Everything we do or say is painted by our own experiences and our own values. The truths we state, and the opinions that we make, are not just reflections of everything we’ve become, but creations. It is for this reason that it is important to be acutely aware of what we say and do and where it is coming from.
Nothing brings this out in others more than when their norms are challenged. When those norms are challenged, especially radically, our ego tries to wrap itself into a shield to protect those norms, because we have used them to reify who we are. When someone does something far outside of those norms, we are faced with the realization that the things we’ve held dear don’t necessarily need to be that way.
This expereince is unavoidable, but like all things unavoidable, the best we can do is to be aware of it so that it can become a piece of information – a tool – rather than a ruler.
I’ve experienced this recently in making some rather radical life choices. Nearly all of the fear or bias or negative thoughts about the choices came from the outside – from other people – reacting from a place of fear. It was either fear of change in their life, or fear that came from things that had happened to them in the past; but either way it was solely based on information in their life, not mine. I don’t mean to make this fear sound bad; it can manifest as concern just as much as it can manifest as hatred.
After realizing this, I did not feel hatred or that my choices were under attack – it allowed to me really understand where they were coming from and realize that their reactions were not about me or my choices at all. It is a true step towards recognizing others’ values and coming from a position of love.
Recently I’ve faced some rather critical life choices, and the power of it all shook me to my core and caused me to completely re-evaluate my life, where I am in it, and what I want out of it. It caused me to confront something that everyone must confront, but even I never have, because it is the hardest thing anyone can do.
Letting go of fear.
Almost all fear is fear of change. As we’ve discussed, fear of change comes from the ego’s fear of death. But change is the rule, not the exception, and we should always be ready to greet it without fear.
Fear is the mind-killer. It prevents action, it prevents adaptation, and it prevents resolution. Fear is the enemy of actualization. It is one of the two most powerful emotions we can experience, and is exceedingly difficult to overcome.
There are choices you will be presented with during your unfolding that will seem like impossible decisions to make. That is fear talking. Taking no action at these critical moments will only only cause things to atrophy and pass you by.
This does not mean we need to make rash decisions when confronted with the anxiety that fear produces, but it does mean that if we succumb to the fear rather than making a choice, the fear wins.
What I have realized through this experience is that while it is extremely difficult to overcome, my need to overcome it finally hit a point that was greater than the fear itself. It is this moment of paradigmatic crisis that is the greatest and yet most terrifying ritual you can experience in order to truly change and overcome fear.
Here’s hoping I will seize the opportunity. I hope you will too, when you have it.
Up to now I’ve been beating up on the ego a lot. But like all abstractions, it is necessary and non-arbitrary to be who you are with your ego. This dawned on me that perhaps there needs to be another way to talk about it, and that’s when I realized the best way to describe the Ego is as a tool (like any other abstraction). And that tool needs to be sharpened and exercised, just like a knife or your body.
The Ego is not bad in and of itself. Achieving Ego death is not a way to escape the Ego, it’s away to become aware of it so that you can use it to actualize. But like many truths that hang together, you can’t be rid of the ego altogether lest a whole host of other things that help you satisfy your desires go away as well.
The Ego needs to be cared for. Like the body, it should be given a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and made sure that it doesn’t get fat, lethargic, or purposeless. Like a knife, it should be sharpened, polished, and kept in a place that is easy to access in a moment’s notice. It is a vehicle, an armor, and a weapon.
If the Ego gets out of practice, it will become full of itself, or defeated, or dulled. It may become bent or malformed, hindering its ability to adapt to new challenges. It will no longer be a useful tool.
When the Ego is honed to fulfill its purpose, it is one of the most powerful abstractions for actualization that exist. We should not be ashamed of it, or try to escape it. We should use it.
I’ve defined Wealth as the measure of the ability to engage the Process of satisfaction of desires. Furthermore, I’ve examined the dangers of ascribing infinite value to things, particularly rights.
To tie this all together, we need to examine the difference between value and cost. I’ve defined value (and values) elsewhere as the way that actualizers express their desires through action. Actualizers “say” what they value by what they do.
It is action that conveys value, because every action is a cost. As long as actualizers are limited in space and time, they must choose which actions to take based on what they value. The action they take is the cost of realizing their values. Actualizers will seek to take actions that they perceive to cost less than or equal to what they value.
The key difference between cost and value is that costs are not subjective, whereas values are. The exact degree of the cost is subjective, but it always exists and always must be paid. The action must be taken, and insofar as we are bound up in time and space, you must choose to give up one action in favor of another.
