I never got a chance to tell you this, but I do it now because I think you should listen. I’ve thought about it because of my mother, who is dying in a hospital. I’ve thought about it because of my daughter, who is starting her life. And I write to you because of your wife and your son — because of you. I write to you because of your family.
“Only look about you: blood is being spilt in streams, and in the merriest way, as though it were champagne. […] And what is it that civilisation softens in us? […] And through the development of this many-sidedness man may come to finding enjoyment in bloodshed. […] In any case civilisation has made mankind if not more bloodthirsty, at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty. In old days he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever. Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves.”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Notes from Underground”.
The day is almost over and I am struck by despair that is now known to me. I haven’t written any post yet, I have none saved for a moment like this, and, what is worse, I do not have the motivation to write. However, write I must. As a friend of mine always says (referring to the habit of running every day): when it is hard, when there is no mood, when all you want is not doing it is precisely the moment when you most should do it — only then is there true merit. And so I force myself to write. But all that comes to my mind is the absurd violence we live in, and every word I write bothers me.
“The lower conscious species may be said to survive by “instinct,” if the term means an unchosen and unerring form of action (unerring within the limits of its range). Sensations and percepts are unchosen and unerring. An instinct, however—whether of self-preservation or anything else—is precisely what a conceptual being does not have. Man cannot function or survive by the guidance of mere sensations or percepts. A conceptual being cannot initiate action unless he knows the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot pursue a goal unless he identifies what his goal is and how to achieve it. No species can survive by regressing to the methods of more primitive organisms.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 193-194.
(Sanichar, the “wolf-boy”, forces us to think what really makes us men. If reason is our basic means of survival, and we have no instincts, how did he survive?”)
As I said in my crazy post about “Dune“, reason is the word of Objectivism. Chapter 5 of O.P.A.R. established that it is only through reason (not emotions) that we acquire knowledge about the world; and Chapter 6 has established that it is only through reason that man survives. I will no longer delve into (i) for now, but I think (ii) needs a little more attention.
“Reason is man’s tool of survival. From the simplest necessity to the highest abstraction, summarizes ‘The Fountainhead‘, ‘from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind.’”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 198.
(A pre-historic mammoth hunt showing a great number of men using arrows, spears and knifes to overcome one single mammoth. Could they do it by instinct? No. Perhaps they could when they were apes. But the moment they stopped being apes, their survival depended on their minds. Man is the rational animal, “because man is the organism that survives by its use.”)
A system of thought must provide a philosophical understanding of the nature of man. The metaphysical nature of man, as Ayn Rand put it, is what links the broad abstract principles at the base of any one system to the practical decisions at its apex. If you don’t know what you are, you won’t be able to decide correctly what to do in any given situation. For example, if you are a cell of a larger whole, whether of Society or of God, you will behave according to the dictates of one of them; if you are “just” an individual, you will act as one.