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Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 1:18pmSanction this postReply
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Excellent article, Joe.  I've added some thoughts, which I hope will add to this theme.

 

The idea of something bigger than yourself is thought to increase your own importance or significance. Instead of just being one more person in the world, you'll matter. Your impact will be magnified by the cause. By attaching yourself to something important, that importance rubs off on you. 

 

I suspect that is very true for many of those who join, but there are others with a different motivation.  Some don't even look to increase the meaningfulness of their life and they aren't an activist, so they don't expect to make an impact or to be more important.  Instead they want to feel sheltered and protected and to quell feeling of being lost or unloved or frightened at life's challenges. 

 

Joining, for them, is more a sense of having a benevolent parent who is watching out for them, and having lots of brothers and sisters who care about them.  They no longer feel like Houseman's "stranger, alone and afraid, in a world I never made."  They have a family (in their psychology).

 

There is yet another motivation.  This one relates to the responsibility of making choices.  Both religion and statist political ideologies remove the most fundamental choices - making them for the person.  The joiners put their souls in the hands of God.  Or, trust their convictions to the party.  This seems to leave them feeling empowered, so long as their direction and their actions are in accord with the fundamentals supplied by that bigger-than-themselves entity.

 

Sacrifice does go down easier for those who have forfeit the complete ownership of their lives, having given some key part over to God or State.  To have done that already implies that it is of more value than you they are.  And, as Joe has written, "If your religion says that your god has the answers, you can just assume that they know what they're talking about. If you sign up for some socialist endeavor, you can assume that the values of others are more reliable than your own."  So, this giving of yourself to something-larger-than-you also leads to faith. 

 

There is only one way in which it makes sense for an Objectivist, or someone of high self-esteem to feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves.  That is the sense that because the world is knowable, and by being a competent and aware person, we can be left with a sense of living in a benevolent world.  This makes that world feel like it is ours, more than it is a sense that we belong to it.  It feels like we are home in the universe.  This is kind of a self-esteem trick.  When you are fully self-accepting, it automatically leaves you far more accepting of others which in turn makes them seem more benevolent.  When you are fully responsible for yourself, you aren't hungering for someone to come pick up what you should be handling.  When self-esteem feels high, there isn't a feeling that we need to be frightened in anticipation of what might come.  Self-esteem is a partial antidote to totalitarianism, to calls for sacrifice, and to invitations to adopt things on faith.  (Reason, critical thinking, and sound principles being the rest of that antidote).



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Monday, January 25, 2016 - 7:44pmSanction this postReply
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Sometimes, but not necessarily. We can join causes for the wrong reasons, as you describe. We can find friends or lovers, make money, donate money or bear children for the wrong reasons.

 

I've joined in collective efforts on the job or as a volunteer. I enjoyed being with people who share some goal or other with me, and we were all glad at the end to see some accomplishment that no one of us could have brought about. (Quite by coincidence the accompanying photo [as of January 2016] shows me doing volunteer work for a shared cause.)

 

Nothing you say exactly rules this out, but the fact that we can join a cause for the right reasons, too, deserves an explicit mention.

 

(Edited by Peter Reidy on 1/25, 7:48pm)



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Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 1:41amSanction this postReply
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Thanks for these reflections, Joe, Steve, and Peter.

 

I’d like to underscore Peter’s remark. I helped to build a nuclear power plant, it feels a bit mine, and it cost me a lot. It was as if we were a brotherhood in a war, as Rand described the Monadnock construction project in The Fountainhead (HR I 548).

 

Joe, in the case of religion (and perhaps in the case of some political revolutionaries), people see themselves as not only receiving marching orders from God, a someone other than themselves, but as being themselves holy by participation in that holiness. I mean the way in the platonic view a chair has its chair essence by participation in the form CHAIR. Similarly, there is not only otherness from God for the believer, but oneness with God, a participation in that holiness, in that ultimate and most complete value, for the believer.

 

Also, Joe, I’d caution that it’s not only calls to the excessive state that rely on appeal to being part of something bigger than oneself. Ellsworth Toohey is a recruiter for builders of an excessive state. One of his destructive satisfactions is to advise young people. He tells one young woman “‘You will never be more than a dilettante of the intellect, unless you submerge yourself in some cause greater than yourself’” (ET VI 272). But the same appeal is used in calls for legitimate state efforts. A few years ago along the roadsides were recruitment billboards for the U.S. Marines that read: “COMITTMENT to something greater than themselves.” That is a Christian call to steeled joint action. The call to the men of the Monadnock construction project is a different call to such dedication—the call to and of selves great as the cause.

