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.

May 15, 2009

Opposite of Exaltation?

Besides (1) examining one's own experiences as referents for a puzzling term/concept, (2) reading a dictionary for its list of conventional usages of the term/concept, and (3) investigating the etymology of a term, there is still another approach to better understanding a problematic term/concept: Consider its opposite.

What is the opposite of the meaning of "exaltation"? My unabridged dictionary offers the adjective "humble" as the antonym of "exalted."[1] The noun form, "humility" (from the Latin noun humilitas, "nearness to the ground") means feeling low or being low (on a scale of value), unworthy (of high achievements), and unsuccessful (in action).[2] Those conventional referents of "humility" are indeed opposites of exaltation: being at a high point in the achievement of a core value; being worthy of the accomplishment; and being ultimately successful in pursuit of a value.[3]

From day to day, I meet the phenomenon of humility in two forms. At first they seem to be contraries but actually they share the same root, just as Mother Theresa and Attila are alike in being mystics and altruists. Only their styles differ. The first form of humility that I see is the conventional one: a soft-spoken, bowed, and obsequious individual who is perhaps more common in theocratic or other highly hierarchical (authority-worshipping) societies.

A second form of humility appears in the type of person who is loud, hostile, and arrogant. I more frequently encounter this type of personality in our egalitarian (envy-ridden) culture. Stylistically, this type of person focuses on the small in stature, the low in value, the negative, the demeaning, and the destructive. In my experience, particularly online, the individuals who live by this standard are often those whose communication style includes: hyperbole that deafens a rational audience, not understatements that allow listeners' minds to function fully; insults, not reasoning; profanity, not words of respect; snickering, not solemnity; and buffoonery, not personal dignity.[4]

What do the two forms of humility have in common? They both reject the prerequisites of exalted moments, those moments in which the achievement of one's highest values and recognition of one's own worthiness are expressed in an upright posture, in dignity of manner, and in speech that respects the minds of rational listeners.

Of course, as always in society, there are mixed cases. Some individuals who are fundamentally humble may oscillate between the two styles of obsequiousness and verbal savagery. Other individuals, at a particular time, might be a mixture, with humility and the potential for exaltation fighting a civil war in their souls. Still others, especially young people yearning for an exalted life but sprouting in the cultural mud of humility, are in transition toward the only sort of life worth living: the exalted life. During that transition, they retain some of the mud, but less and less as the years pass.

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

[1] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged. [2] Cassell's Latin Dictionary. [3] For Ayn Rand's comments on humility: Ayn Rand, "Humility," The Ayn Rand Lexicon. [4] For mention of the use of understatement as an element of an objective style in writing and speaking: Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, editor Robert Mayhew, pp. 124-125.

May 10, 2009

What is exaltation?

IMPORTANCE. In his first post (on April 11), "Introduction to 'Exalted Moments'," the anonymous author of the new Exalted Moments weblog quotes Ayn Rand's correspondence. In a letter she wrote in 1960, she said:

You [an admirer of Atlas Shrugged] ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of Atlas Shrugged:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?' [Dagny Taggart] whispered. . . ."

Let me begin [Ayn Rand writes] by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is . . . the keynote . . . of the view of life presented in
Atlas Shrugged.

What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man's existence on earth, are the meaning of life . . . that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience . . . .[1]

NATURE. In thinking about the meaning of the concept "exaltation," I have set aside related meanings that are merely social applications -- such as to exalt someone, that is, praise someone, perhaps in an effort to raise his position in the estimation of others.

One step in considering a puzzling term and the idea it names (if any) is to consider the word's origin historically. Etymology is not an infallible guide to current meaning, but sometimes the etymology of a word can give a clue to an early meaning that has survived in some form into modern times. Consider "exaltation." In Latin ex is a preposition that often means "from." Altus is an adjective having various meanings: "great"; "grown" (when one's potential is fully actualized); and "high." Our English word "altitude" reflects that last meaning.[2]

Another early step I take in considering a concept is to look at example referents in my own experience. As a hiker, runner, and walker, I have had a certain feeling when struggling up the side of a steep hill and finally reaching the top. From that high point, I can see far and wide, which is a perspective that reinforces a focus on the biggest values in life, not the trivia. The same three aspects--a certain mode of progressive activity culminating in a particular achievement, a certain feeling, and a certain perspective--appear also, but more intensely, when an individual is aware of achieving a high, long-term personal value (especially one supporting his central purpose in life), one earned through persistent effort. An example is an author reaching a major milestone in working on a book for many years.

PREREQUISITES. What philosophical values and virtues are required of a person to earn the feeling of exaltation? Of course, one needs all the philosophical values (reason, purpose, and self-esteem) and all the virtues, but especially the virtues of rationality (which allows one to set goals and devise plans for achieving them), pride (which is striving to make oneself better), and courage (which is required for achieving plans, even against opposition).

