When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A System Of Logic

Friends, if you embark on a journey to both read and understand the following words then I wish you success in that endeavor, but I think it to be pointless. The following is more personal than political, although it has a distinct relationship to political thought that I will tie together in a few days. I must admit that political thought has not occupied my mind for some days now, for personal matters have demanded a solemn period of introspection that has not yet been resolved. I welcome comments and thoughts from those who are far more clearly able to reason at this point, should you elect to opine. For those pure humanities people out there, don't presume this to be a dissertation on philosophy.

For my entire adult life, as a result of my upbringing and my training, I have been a relatively logical person. When confronted with a decision I analyze the options and consequences and then take the path that results in the most beneficial consequences a year down the road. Recently, I have found myself with situations that have given me a desire to obtain the immediate consequences; to change the paradigm by which I have long made decisions and to discard the shackles of previous decisions. For the moment the best analogy that I can relate is that I set sail on a particular course and at some point I realized that while my objective has not changed, I had perhaps taken the wrong route and have never wavered from that heading. The question therefore becomes whether I change the course, encountering much more turbulent waters before I reach the calm seas of peace and tranquility, or do I press on in hopes of a change in wind that gives the current course fair skies and smooth seas?

That question begs that I pause to consider the framework of my personal decision making and how as humans we act based on circumstances. Socrates asked “How should I live?” The question results in many answers, for everyone has an opinion. How should I think? How should I act? Are my actions influenced by the desire to conform, or ar they true to my essence?


I believe that it was J.S. Mill who proposed the “Regularity of Sequence”; that is, people will take action based upon human history, their personal history, and other factors such as their upbringing. In Mill’s time it was known as the “Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity” and posits that whatever action a man takes, it is the only action that he could have taken. His contention is:

Person A, having disposition X, confronted by situation Y, will act Z.

It can be seen, perhaps, that this is an attempt to relieve man of responsibility for his actions because there is little that can change an inherited pre-disposition (through upbringing, history, or religious teachings perhaps) and that man will predictably act in certain ways. My intention is not to take this line of thought but to apply it to changing circumstances. The Regularity of Sequences is not a law; when X+Y=Z is stated, it should be accompanied by ceteris paribus, or “all other things being equal.” As even the course of large aircraft carriers are affected by winds, the actions of man are affected by changing conditions.

I freely admit to being the personification of the X+Y=Z model. I have constantly applied a personal belief system that frames my thoughts and decisions. To this point in my life, that box has been a comforting presence on my table. When something happens, I open the box, organize the facts inside, and close the lid. When I again open it the decision has been made because it fit inside. This particular model is not working for me at this point.

My next question is to the moral relativism between two principles. My own upbringing has taught self-sacrifice for the higher good. This can be admirable, for without that particular ethos then we would have no Audy Murphys of WWI or Captain Brian Chontoshs of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who placed their own lives in jeopardy for the sake of others. For sci-fi buffs, it is Mr. Spock’s famous “The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” When straying from this absolute principle, it begs the following questions: Is there a lack of morality in all selfish decisions? Are morality and selfishness mutually exclusive?

Recently a situation has presented itself that doesn’t fit in that box. It isn't so much that there is an outside influence acting upon the situation (Y), as it is a change in my disposition (X). In my personal history, rain meant a few things. As a Marine, the rain meant a favorable environment for combat operations. As a law enforcement officer, it meant a long night drenched from working traffic accidents. As a manager, it meant that my suit is going to get wet and I will look badly at the next meeting. They were all negative connotations! Today I want to embrace the rain because it is raining, and nothing more. Instead of focusing on the end game, or the next year in framing a decision, I wish to discard the entire box and reach for a ring without fear of the consequences. I have realized of late that I have never gambled with my life. I don’t mean gambling my very physical existence, as a Marine and a law enforcement officer I have done those things more times than I care to repeat. I mean gambled with the intangibles, taking a risk to see if there is a place that transcends the simple, yet to this point sufficient, gratification of being responsible and acting based on the greater good of others. I want to forget that the greatest fear I have is failure. I have been driven to succeed in an attempt to avoid failure, not driven to succeed because I have a great love for something. I have this overwhelming urge to change that sooner rather than later.

So by now you are asking one of three things – Has he been consuming an illegal substance? Is he planning a casino heist in Atlantic City? Perhaps both? I assure you, there is no truth to any of those. At this point I am trying to determine if there is a good served by living within the established framework that has existed my entire life, or if there is merit in changing my disposition to make decisions. Perhaps my priorities have changed from self-sacrifice for a greater good to a need to find my own essence. Perhaps the greater good, in the long term, actually melds with a legitimate self-interest in the situation.

Socrates also said to “Know thyself.” Perhaps the self I know has been on an inflexible course for too long.

