Brianna

Changing your emotions

10 posts in this topic

Our emotions are supposed to be a feedback system based on our philosophic values, and we're supposed to be able to change them through a deliberate reprogramming of our values. Ever since I started reading Rand's non-fiction and realized that she was more than just someone who'd written some really good novels, I spent a lot of time feeling as though my brain were almost being rewired as I read both Rand's works, and other works on economics, philosophy and history. This story is not directly about that rewiring, but an example of the truth of Rand's assertion and how my emotions have literally changed because of my change in premises:

A friend of mine is currently living abroad in England, and I hadn't talked to her for a long time. She is an ex-classmate, and we're friends through our profession and shared interests, so I'd never been aware of her political opinions before, assuming she'd even held any because both she and I had been extremely apolitical before she traveled abroad. I had not had much chance to talk to her on politics or much else since she'd left for abroad, so she was completely unaware of my change in worldview.

Anyway, we were talking online a few months back, the talk turned to politics, and she expressed views which were in strong sympathy with the European ideal of the social democratic welfare state. I was shocked. Not so much at the views themselves, but at the vehemence with which she expressed them as she is frankly very politically naive and I didn't consider her knowledgeable enough to be able to assert political views with such confidence. I don't remember the exact conversation, but at one point she said something about how income inequality was bad and we should reduce it. In order to point out to her that this concern with income inequality was a red herring, I asked her, "If you could magically double everyone's real income with a magic wand, would you do it?" I was expecting her to answer "Of course, why wouldn't I?" to which I was going to point out to her that she had just doubled the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, and how could she do such an evil thing? Instead though, she replied that she would double the income of the poor, but not the rich, because the rich didn't need it. Further, when I pressed her on the exact meaning of this view, that she was denying a good thing to people who had done no wrong despite the fact that it harmed no one to grant them that thing and would help the people she granted it to, she still stuck to her position.

18 months ago, before I started reading Rand's nonfiction, this would have been a purely intellectual argument if it had come up at all. I would have found nothing wrong with my friend's position, and it probably would never have even occurred to me to challenge her assertion about income inequality in the first place, let alone press her on her views once she expressed them. But now, what struck me more than anything about her statement was how vicious and pointless it was. I felt the sort of negative shock that you would feel at an act of deliberate, pointless, impersonal malevolence, almost as though I had seen her deliberately throw vicious insults at a complete stranger for no reason. My emotions had literally changed based on my change in values, and my awareness of that fact alone was enough to startle me.

There were one or two friendships I did end up dropping after my viewpoints started to change, because my friendship was based on intellectual and philosophic values (not that we held the same values, but I was a lot more willing to concede the good intentions and benevolence of those who did hold leftist views). I dropped that friendship not simply because my friend held those views, but because I realized that she accepted the basic premises those views were built on on at least a semi-conscious level, and I couldn't bring myself to deal with that once I understood it. Also, she actively advocates for those values, and I had no interest in supporting someone who was, consciously or not, out to destroy me.

This person is not a deep philosophic thinker. She is incredibly ignorant and naive when it comes to politics (not stupid, just very, very uninformed) and even in our own profession, she has explicitly stated to me in the past that I was the better practicioner because I grasped the concepts involved more thoroughly than she did, i.e. I was the better conceptual thinker of the two of us. I have no intention of dropping this friendship, because it is not based on politics and because I think my friend is suffering from bad premises and errors of knowledge, not deliberate malevolent intent. Also, she does not engage in advocacy and is still quite apolitical in action. But after she expressed this view, I couldn't help thinking that what she had said was ugly. It changed my opinion of her slightly, and not for the better.

I guess this isn't so much a question as it is an experience I wanted to share. I'm not sure I put it in the right place, though I'm sure Betsy will move it if I didn't. Did anyone else here note a change in their emotional responses once they started to embrace Objectivist ideas? How did it affect you, if you care to share?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm not sure I put it in the right place, though I'm sure Betsy will move it if I didn't.

I moved it to "Psychology."

Did anyone else here note a change in their emotional responses once they started to embrace Objectivist ideas? How did it affect you, if you care to share?

Not that much for me because I didn't really change many premises. I did however, have a similar experience with an old girlfriend.

All through elementary school and junior high we were friends because she was the only girl I knew who was intelligent, literate, and seriously interested in ideas as well boys, clothes, and other girlfriend things. We did have quite different senses of life, heroes, and personal values, but it didn't bother me much because I enjoyed all the time I spent with her talking about the things that were important to me.