INTENSITY. What factors determine the intensity of exaltation? Working from my own experiences and some observation of others, I would suggest several factors make the feeling more intense: the more important the value--that is, the higher it is in one's hierarchy of personal values, the more intense the emotion; the more clearly one has identified and integrated one's actions and values, the more intense the emotion; and the greater the investment of time and effort in achieving the value, the more intense the emotion. Negatively, emotional repression can reduce the intensity of any emotion; that is a matter of the individual's psychology. I do not know if a person's intelligence or if the historical magnitude of his accomplishment--for example, a man who runs a global billion-dollar business in contrast to one who runs a small-town hundred-thousand-dollar business--affect the intensity of exaltation. I doubt it.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES. Fiction offers examples of exaltation: the last, triumphant scene of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand; on a smaller scale, some scenes from Heart of a Pagan, by Andrew Bernstein; the last scene of Von Ryan's Express (the book, not the movie), by David Westheimer; and, on a still smaller scale, and only implied, some scenes in success stories created even by emotionally repressed writers such Louis L'Amour, for example, in Utah Blaine. For objective readers, the facts in these scenes evoke positive evaluations that give rise to the emotion of exaltation.

CONCLUSION. Climbing to the top of a steep hill is both a narrow example and a symbol of the setting for feeling exaltation. The situation includes a pattern of progressive action toward a definite milestone or goal, evokes an awareness of intense accomplishment, and produces a broad perspective that casts aside trivia and involves the essence of one's soul--one's highest personal values. Action toward a high goal and its eventual accomplishment are the causes of the feeling, and the accompanying broad perspective is an immediate effect of the situation.

Exaltation is the emotion that arises from reaching a new high point in the core of one's life and knowing that one is worthy of standing there because one has earned it through thought and action.

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

[1] For the quotation: Ayn Rand, The Letters of Ayn Rand, editor Michael Berliner, Plume (Penguin), 1997, p. 583-584.

[2] I am working from Cassell's Latin Dictionary and from the The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged.

May 7, 2009

NWO activists--history in the making?

Updated: Sept. 9, 2009

The following list shows the activism of individuals who are members of Northwest Objectivists. It is a social organization whose primary purpose is enjoying the company of like-minded individuals and whose secondary purpose is assisting members in starting other, specialized groups (for example, for activism or study). By providing a meeting ground, NWO has facilitated activities for change.

As a long-term student of history, I have been fascinated by professional historians' accounts of the spread of ideas through various societies (ancient Greece, medieval France, England in the early Enlightenment, and others). In several posts, I have described the lessons I have drawn from looking at the past and the present:
"Philosophical ripples?"
"What is in-line activism?"
"In-line vs. off-line activism?"
"What is a movement?"
"Quality control in movements?"

Having compiled the following list, I appreciate even more the fervor of activity that must have led to the culture of the West European Enlightenment--many individuals at many levels of society, each in his own chosen manner, pursuing a better future.

- Writing weblogs: Kate Gerber, CareerMama; Andrew Miner, On Coding Style, epistemology of writing software; Brad Williams, Scripsit, political; Andrew Dalton, Witch Doctor Repellent, political; Burgess Laughlin, Making Progress, philosophical and historical; Peter Namvedt, Reason to Freedom, political; Gaia Marrs, Life on Marrs, political.
- Debating or advocating in specialized areas, online: Mia Eilebrecht, advocating for rational parenting; Rachel Miner, advocating for rational parenting; Rick Wilmes, researching the history of the ideological sources of US military policies, and debating on a US military academy discussion forum; and Peter Namtvedt, writing guest posts for political theory weblogs.
- Writing letters to editors, politicians, and bureaucrats: Maryallene Otis, Rachel Miner, and Peter Namtvedt.
- Writing supportive letters or calls to victims of statism (physicians, industrialists, property owners, etc.): Rachel Miner.
- Creating art carrying objective messages: Duane, writing a novel; and Peter Namtvedt, planning a political novel.
- Writing supportive comments on Objectivists' internet essays: Rachel Miner.
- Pursuing in-line philosophical activism: Burgess Laughlin, a long-term historical project.

- "Enabling" the activism of others, by organizing socials or discussion groups: Jason Crawford, Rachel Miner, Andrew Miner, and Burgess Laughlin.
- Providing a site (Study Groups for Objectivists) for structured, text-based study of elements of Objectivism and related topics: Brad Williams and Burgess Laughlin.
- Organizing for intellectual activism: Brad Williams, Oregonians for Individual Rights.
- Grading essays for the ARI essay context: Andrew and Rachel Miner.
- Creating organizations: Blake Scholl, Club for Capitalism (Seattle).

- Informally and singly speaking to friends and co-workers: Most of the 50 members of NWO.
- Making phone calls to local, state, or national legislators: Rachel Miner.
- Speaking to live audiences: Maryallene Otis (Toast Masters).

- Carrying signs, distributing leaflets, participating in work parties: Blake Scholl, Jason Crawford, Bill Herman, Tom Lahti, Maryallene Otis, Don Otis, Alex Bleier, Thanh D., Brad Williams, Burgess Laughlin, and other NWO members (participating in "Tea Party" events, protesting "universal health care," and addressing other issues).

- Signing ARI's The Atlantis Legacy: Jim and Duane; Don and Maryallene Otis; Andrew Layman; and Burgess Laughlin.
- Donating to ARI and Oregonians for Individual Rights: Burgess Laughlin and anonymous donors.

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