11 comments:

TAO said...

Is morality and selfishness mutually exclusive? Of course not, they are one and the same.

We are moral because we are selfish...or at least we should be and in the sense of "..do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

There is nothing more logical than enjoying the moment. You are able to enjoy the moment and share the moment because of the logic that you exhibited in the past. Then if you are constantly focussed on the future you lose the grounding that the moment brings you.

You cannot divorce the moment from the past and or the future. They are all interrelated.

Thats one of the biggest troubles with Americans we like to compartmentalize our thinking and we separate aspects of our lives that realistically are not separate-able. We talk about our private lives, our public lives, and our work lives as if they are all somehow mutually exclusive and as if we become different in all of the separate whelms of our lives. But that cannot be because we are who we are and we cannot or at least should not change because of our environment or the situations we find ourselves in.

While Socrates did say, "Know Thyself" he also was the first one to always question what he knew and would always exclaim that he knew very little....

I would argue that the fear of failure is the biggest impediment to success....

Success is not the "end" but rather the "means." A life well lived is not success but rather the goal. To achieve the goal is the success but it involves living not having lived. Thus success is not the end but rather the means. Then, there can be no success without failure. You have to fail to be successful but in the process of living ones successs out number ones failures.

Many years ago I came upon a study of 100 of the most successful people in the world from a variety of categories. These successful people claimed that they failed 70% of the time on average. But they were successful? They were successful because they failed and kept on trying. I believe that to keep on trying involves the belief that change is a constant in ones life and to fail involves thinking and changing which in turns leads to success.

Thus you cannot have success without failure. You cannot have a future without a past and you cannot have a past without a present.

Responsibility is not an obiligation or burden but the highest form of love and compassion. And, love and compassion can be an obiligation and a responsibility.

Its no different than politics, I did not start off as a young conservative but rather came to conservatism in my later years...nothing changed because my main goal has always been, what is best for an individual. That underlying principle never changed but what did change what I saw as the means for achieving the end that I have desired all my life.

So, basically, you may change how you go about things in your life and you may change how you perceive your life but you can never change what you believe is important in your life and important for your life....

You may tinker with a new way of achieving what you believe is important but you cannot change what is important to you.

Even Marines can become Liberals but a Marine is always a Marine.

None of the above was the result of anything other than stress, coffee, and cigarettes.

TAO said...

Oh and to change is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength.

As the ancient Greeks noted, compassion is something one can only expect from the strong.

rockync said...

Robert, my friend, I think perhaps you are coming to a new awareness.
Many of us were raised with that solid work ethic and sense of duty and responsibility. It's not a bad thing, but eventually you reach a place in time when it is no longer satisfying - it doesn't feel complete.
The destination is NOT of utmost importance, but the JOURNEY itself that matters most. You are so busy getting THERE, you don't have time to enjoy HERE.
So, the question is not whether you made a wrong turn but rather whether you believe that even if you must fight the rough waters of another journey, will it be worth it in the end? Only you can answer that one. I always find a quiet place for prayer and meditation before making those kinds of decisions. Once I begin, I never look back. We all make mistakes and sometimes we think "that wasn't the best choice." But, actually, how do we know it wasn't since it is the only choice we made?
Ponder it, pray it, meditate it and when your decision is made go forward and never look back. Life is too short, too precious to waste another minute in agonizing indecision.
That is my opinion for what it is worth.

The aim of life is to live and to live means to be aware - joyously,
drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
- Henry Miller

I'll be praying for you as you struggle to work this one out.

Peace & Love, Rocky

CB said...

Most people never know, experience the first framework, which provides context and education to inform your decision.

I understand through my family, church, military service, sports teams I've played on, being a married father of 5, that my service model is one of duty rather than self-sacrifice. It would be a sacrifice if these weren't things I didn't believe in and value.

What intrigues me most about what you've written is the tension between being driven by the desire not to fail and the drive to succeed. My thought is that the drive not to fail can only be short term, whereas the drive to succeed is permanent. One brings to mind the adrenaline of a fight or flight response, the other, the long term planning and the steady, patient, determination of a good parent. They both have their place but too often people swap them, using the drive not to fail where only the drive to succeed only works and vice versa.

Robert said...

Craig, I see your point about failure, but allow me to add something to the perspective. You detailed a short term example and a long-range plan of parenting. There are situations where there is neither - failing my chldren in some way, or someone else I love. Taking on a project that demands success. Perhaps another point is that failure can be relative. I set a goal for myself in grad school of a 4.0 average. I missed it with one B and finished with a 3.91. I failed to meet my goal. I set my crosshairs on a particular structure for my life many years ago - If there is now the urge to abandon that structure in favor of another alternative, can that not be considered failure as well?

