May 22, 2009

Seek Exaltation or Glory?

Earlier posts examined the meaning of exaltation and its opposite, humility. Two topics remain. The first is distinguishing two feelings often mistakenly conflated; and the second is deciding whether an individual should strive for either of the two feelings as a life-structuring goal.

1. COMPARING EXALTATION AND GLORY. If a rancher wages a courtroom battle to save his own particular piece of property from eminent-domain thieves in his state legislature, he is fighting a personal battle. He can be courageous and he might be victorious (or not). In the process of building his ranch or in a long legal battle to protect it from statists, he might feel moments of exaltation if he succeeds, at least at some milestones on the road to his goal. However, if he broadens his battle by choosing to fight not only for his particular property but for the principle of property rights as well, he can experience more.[1]

Glory is the state of mind that arises from aligning, in action, one's highest personal values with philosophical values--the principles in any of the five branches of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, or esthetics). Like happiness, glory is not an emotion, which is fleeting, but a state of mind, which is slow to change.[2] A state of mind "colors" and thereby enhances one's daily experience of life, day after day. However, a state of mind is akin to an emotion, in that a state of mind is an automatic value response.

The movie Glory conveys this meaning of the concept. Many of the soldiers in a newly formed Union infantry unit had initially enlisted--and properly so--for their own personal purposes. Besides training them to function as a military unit, their commanding officer taught them to see that they could fight for the principle of liberty. Their particular fight ended in failure, but they had glory nevertheless. Unlike exaltation, glory does not depend on success. Exaltation arises from a particular achievement of a high personal value at a particular time and place. Glory arises from a long-term alignment, in action, of personal and philosophical values.[3]

2. A REWARD, NOT A GOAL. Each feeling--exaltation and glory--arises naturally from a passionate pursuit of values. That is the choice to make: to select rational values and pursue them. The feelings surface automatically under the proper conditions. Nevertheless, the presence or absence of these feelings can be an indicator of the nature of one's life, interpreted in full context.

In a free or semi-free society, the prospect of a life without the probability of occasional exaltation is a warning sign. If I were not feeling at least some moments of exaltation, I would examine my life to see why. (1) Have I clearly defined a steep hierarchy of personal values? (2) Have I defined a plan that outlines the major milestones for achieving my highest values--such as my beloved central purpose in life? (3) Am I taking action to achieve my highest personal values, as well as the philosophical values of reason, purpose, and self-esteem that make the achievement of personal values possible? (4) Am I achieving success or at least making progress toward major milestones in my overall plan? (5) Do I consider myself worthy of achieving my highest values? If the answer is yes to all those questions, but I am still not experiencing any moments of exaltation, I would ask: (6) Am I emotionally repressed and therefore unable, for now, to feel glory or exaltation even if I have earned them?

Now consider glory. Not everyone who lives a moral life will experience glory as a state of mind, except perhaps empathetically through art. First, no one is automatically obligated to take a course of action that aligns pursuit of personal values with fighting in society for philosophical values. That is optional. For example, a poet who is immersed in his art, as his central purpose in life, might properly choose to continue writing poetry without trying to philosophically--that is, ideationally--change the world around him.

A second reason that some properly may not experience glory is circumstantial. At one extreme, in a perfectly rational culture, no one would need to take the sort of actions that would result in glory. At the other extreme, in a society threatened imminently by totalitarianism, every rational person would need to take action against the threat--or to escape.

What about the more common situation, living in a semi-rational, semi-free culture, like the one we have today? There are plenty of opportunities both for moments of exaltation, wherever there is enough freedom to act toward one's objectively chosen personal values, and for glory, wherever there are enough enemies who deserve to be fought on philosophical principle.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For aligning personal and philosophical values in action: see What is in-line activism?. [2] For mention of happiness as a state of mind: Ayn Rand, "Happiness," The Ayn Rand Lexicon. [3] A further identification might be helpful. Exhilaration is the emotion that arises, at a particular moment, from engaging in an effective process, regardless of the eventual outcome. For example, at a certain point, a runner in a marathon may feel exhilaration at running smoothly and strongly, regardless of where he later places in the ranking of finishers.

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