When we fail to respect the subjective values of other actualizers, and force them to take one action over another, we destroy wealth by robbing them of opportunities. This is known as an opportunity cost. Opportunity costs are inflicted whenever subjective values are ignored (even your own!) and other values are imposed. This is why large governments and empires fail – eventually enough actualizers’ values are no longer being respected, and so they no longer recognize the institution as viable and revolt.
There are times when it is impractical to respect subjective values, and it is in those cases where we do not engage in personhood with another actualizer. This is acceptable, if the cost is truly not worth it to you; but one should be wary that cutting yourself off from the opportunities that emerge from other actualizers will generally destroy wealth for you. It is for this reason that, when I talk about the use of force, there is a difference between using force when you could have engaged another as a person, and doing so when the force is outside the context of ethics entirely.
For example; it may be beneficial for me to treat a bear or a tree as a person as long as I can, but since we do not possess a means of communicating values to each other in any meaningful sense, using force on a bear or tree is outside the context of ethics. On the other hand, we know very well that it possible to engage other humans as persons (see Definitions; personhood arises when two actualizers can communicate and understand values).
Therefore, when we wage war on other viable potential persons, we destroy wealth. War is always a destruction of wealth, and should only be undertaken when there is no other way to communicate values. This can happen if the other actualizers are clearly NOT engaging in personhood with you (i.e., by trying to shoot you).
Yes, there have been “just wars”. But the majority of the time, they are waged by the power of very few imposing their values on others. This includes wars on concepts in addition to wars on nations (i.e. the War on Drugs is an exercise in wealth destruction due to the willing ignorance of subjective values). Wars destroy wealth. The reasons to not wage them are not moral, they are not due to some inflated sense of pacifism or righteousness – they are simply, wildly, impractical for getting what we all actually want – to engage the Process of Satisfaction of Desires.
To reify abstractions, to ascribe to them infinite value and immunize them from change, is a powerful need. There are few such abstractions more powerful in this regard than the concept of rights.
The notion of a right comes in many forms; natural rights, human rights, God-given rights, etc. They all imply something that cannot be taken away and must be respected at all costs.
It is this “all costs” concept that is the segue from my discussion of wealth yesterday. The idea that anything should be done “at all costs” flies in the face of reality and is dangerous to true wealth as defined here.
So what are rights, really?
A Right is an abstraction used to describe a system of respect that one person grants to another. They are not bound in nature, they are not intrinsic to being human, and they do not come from a divine source. They are granted by people to other people because it is more valuable to them to do so than to not do so. In the world of pragmatic truth, rights end when it is no longer feasible to respect them.
If rights were granted by God or nature, then an external force would step in to stop their infringement. It would be impossible to violate them if they were truly sourced in this way. If rights were given by God, lightning would come down and zap me before I shot or enslaved you. If rights were found in nature, a bear or the ebola virus would be unable to kill me if I asked them not to.
Rights are agreements, implicit forms of respect that persons grant to each other because doing so creates more wealth (remember: wealth is a measure of the ability to engage the Process of satisfaction of individual and infinitely subjective desires). That’s right, they are granted by people to other people. When that respect goes away, so do the rights. When it becomes no longer pragmatic to respect them, they will fail. They do not exist beyond this.
When we say that others are defending our rights, what we are saying is that they are defending our ability to respect each other in the manner that we have agreed upon.
This makes the notion of rights limited by what is practically possible. Most of the time, rights are practically possible when they are bound to negative things (that is, prescriptions on what you can’t do to another), versus positive things (prescriptions on what you must do for another). It is this latter kind, such as the right to health care or education, that is the most dangerous to the creation of wealth, as it implies that force must be used when they are not satisfied. If I have a right to health care, what happens if no one wants to be a doctor? Must I then enslave some doctors? What about teachers? What about… soldiers?
Positive rights lead to war. War is the destruction of wealth, as we will see next.
Part 1 of a three part series on this Memorial Day Weekend.
It’s about high time I start tilting over into economics on infinitespiral.net, because economics is a particular ecology that manifests from the Process of the Satisfaction of Desires. It is also something that when perceived incorrectly is the cause of a great amount of suffering and misalignment between values and results.
This tie between the spirituality and ethics that I espouse here and economics is through the concept of wealth. For this reason I feel it’s necessary to define it here in the context of actualization and the satisfaction of desires.
So what is wealth?
