Jim A.

The Deadliest Ideas

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For years I've wondered about what ideas that people hold are the most hazardous to their own psychology. And not only to their psychology, but to their emotional state of mind. What ideas threaten an individual's happiness the most?

When I ask that question, I'm keeping in mind the fact the opposite of happiness (I believe) is extreme depression. And what is the ultimate consequence of depression, if left unchecked? Suicide, of course. That's what I mean when I say the "deadliest" ideas.

I have one candidate for that, but I want to hear what others would say, because I think it's extremely important. The foremost idea I would say, of course, that is the most destructive would probably be obvious: "A is non-A". But outside of that one, I would nominate the idea that there is an after-life. Why do I think that is deadly and destructive? Because I think that if one believes there is life after death, then he or she has no incentive to maximize the only time they know they have: today (if even that! A person could die in the next five minutes, there is no guarantee of life beyond the moment). A person could say to himself: "It is so hard to work to achieve my values, my ideal happiness. But there is an after-life; I'll do it then. In the meantime, I'll just do what I can do comfortably, I'll do whatever gives me that "warm" feeling. Example: It would be very hard to become a great artist, so therefore I'll produce what sells. After all, I can do that well.

What are your nominees?

(P.S. Incidentally, the film A Beautiful Mind really missed the mark regarding threats to one's own state-of-mind, in my view. A well directed and acted movie, it doesn't even recognize that John Nash's completely insane ideas in the areas of mathematics and economics may have been the ultimate contributor to his schizophrenia by adversely effecting his ideas in other areas of knowledge--and in his personal life.)

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I think the most destructive ideas are that the things you want are unattainable and that values can be obtained without effort. Both lead to not expending the effort to achieve values.

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Actually, isn't the question at root equivalent to asking what is the greatest human evil? Objectivism's answer to that is: evasion -- which may be described as acting on the implicit premise that wishing something can make it so, or that refusal to see it can make it go away.

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My candidate for the most deadliest idea is: self-sacrifice as a virtue.

It's true that the idea rests on metaphysical and epistemological premises. However, I believe that one develops and acts on ethical principles more quickly than premises about metaphysics or epistemology. It is the child's behavior that parents focus on most in early years, and ethics is a very direct guide to behavior. So, children learn more quickly about good vs. bad (or right vs. wrong) behavior than they do about, say, true ideas vs. false ones.

Ethics is also tied to values and related rewards and punishments. Children learn very quickly what actions will result in getting what they want or don't want. They ultimately learn a code of conduct and some reasons as to why. If the child learns that to be good (and get what he wants) he must sacrifice himself (and give up what he wants), he is placed in a crushing psychological bind.

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I think the absence of reason in plotting one's life, is the source of other consequent failures, which in turn lead to an unhappy life. Irrationality is deadly.

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To Scott A.:

"Crushing psychological bind"...boy, is that ever true. (Probably truer than I realize, given my upbringing, early education and church indoctrination at an early age.)

To Arnold:

Regarding "plotting one's life": I think you've really hit on something. For years I've thought that our public education system (of which I am a "product") is missing one (of many) crucial area(s) of instruction: how to (rationally) plan one's future. For one thing, that would require the highest degree of selfishness--since we're talking about career here, among other things--but selfishness has been declared evil for decades/centuries, and so you can forget having such a course in the curriculum.

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My candidate for the most deadliest idea is: self-sacrifice as a virtue.

That certainly resonates with me. I would add, as a direct corollary, the idea that government is an institution charged with enacting a collective virtue of self-sacrifice usually voiced as "the government's job to 'take care of us'", or "the government's goal of 'providing for our needs'", etc., with the "us" and "our" and, by extension, the "them" and "their" being open to interpretation of course.

What's interesting to me is that all the ideas mentioned thus far are interconnected -- the attempts to evade reality, to default on Reason, etc.

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I think the root of all evil is fundamentalist skepticism. What I mean is: a skepticism that reason is not far and away the best guide to reality and truth -- and not far and away the best guide to behavior and living your life. Fundamental skepticism leads to Leftist relativism and subjectivism, or else Rightist dogmatism. It leads to pre-modernism and post-modernism. Ayn Rand said that "[R]eason is man's only absolute."

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Pragmatism is the most evil,

and that is the practice of action or intention to act without an Objective happiness-based purpose, validated facts and reason.

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The most evil idea is the one which so many people have - that you can get away with not thinking.

Remember that line from Atlas Shrugged - "There is only one evil thought - not to think."? I agree with Ayn Rand.

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