Philosophical questions all, that may not make sense to anyone but me at this point. My brother summed it up best yesterday when he simply said "Existential angst."

Tao, morality and selfishness, I can agree, at times can be one and the same, if we choose to live by a code for self actualization. My question is more this: If one is pre-disposed as I wrote to conduct oneself in a certain manner, giving the priorities of others front stage status, and then decides to forego that and act in a manner that does not consider those priorities but only gratification of self, is that choice immoral? Can there be a situation where it is proper to put one's needs before the needs of others? I don't mean a survival situation, but one of everyday existence.

Rocky, thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I realize that this would be far more clear if I could explain the details, and you may trust me that I have every desire to do so, yet I cannot. Therefore I chose to write in genealities, framing it within a greater philosophical content; the personal aspect of this writing is largely in hopes of steamlining my own thoughts. Not to mention relatively new territory. I wasn't sure this should have been posted, but was encouraged to do so.

A new awareness? That is a very accurate description. An awareness of things that have escaped me before now. Perhaps one day soon I can share the situation and the result.

TAO said...

Robert,

When you are talking about the gratification of self....that a perculiar term.

Obviously, nothing in life is equal. No relationship, no bond, nothing is ever equal. Priorities are not equal...and all priorities require a cost and a benefit.

I have a family and I am the eldest son, and as a military family I was always expected to fill in whenever my father was not around...which was quite often.

So, I naturally grew up very responsible and with a deep sense of duty to my family. But slowly but surely I had to accept the fact that a few of my siblings did not return my responsibility and sense of duty likewise.

In fact one day I had to accept the fact that the only real relationship we had was the one that existed in me based upon my responsibility and duty. I had trouble accepting the fact that I was nothing but a problem solver and checkbook to two of my siblings. I love them dearly but I realize that their love was conditional on their need for money.....once the money stopped so did the love.

One of the troubles with responsibility and duty is that we forget about ourselves alot of times. But then again when you do something to take care of yourself you feel guilty.

Realistically, you are screwed either way....which you already know.

One of the reasons we like responsiblity and duty is because it is always easier solving someone else's problems than it is solving our own. By focusing on the needs of others we do not have to deal with our own needs....

rockync said...

I realize that you are working through some personal issues/dilemma, whatever, but as you can see, the lack of specifics has in no way deterred the thoughtful observations espoused here.
Details sometimes are better left for small private discussions. Regardless, you will be in my thoughts and my prayers. Sometimes, you have to do something for you -- and it's only selfish if it diminishes someone else, but everybody should get a turn at something they really want to do.
Years ago, I wanted to make a big move but my husband got cold feet and it didn't happen.
Then came a later time when the move was again possible - and I put my foot down and actually left without him. We both had choices; he had to stay and finish up some financial business, but he didn't have to come. I could have waited until it was all settled and perhaps miss my opportunity again.
In the end, it was a very good move and we are both happy with it. A risk, sure, but what is life without a little risk? Bread without a little salt? Just remember, there are no do-overs!

rockync said...

TAO - on another note, WHERE THE DID YOUR BLOG GO!?!?

TAO said...

I deleted it.....

I am getting out of the blog business...

I decided to keep my opinion to myself and to focus on myself and my responsibilities...

Besides, I have three business blogs at http://turnertees.com, http://bigntallnation.com and then my hobby blog at http//taoregency.com which I have done absolutely nothing with since I started on politics....

Then I decided to start another company sometime in January at www.myclubfundraising.com

Oh, and last night I had my 19 year old nephew and a bunch of his friends over for a little social event to thank them all of their assistance this year....and they informed me that I was totally out of touch.... :)

They told me I was fun to talk to and they learned alot but I was totally behind the times.... :)

Good luck on Facebook...that is a real tough nut to crack....its not myspace at all...

I will post here from time to time just so you all can get your comment count up!

Robert said...

Rocky, you hit on one of the thigns that is troubling me...there are do do-overs! We get one shot at this life...I know that there is another place for me after it, but we have one chance to enjoy and we can't rewind the clock. We can keep moving though and I am wanting to take a risk...I want to reach out and grab something and not look back. Unfortuantely, there are some consequences to doing so, obviously. I do keep coming back to the fact that life is too precious to waste....

rockync said...

TAO - I'll miss you as a daily read, but I will be watching for you in the bloggerhood.
So, a bunch of kids with a whole 19-20 years if vast life experience can convince you that YOU are out of touch! I'm surprised at you! But I do understand about all the irons in the fire; that does make time a precious commodity.

Robert - There are ALWAYS consequences to everything we do. Sometimes they're bad, sometimes insignificant, sometimes unpredictable or unexpected.
A more important question is what does Connie think? How about the kids (if this affects them in some way).
Sometimes you can reason a thing out, sometimes you just have to go with your gut.