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Can You Change The World?
Occasionally I'll talk to someone who's interested in Objectivist or libertarian idea. Some of these exchanges span weeks or months. A number of times we've gotten to the point in the discussion where they start feeling depressed about the state of the world. They'll say something like "What's the point? It's not like we can do anything to change things."
My typical response is, "Have you even tried?"
It's not that I'm a wild optimist or anything. I consider myself to be practical. And of the ways a person is practical is by clearly defining a goal, and considering possible approaches to accomplish that goal. Perhaps you can't actually change the world. But before shrugging it off as if you gave it your best effort, did you even bother to figure out what you wanted to accomplish, or considered options? Have you discussed it with other people who are thinking about the same problems? Or are you just dismissing the topic while pretending that it's your high standards that are the reason for giving up?
Consider the goal. Do you expect to single-handedly convince every human being on the planet to give up irrationality and strive for a life of freedom and reason? Do you expect to do all of this on your own? Do you expect to change the world overnight? Does every person need to agree with you for it to be a success? If these are your goals, maybe the problem is with you.
What are more realistic goals? How about trying to raise people's awareness of these ideas? You don't even have to convince them personally. You can create online resources that gather the information. You can suggest books or resources to people who may already be interested. You can bring information together so it is easier to access. You can find other ways of letting people know that these ideas exist, and make it easy for them to find out more.
If you want to be more involved, you can set of a goal of trying to help persuade people. This can come in many different forms. You can present the ideas in your own unique way, allowing people many options in how they learn or become interested. You can learn skills to persuade others, and learn the ideas well enough to be convincing. You can add to the body of resources.
If you are really interested in doing a lot, you can master the subject and try to expand on the ideas. New ideas, new applications, or even new integrations can add to the body of knowledge and ideas. Those ideas can be taken up by others and used to understand and persuade others.
Or perhaps your goals are less ambitious, but personal. Maybe you just want to understand the topic well enough so you can share it with your friends or family, or at least have an answer when someone says something you disagree with.
You don't have to change the world yourself. You can help as much as you want, or you can just live your life and try to avoid being part of the problem. You can't expect miracles, like overnight success. But you can have a very real impact, and make progress towards your goals.
If you are serious about trying to make a change, you might consider where your effort is best spent. There are a lot of factors and possibilities. You might be more passionate about some ideas than others, and having passion is a huge benefit to any endeavor. Or you might consider where you will personally have the largest impact. Or which topics are most important.
Among Objectivist ideas, I think the most crucial topic is morality. Others may disagree, but I'll explain my reasoning.
Objectivist morality is completely different from conventional morality, and it is something we don't really share with any other group. This means that nobody else is going to do the work of communicating these ideas. It also means it is an area where we have a long way to go.
Consider some of the other major pillars of Objectivist thought. Reality, reason, and individual rights? While philosophers may dismiss reason and reality, most people accept the world as real and believe reason/science is effective. They may recite philosophical claims about not being able to know anything, but usually only when they're trying to sound smart of destroy an argument. The two concerns where this general rule doesn't hold, religion and mysticism, have active groups working to remedy the bad ideas. The atheist movement challenges religion, and the skeptic movement challenges all of the other nonsense.
In terms of individual rights, the libertarians are a widespread movement promoting these ideas. There is substantial support for many of these ideas and many people working hard to further them. That doesn't mean there isn't more to do, but is well covered unlike morality.
Morality is also a very interesting topic. What should I do, and why? There's a endless supply of questions to ask and answer. There are principles to discover or refine. It is concerned with both ends and means. And it covers every action or choice in our lives. It is concerned with how we treat our friends, why we value our jobs, how we should go about pursuing a romance, and on and on. There's plenty to say.
Morality also explains a lot, and these are critical ideas that are not understood or discussed. Morality explains why people do the things that they do. Understanding morality allows you to see the things that people take for granted. I'm reminded of several politicians who claimed that they were not ideological. An understanding of morality would let them see that they are ideological, they just take their ideology for granted.
Morality is hugely important. Morality explains the widespread differences in political views. Morality is the foundation of politics, and the political spectrum is best understood as different takes on morality. But without that knowledge, people will continue to talk past each other and assume the other side is stupid or evil. And there's no way of permanently making a major, positive, political change without addressing the underlying moral concerns.
If you want to change the world, morality is the place to start. And I don't even think it would take that much. If people even knew that they were coming from completely different moral positions, that clarity enough would allow people to better argue and better make sense of what other people believe. You don't even have to convince them that morality should be concerned with rational self-interest. Even letting people see the pervasiveness of morality, and the radically different moral views, could change the entire debate. And clarity is definitely an ally of the truth.
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