! :)

I will respond at length when I have time, later this evening or tomorrow.

Thanks,

--Dan Edge

#25
KendallJ

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I, I'll respond to a couple of your quips here, and then post an overall response. Frankly, I'm not sure either you or Dan is grounded properly, but that's post 2.

No, you must take what other people are as a fact (a man-made fact), not as a given. If someone is a bastard, then he wasn't "born that way." He chose to be one. You should pass judgment on him.

If you don't believe that's what was meant, I can provide more source material:

Substitute "prefer to starve" with "prefer to be irrational" and there you go. The fact that all men can choose to be rational or irrational is metaphysically given. The fact that some men choose the latter is man-made.


2 things.

a. I need to know what you mean by irrationality. Are you including both moral errors and errors of knowledge? If only the former, then I'm not so sure I would agree that "most" people are irrational, as per Sophia.

b. The connection I asked you to make was not a rehash of what Rand meant by man-made vs. metaphysically given. What I would like is a perspective on dealing with other people that supports your position. That is, given we know little about a person, what should be my emotional and psychological perspective on them? If you can find support for "I should be polite to them, while finding their expected irrationality completely tiresome" position, why then you would have connected the dots.



Don't you think the irrational is itself annoying, from an intellectual perspective? Much less dealing with it?


One, this is begging the question. This is exactly what is up for debate.

Which is why I ask a. above. If only the former (moral error) is included, why then yes, I agree. If both however, I disagree completely. But then what is to be the proper perspective, until such time as one has detected which the irrationality is? It is in fact, moral error which is tiresome, infuriating, and at times downright blood-boiling. In fact, I think Rand made this distinction more clearly in the case of dealing with other people than teh rational/irrational which would not support your position.

If one believes that the society he lives in and the people in it are irrational, that does not make him a malevolent universer. If one believes that said irrationality is the inevitable and unavoidable product of man's nature, that does make him a malevolent universer.


I think you and Dan have both made a mistake, you the negative version, and he the positive version.

The "benevolent people premise" is one that Dan made up. If the term is to have validity, then it must follow the form of the benevolent universe premise. It cannot be the premise that most people are rational and morally good. (which is a statistical question, not a philosophic one) It must be the premise that people are not inherently evil, no matter how many of them actually choose to be.


Well, no. Formal parallelism isn't required. He simply must integrate the concept into the rest of the truth. I reread both Dan and your post. He is not making the case you claim, that is that "most people are rationally and morally good."

Are you saying, for instance, that it is my choice to live in a nation which levies taxes and not to go live on a desert island and therefore I have no right to be mad at the violation of my rights? Or that it is my choice not to live as a dirt-poor hermetic subsistence farmer and so I have no right to be mad when some jerk on a cell phone nearly plows into me on the highway? Or that it is my choice to work at a job so if someone I work with lies to me and tells me they will complete a project and then throws out the paperwork and surfs the internet all night that I don't have any right to be annoyed?

(in all uses above: moral right, not political right)


Not at all. This is in the realm of moral judgement, and both you and Dan, and I have not at all eliminated this concept. This example specifies the form of irrationality, which is not initially known, and which one can rightfully defend against if it specifically impinges on his own liberty. No one is claiming that one should not explore the form of irrationality and pass jdugement on it. I am contesting your desire to be annoyed with irrationality, as such, intrinsically, before you understand it's form.

Dan thinks that merely believing that people, statistically speaking, are irrational makes one "malevolent," and also incapable of being polite and cheerful.


I don't find any evidence for Dan claiming that the statistical probability factors into his actions at all. That is, his expectation is not a statistical expectation. He is not saying, you should be benevolent to people because more often than not they are nice people. In fact, he freely admits that he is nice to everyone at first even though they might give him reason at a later time not to be. I'll let him clarify as well...

I read Dan's "expectation" as the Benevolent Universe premise is part of giving someone the benefit of the doubt, until they give you reason to think otherwise. Dan to I have that right.
Respectfully,
Kendall Justiniano
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