Wealth is the measure of the ability to engage the Process of the Satisfaction of Desires. Read that sentence a few times, as there’s a lot in there that uses many of the definitions I’ve defined before. It can be circumscribed around an individual actualizer, or an environment/society and its opportunities (that is, you can measure the wealth of an environment by the degree to which actualizers interacting with it are able to satisfy their desires).
Wealth is only this measurement. Wealth is not money. Wealth is not stuff. Wealth is none of these things unless the money or stuff serves as a tool for engaging the Process. Wealth is created (increased) when desires are being satisfied, or when the opportunities to do so are increased.
“But Jayson,” you say. “That sounds so trivial! Desires are selfish and wealth is evil!” If you still think that, there’s a lot of other reading you need to do on this site, particularly here. The only people who say this are those who do not understand what wealth and love are, and either seek to put down others out of jealousy or a misguided idea of what power is.
That said, let me repeat what I said above – wealth is increased when desires are being satisfied, or when the opportunities to do so are expanded. This means there are ways to increase wealth, and ways to destroy it. Since the Process is something that we are all engaging, by virtue of our very existence – the one thing that we are all doing, and crosses the subjective-objective barrier, it is in our best interest to realize abstractions that create wealth, not destroy it.
And as we will learn, there are many, many ways to destroy it, and only a few ways to create it. War is not one of them.
There are also many abstractions that, while seem to be preserving wealth, in fact create unrealistic, reified ideals that destroy wealth when they are pursued without care. The notion of absolute rights is one of these dangerous ideals.
The only way to create wealth is to encourage the engagement of the Process of the Satisfaction of Desires. We do this by respecting the infinitely subjective values of other actualizers – by treating others as persons whenever practically possible. It is from this that rights, wealth, and prosperity manifest, and it is the only thing worth “fighting” for. But, well, not really fighting. More on that later, stew on this for now.
I used to be an idealist. Quite fervently, actually. I used to believe very strongly that the principle behind what I believed was more important than its actual effects on my reality. Well, I didn’t really believe that, but that is what I was realizing with my actions. It was my ego that was attached to “my” ideals because it identified with them; to change them would be to face death. But it is this blind adherence to idealism that causes the most suffering that I see in world. When I finally began to see that, I stopped being an idealist.
The only measure we have for truth is pragmatics. A belief is only true if it works, and if it works then it is true. Simply because the truth might change does not make it any less true at that moment, and if the truth does change, it does not invalidate the past truth.
Truth is ruled by, and defined by, pragmatics. Since we are the authors of our abstractions (or rather, we choose our abstractions based on our values; only mildly the other way around), we should choose abstractions (truths) that are useful to us – those that pay us dividends.
The violence to which others deny this is fascinating to me, and I’ve seen too much suffering at the hands of idealism. Most people I meet cannot handle the idea that truth changes, or insist on clinging to truths that do not help them any longer. Sometimes, the clinging is due to the fact that the truth they espouse is what they want and they don’t want to see it change, but the vast majority of the time, people will cling to truths because their Ego is satisfied by them, rather than examining whether or not the truth they put out actually aligns with what they say they want.
It seems harsh. It seems cruel. How can I not be an idealist? We are taught by nearly every myth, every story, that holding fast to ones ideals is the highest nobility. And most of the time, that’s true – being strong of spirit with your values will help in shaping the world to those values. However, when the ideals themselves become a danger to your real values, it is more noble – it is necessary – to realize the pragmatics of truth.
“Anything done out of love is beyond good and evil.” – Nietzsche
I’ve been scratching at something on the edge of my mind for some time now, and it keeps coming up. It seems clear to me to realize a few things about the world of human actualizers as it stands today.
To be really simplistic about the history of philosophy, let’s divide things along religious/cultural bounds. We’ll say “Western” and “Eastern”. I’ll lay out a disclaimer here and ask people not to go into a huge debate about ethnocentrism.
In Western culture/religion, I’ve been taught that my desires are bad. Acting upon my desires is selfish. My desires are a source of danger to be mistrusted and feared. Desires should be ignored, tolerated, and denied.
In studying Eastern religion, I see a philosophy that teaches me that desires aren’t dangerous per se, but the source of suffering. My desires are something to escape from. Desires should be avoided, detached, and removed.
Neither of these paradigms accept desires. This is amazing to me, given that they are the primary source of information we have about what we want to do, and what we “should” do if the goal is actualization. I want to own my desires, not be ashamed of them! I want to celebrate them, not escape from them!
If we deny our desires, or escape from them, we are promised that all will be redeemed in the afterlife or the next life or Nirvana. Not a few philosophers or poets have termed this “living for death”. Nietzsche criticizes Western religion as “death worship”. I seek to live for life, for creation and celebration, not for death.