We went our separate ways, but finally met up after almost 30 years. By then we were both mothers and we talked about our kids. That's when I heard her talk, in a lighthearted, unselfconscious way about her children and the demeaning, abusive way she treated them. I was so appalled that I could not tolerate that big a gap in values as I had when we were teenagers. I could hardly wait until she had to leave.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have noticed changes. I am now incapable of feeling envy or jealousy. That does not mean apathy toward the injustice of evil people that are allowed to get away with what they do, but I no longer feel deprived or unjustly treated when I see good people getting good things. Not that I ever expressly believed they shouldn't, but there used to be remnants of the sentiment that "I deserve" it more. They're gone now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Almost all of my friends fit the bill. This is very typical of young people living in Britain.

That being said, those that were close friends have tended to change their views gradually (over several years) to match mine, as they were exposed to the real world. I think fondly in particular to a woman who started off as a typical pro-Islam, pro-socialism Cambridge student, and who is now applying to work for commodities hedge funds (possibly the most capitalist, trade-focused place to work in finance), agreeing fully with me that greed is good, that civilization is a good thing, etc. It may have helped that she spent substantial time in the Middle-East, getting to see first hand the viciousness of both statism and irrationalism (she told me Islam asked you to "give up reason" and to "feel", enlightenment arriving to those who "felt" strongest).

Another, more humorous point. If you double everybody's wealth, you end up with a currency worth half what it was, and exactly the same position otherwise :) - this can be one definition of inflation.

Regarding redistribution, my favourite is the constant clamouring of students and the left in Britain for "a living wage for workers". Considering workers, and indeed, welfare recipients, usually own a car, a mobile phone, a flat screen TV, and eat well and every day, and considering what I have seen in emerging markets, I wonder what a "living wage" means.

I don't think you necessarily "rewire" yourself (i.e. change the way you process information). Rather, your appreciation of objective reality (what leftists might call "subjective reality") becomes better and clearer with time and experience and as you think about it, and your emotions naturally follow in a rational manner. I don't see it as a change, but as continuous improvement towards the Holy Grail of perceiving reality perfectly.

Then again, reading Ayn Rand for me was simply a validation of my own thoughts and a fantastic way to clarify and structure them, so perhaps things were different for you. I was always uncomfortable, pre-exposure to those ideas, with the ideas I "held" by default, socialism, anti-Americanism, etc. which made little sense to me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My emotions had literally changed based on my change in values, and my awareness of that fact alone was enough to startle me.

Yep. I remember thinking "Wow, it really does work. Cool."

Have you talked to your friend about AR and her writings? I believe Betsy used the method of mentioning to someone that they reminded her of a strong main character in Fountainhead or Atlas in order to pique their interest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to take away from anything you have mentioned, which I think is a wonderful thing, but I think a lot of people have had a similar response to your's as their thinking changed and those thoughts become more explicit.

For example; I acted in a selfish manner most of my life without putting much thought into it. I knew what I wanted and I went after it without expecting other people to agree nor care about my goals. I remember multiple times in my life, before reading Ayn Rand, being told that I was selfish. My general answer to most of the people that made that statement was something like, "if going after one's goals in a relentless manner is selfish, then so be it." I did not think to take it further, that being, if one is going to be selfish that they must first be rational. The biggest, most wonderful thing, that I got from Ayn Rand's non-fiction writing was how to think objectively. Thinking in an objective manner allowed me to discard any non-integrated thoughts. In other words, I "checked my premise" in all areas. Checking one's premises can be easier for some that have not held many contradictions or because in one's youth they have not been held for long. As one ages it becomes a little more difficult to rethink one's premises as they have a much larger amount of useless or non-integrated knowledge to think about and discard. For something to be objectively integrated it must be tied to reality and Objectivism can help that happen in a much more efficient manner.

It is by doing what I mention above that has allowed me to become a more intense/passionate, explicit valuer and hence my emotions are right in line with my value system. One thing that I found very nice after learning to think in an objective manner is that almost all of my emotional responses were proper (at least from my perspective) and hence my overall reactions did not change, the knowing why I was having them became explicit for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think I should clarify what I meant by "rewire".

I didn't really change my own life in response to ARs writings. There was a very long gap between reading AS and FH, and then reading VoS and her other nonfiction. I read her fiction in high school a little over a year after deciding to go into engineerings, and one of the big reasons I liked it so much was because I found the sentiments it expressed tremendously validating of my own life.

What really changed me was her nonfiction, but it didn't change the way I lived my life on a personal level. What it changed was my perception of the world around me, almost as though I were a fish who'd suddenly been rudely awakened to the nature of the water I was swimming through. Reading those books, and the other nonfiction books I read in order to confirm what was expressed in those books:

1) exposed me to a LOT of new information in a very short time, which in itself was shocking since I'd always considered myself fairly well-educated

2) made me aware of the nature of ideas, and how the fundamental ideas you hold will shape your actions and convictions

3) made me aware of the fundamental premises of the leftists and the totalitarians, and changed my view of those people forever after (and not for the better)

4) forced me to wrestle with and eventually accept the fact that objective reality existed even outside the physical realm of the sciences, and explicitly reject the nonjudgemntalism and relativism that is so prevalent today in our culture

5) forced me to explicitly reject the idea that I could treat with those who advocated leftist ideas (welfare, social justice, etc) as though it were merely a harmless intellectual debate that had no bearing on the real world, i.e. it's all academic, now let's go get some real work done.