 

This area has many facets. I recall a scene from the film Full Metal Jacket in which the leader is telling the men they will fight and die and not be individually remembered, but that the corps, their corps, will be remembered. To Joe’s thought about one’s life being an end in itself, I’d add that all value there appears to be in social organizations and efforts, beyond their service to individuals, derives from their living character along the lines of paradigmatic human life and value and end-in-itself, the individual.



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Post 3

Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 9:28amSanction this postReply
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Stephen and Peter's remarks encourage me to say that joining something larger than oneself can be either good or bad depending upon one's motivation.  I imagine a young man, fresh out of engineering college and getting a job with a large organization that is working on manned space exploration, an area at the heart of the young man's dreams and his greatest career ideal.  In that case he is pursuing his goal and it is as if the large organization he joins is helping him.  He can grow and he can feel more value in his life.  The core values he shares with the organization, and his reason for joining are healthy.

 

The other side of this is where the joiner is seeking to augment a psychological weakness, offset a fear, express a defensive anger, validate an irrational hatred, hide from responsibility, lose a negative self-image in a group image, or in any way to avoid reality.  No matter what is being joined, and no matter what the set of beliefs, if any of those are the motive, then joining that 'something bigger than oneself' is not good.

 

Another marker to look for has to do with what is required or implied as part of 'joining.'  Does one have to give up some of their personal identity?  Does one lose some automomy?  Is the person promised less responsibility for their actions?  Is there a shift from reason to faith?  Is the attraction they feel for joining that it will make them more than they were before? 

 

Although I like exploring the psychological aspects of different issues, it should be said that Joe's article lives in a context where 'something bigger' implies (and statistically cries out for) a submission to the kind of collective that Objectivists hate (and he explicitly mentions religion and big government).  From that point of view, some of what Stephen, Peter and I have been describing aren't the same kinds of thing at all. 

 

Joe's article leads to the observation that joining something bigger than one's self to gain a sense of increased value has the actual effect of making it harder to value your own life for itself.  That's an important point and one I agree with.  Like most psychological defenses, the paths they encourage will end up increasing the very problems being defended against.  The experience of one's self as a value is a major component of healthy self-esteem.  And healthy self-esteem is a product of exercising personal responsibility and being appropriately conscious.  If those are processes are diminished by some 'joining' then the increase in a sense of value that is being sought will turn into a decreased sense of value.



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Friday, January 29, 2016 - 3:33amSanction this postReply
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Adding to the other examples, suppose the 'something bigger than yourself' is promoting Objectivism.



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Friday, January 29, 2016 - 6:45amSanction this postReply
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"Adding to the other examples, suppose the 'something bigger than yourself' is promoting Objectivism."

Reminds me of the last lines of Rand's "Don't Let It Go", from Philosophy: Who Needs It:

 

 

"We cannot fight against anything, unless we fight for something-and what we must fight for is the supremacy of reason, and a view of man as a rational being. These are philosphical issues. The philosophy we need is a conceptual equivalent of America's sense of life. To propogate it, would require the hardest intellectual battle. But isn't that aa magnificent goal to fight for?"



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Tuesday, May 9 - 7:47amSanction this postReply
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I think it's a mistake to think to believe in the inherent value in your own life is mutually exclusive with connecting with something larger than one's self. I think you can believe in both when you accept a hierarchy of values. At the core is the belief in yourself, but just as you grow, you find value in group endeavors that reinforce and strengthen, rather than diminish your self-value. 



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Wednesday, May 10 - 1:55pmSanction this postReply
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I think a lot of this has to do with moral principles, that you should derive your principles yourself.  If those principles align with an organization or the like, then I don't see a problem as long as the individual doesn't begin accepting principles from the group or collective, or rationalizing doing it.



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Thursday, May 11 - 3:50amSanction this postReply
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Joe's excellent article opens many avenues for discussion.  I mentioned here on RoR that I joined my state defense force rather late in life. (See: http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/GeneralForum/2031.shtml )  My personal values are well engrained at this point.  I was pretty clear in my own mind what I intended to gain and deliver in terms of the implied bargain. I will have more to say later, but for now, my primary motivation was to gain training in disaster response.  As a capable and competent individual, my efforts can help to restore my neighborhood so that I can return to a home context similar to the one taken away.  I thought of Hank Rearden's comment to Francisco d'Anconia the first time they met: "It is so easy for me." 



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