All of this ties into the way people treat each other, themselves, and the definition of selfishness, as I’ve mentioned before. People teach us to quell our desires so they don’t interfere with their own. It is a more fundamental act of selfishness than merely doing what you will can ever be.
That’s a good segue into a conversation I’ve had many times, but also recently, about my attitude toward compromise. Not only are we taught to fear our desires, we are taught to worship compromise. Sacrifice and loss, we are told, are meant to be shared. Compromise is a worthy goal to be achieved, and we celebrate it when it is reached. But compromise only yields mediocrity – it is based on the presumption that wealth and the satisfaction of desire is a zero sum game. That is, in order for one to gain, another must lose. This is a terrible, dangerous myth that permeates our morality and our politics.
When we truly walk the infinite spiral, when we truly own our actualization and realize it as the one goal we all have by definition, no such “zero sum game” exists. It is possible for you and I to both get what we want without sacrifice. To love, to truly love another is not to be willing to sacrifice for them – it is to not even consider the things you are doing for them – WITH them – to be a sacrifice in the first place.
Asking for compromise is fantastically more selfish than resisting it can ever be. Demanding that others curb their desires is more selfish than acting on them can ever be. And fearing your own desires is more selfish towards your own self than owning them can ever be.
A few months ago I talked about reducing certain ideas that define each other by their opposite to irrelevancy when one eliminates one of the defining terms. In the example, if I say “every action is selfish”, then it erases the distinction between selfish and selfless; the terms vanish, and the only further use of the term is for its rhetorical purposes. That is, I am purposefully using the connotations of the word selfish without any of its actual meaning.
I wanted to bring this up because I was thinking recently of what we actually mean by “selfish” and “selfless”. I have been realizing increasingly that, ironically, we tend to use the terms in the context of ourselves, or our egos. That is, when someone accuses you of being selfish, what they are actually saying is, “please act in my interests”, even if those interests seem selfless from their perspective. This pollutes the definition of what selflessness actually means – to be without self.
True selflessness, then, is not achieved by acting in accordance with the wishes of other selves, but acting without self. While it is neither possible (definitionally) or practical to act in such a way all the time (then there would be no “you” acting, which is a useful abstraction), it is important to practice in such a way that maximizes your awareness of your ego, as an abstraction, and thus grant a modicum of “selflessness”.
This is what we mean and all we can mean by selflessness. To say otherwise is to contradict the very meaning of the term.
We tend to connect the pieces of our life together to make a complete story. Our egos become a huge part of this, and as a result it is often difficult to separate our ego – our sense of self and self worth – from these different pieces of our life. Particularly when it comes to relationships.
People form relationships for many reasons. The healthiest relationships are where those involved come together to create more actualization than they would normally had they never met. However, when the reasons are tied to the ego’s fear of change and identification with permanence, those relationships become unhealthy.
The problem is that both of these types of relationships manifest themselves within us in the same way. We feel this drive as attraction, both physically and/or socially. It is difficult for us to tell if we are attracted to someone out of our ego’s need for validation, safety, etc., or if it is because we experience a recognition of someone with which, should we engage them, will help us to grow and actualize. The greatest relationships are those where this recognition is reciprocal.
However, even when we do experience recognition in this way, truth is never permanent. There are an infinite number of factors that make you, you, and those things can change over time. We hold such a strong attachment to this experience of recognition – to finding someone who helps us grow – that we are often blinded to the fact that there may come a time when the reciprocity is no longer present, and when either one of us in the relationship is no longer growing further as a result of it. We cling to it so strongly that it transitions from a relationship about growth, to the first kind I described above – one based on the preservation of ego.
The feelings change. One feels inadequate, alone, or afraid – is it about me? What have I done? What can I change to get back what was there? What has changed about the other person that I can get back? All of these questions are based on the idea of returning to the recognition point; something that cannot be reversed once it has expired. And, even if it could be reversed, the desire to return to it is now based on the ego and not on the Process. It is difficult to extricate oneself from this once it has happened, but when it does happen neither person will continue to grow from the experience.
There is no “should” or “should not” here, but being honest about when this does happen is critical to moving towards further actualization for everyone involved.
One other way we can avoid this is to recognize that relationships are nuanced. A great number of people can share recognition with one another in any number of unique, healthy ways. Since every actualization point is unique, these relationships are entirely separate from each other – we can abstract them in ourselves to the point where they do not interfere. This allows us to maximize actualization among all of the people with whom we interact.