On a personal level, it didn't change much except for the fact that I read lots more nonfiction, and started blogging. But on an intellectual level, it was almost like getting hit over the head with a club. It wasn't what I did that became different, but what I saw and how I saw it, and that's what really got rewired when I started reading Rand's nonfiction.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Reading those books, and the other nonfiction books I read in order to confirm what was expressed in those books:

1) exposed me to a LOT of new information in a very short time, which in itself was shocking since I'd always considered myself fairly well-educated

2) made me aware of the nature of ideas, and how the fundamental ideas you hold will shape your actions and convictions

3) made me aware of the fundamental premises of the leftists and the totalitarians, and changed my view of those people forever after (and not for the better)

4) forced me to wrestle with and eventually accept the fact that objective reality existed even outside the physical realm of the sciences, and explicitly reject the nonjudgemntalism and relativism that is so prevalent today in our culture

5) forced me to explicitly reject the idea that I could treat with those who advocated leftist ideas (welfare, social justice, etc) as though it were merely a harmless intellectual debate that had no bearing on the real world, i.e. it's all academic, now let's go get some real work done.

You definitely got your money's worth from those books.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You definitely got your money's worth from those books.

*laugh* I hope so. I've probably spent somewhere between $800-$1000 at Borders over the past year.

@L-C - No, for several reasons. One, I don't think she'd be terribly receptive to it, and I don't think it's practical to push people in stuff like this. Better to wait for them to come to you, or at least save your efforts for those who will be open to them. Also, since she's in England right now, it'd be hard to sit down and discuss them with her.

There are a couple of people I have exposed to AR stuff, but in both cases they were people who were fairly open to the ideas to begin with. For example, I invited a friend to attend Dr. Brook's speech in chicago with me last June, and he ended up enjoying himself very much. But he'd already read Atlas on his own and called it "deja vu" so I knew he was receptive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Did anyone else here note a change in their emotional responses once they started to embrace Objectivist ideas? How did it affect you, if you care to share?

I have noticed two major changes in my emotional responses since I started to embrace Objectivism. By the way, I believe that I am one of Sweden´s very few "died-in-the-wool", "fanatical" Objectivists. I came into Objectivism 31 years ago, and I have been studying it, and I have been an intellectual activist, ever since.

The first change in my emotional responses is that I feel still more anger now than I did before I discovered Objectivism. The reason for this is that my moral evaluation of the majority of the members of mankind has become much more negative. Before I studied Objectivism, I was on the premise that most men were innocent victims, who could not help the bad things that were happening to so many of them. But after I studied Objectivism, I understood the issue of free will. And then I came to realize that the majority of the members of mankind were helpless and suffering *by choice*. Because most men do not care to think about, and seek out knowledge of, such abstract subjects as philosophy. And that is why the bad things that are happening to them (political oppression, wars, deteriorating economies etc.) continue to happen. It is because the majority of the members of mankind are just too indifferent to get off their a_ses and do anything about it.

The reason that I feel anger, specifically, is that I believe that most men are wasting their potential to an egregious extent, and also that they have "let me down". When I say "let me down", I do not mean that I think that they *owe* me anything - it is just that I feel that I ought to live in a more decent world than the one I live in today, and the reason that I don´t are the egregious moral defaults of the majority of the rest of the members of mankind.

Anger is the lietmotif of, i.e. the dominant emotion in, my sense of life. I am an idealist who got hurt.

The second major change in my emotional responses is that after discovering Objectivism, my feelings of guilt, which formerly were acute, have disappeared. I am almost entirely devoid of guilt nowadays. My former feelings of guilt were due to two factors - my acceptance of the morality of altruism, and the premise that I had wasted my potential. But Objectivism enabled me to realize that I was not morally bad for wanting happiness for myself, and that the fact that I had met with major failures in my early life was more my schoolteachers´and my parents´ fault than my own. Reading the essay "The Comprachicos" especially, lifted an enormous burden of guilt from my shoulders, that essay helped to "liberate" me from my guilt. And Objectivism enabled me to realize that it was not my own fault at all that I had gone psychotic in my teen years.

Still another major change in my psychology, although this is strictly speaking, not a change in the *emotions* that I feel, is that is that my self-esteem has increased a great deal. Thank you, Ayn Rand!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites