The day I stopped being an idealist – infinitespiral.net
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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.

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  1. Jim Powers

    I disagree with your statement “A belief is only true if it works, and if it works then it is true.”

    Belief and Truth are two very different things. A belief can never be proven nor disproven. A Theory is a stupid thing to believe in because it’s either true or it isn’t. A provable belief is a hypothesis. Hypothesis + Rason = Knowledge (Truth).

    Beliefs are abstract and require faith. The only faith required to get to truth is faith in yourself that you can find your way to prove or disprove what you think might be true using personal observations.

    Thus, belief can never lead to truth.

    When it comes to ideals, I think you’re really discussing principles. Principles in living, as in science are based on observed results for experiments. These themselves are truths that continue to serve the purpose of reason by guiding you to greater truths.

    In short, anything you “believe” should be analyzed. If you believe something is provable, it is worth keeping until you prove it. If you know that something cannot be proven, it is foolishness to keep it.

    Your friendly neighborhood objectivist.

    May 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm
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    • jayson

      You’re right; I shouldn’t use the word belief in this case. I really mean that truth isn’t true unless it works, that is, truth is defined by pragmatics.

      Should everything I believe be analyzed? What if the very act and method of analysis is but yet another thing I have faith in?

      May 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm
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  2. Jim Powers

    Hypothesis + REason = Knowledge (Truth). My typing sucks.

    May 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm
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  3. Jim Powers

    For Objectivism to work, you have to accept that what you can replicate by your own experimentation is absolute. Without absolutes, everything deteriorates into chaos soup – which is way better suited for the myspace page of a 14 year old girl than any man of reason’s brain. Once you accept that yes, the whackjob professor that ranted for 45 minutes about consciousness being relative was wrong and embrace the absolutes of your reasoning of the world, it becomes much easier to theorize -> plan -> act your way to success in whatever endeavor you seek. A is A. A may be a concept that is one small part of a larger alphabet.. but it will always be A and the concept of A is absolute. I highly recommend you read some of “The Virtue of Selflessness” – Rand et al do a MUCH better job explaining the difference between reasoning and rationalizing than I can at my present level of understanding.

    The core of it is to believe what you know, and to never accept anything on faith. If you don’t know it, even if it may be absolute to someone else, it is not absolute to you. The integration of a concept into the absolutes of reason must be on the basis of knowledge alone. Faith, in the sense of accepting something you “cannot possibly” understand is essentially taking the easy way out of the explanation of a situation.

    Vatican v. Galilei is a great example here. Vatican says take it on faith that the universe revolves around the earth.. science puts Galileo in position to challenge faith with reason and win. And so he did.

    You must assume that all things “Too Complex” for man’s mind to reaon with are unreasonable and/or false and/or lies. The trick is knowing what you can prove and what you can’t, and walking away from what can’t be proven with current variables.

    To manipulate using a “divine understanding”, be it religious or social, is a trick for the subjugation of man’s will. This is obviously more or less apparent depending on the faith/ideology – but a good measuring stick is that the more collective the concept, the less likely it is to be that the concept presented is true.

    May 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm
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  4. Jim Powers

    Using these concepts, Idealism has a new meaning. The current concept of Idealism (utopian delusion) is collective. This means that it is unlikely to be proven true. However, Idealism from an individualistic point of view is highly feasible. You seek only to perfect yourself, to be the ideal man that you know lies within you. You reach it through individual accomplishments, each building on the one before it.

    Rather than starting at crappy and “longing for the days when we will no longer suffer” – you start at “no more will I suffer” and end at “I am the man I want to be”.

    The first step to this is declaring your absolutes – absolutes in this case being principles that you do not deviate from and that outline and define a course of action that results in self improvement – each step of self improvement pulling you closer to your ideal. There’s more to this in objectivist theory, but that’s pretty much how I’ve chosen to live my life the last 10 years or so, and it’s been hard but rewarding.

    May 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm
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    • jayson

      “”For Objectivism to work, you have to accept that what you can replicate by your own experimentation is absolute. Without absolutes, everything deteriorates into chaos soup – which is way better suited for the myspace page of a 14 year old girl than any man of reason’s brain.”

      See this is exactly the myth I am trying to illustrate on this site. I’ve been a relativist for a long, long time, and I’ve realized a lot about what that does and doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean everything is meaningless, it doesn’t mean reality is an illusion and it’s all in our heads, it ONLY means that all truth comes from statements of truth; those statements reflect the values of the actualizer; and values are entirely subjective.

      A man of reason and a man of God are the same, psychologically and metaphorically. The only difference is in the tools that they use. The man of reason’s tools tend to “work” better because those tools are more adaptable. He has faith in empiricism (among a lot of other things), which Hume showed cannot be reasoned out. But when you start to treat those tools as absolutes – that is, when you start to treat abstractions as more than just abstractions, you fall into the same trap that the Enlightenment told us it was saving us from.

      In you example, which I can completely appreciate and I am very glad that it works for you, you are using the creation of an ideal as a tool to accomplish your goals; but it doesn’t make the ideals any less of an abstraction. “Without absolutes, everything deteriorates into chaos soup…” is the same argument as a Christian saying, “Without Jesus there’s no morality, and with no morality everyone will kill each other!” You can’t claim something as absolute just because the consequences of it not being so are frightening.

      I’ve gone through the journey and back again. One of the best things to illustrate what I mean is the parable “On The Three Metamorphoses of th Spirit” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Objectivism is in the “lion” stage of the three metamorphoses. Anyway, I’d suggest reading that it’s very cool.

      May 28, 2011 at 5:23 am
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  5. Jim Powers

    A man of reason and a man of God are the same, psychologically and metaphorically. The only difference is in the tools that they use. The man of reason’s tools tend to “work” better because those tools are more adaptable. He has faith in empiricism (among a lot of other things), which Hume showed cannot be reasoned out. But when you start to treat those tools as absolutes – that is, when you start to treat abstractions as more than just abstractions, you fall into the same trap that the Enlightenment told us it was saving us from.

    I disagree here. There is a very clear and absolute difference between reason and faith. A man of reason produces something that any man can replicate – an equation, or a formula or steps to reproduce the same data any number of times over.

    A man of faith, on the other hand, produces something that can not be replicated, and thus, cannot be accepted as fact. That which cannot be accepted as fact must not be accepted at all. It is the very concept of some divine, unprovable influence that creates the illusion of specialness that is utter garbage. Falling into the trap of prophecy/”Social Theory” is death by tolerance.

    Reason (logic) is to humans what teeth are to sharks, webs to spiders, and poison is to jellyfish. It is our means to survive. Any time reason is supplanted by belief in something that is not logical, our self-reliance is diminished. Whether it’s God or National Pride or whatever, it’s all the same thing: un-fact.

    And this, as a side effect, is why levels of faith and understanding are inversely proportionate – even when science and faith mingle. Look at the monks of the middle ages – they had the science to brew beer, but they truly believed that the mash turned into suds by the grace of the saints. It was only centuries later, when the answers to other “Why?” questions gave us the means to ask this “Why?” that the true answer was known.

    “Why?” is what makes us human. To accept anything other than an absolute, logical answer to “Why?” makes us less so.

    May 28, 2011 at 9:02 am
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  6. Jim Powers

    I guess what I’m trying to say, in regards to relativism is that relativism itself depends on how much tolerance your values permit you to accept things that are not fact as truth. Which provides two types of hypotheses: those that you know evidence can support and those that you don’t. Accepting untruth as truth doesn’t make it fact, even if it is fact to you – because we all exist in the same world, which is an absolute testing ground for those ideas.

    May 28, 2011 at 9:10 am
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    • jayson

      But the method of “why” is something we have faith in. That makes it qualitatively the same as other forms of faith, but certainly different in its effectiveness for certain uses. My only point is that it is a tool like any other – one that happens to be extremely useful.

      May 29, 2011 at 10:55 am
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