"Sustainably-high self-esteem" is the highest good. Obviously there are distinctions between having a high opinion of yourself without proper justification and actually possessing those qualities which sustainably lead one to feel a proper sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Specifically, it is those qualities which enable the spread of self-esteem amongst others in one's in-groups (organisms), and even beyond, those qualities which make others feel good about themselves so that they make others feel good about themselves, etc., ad infinitum, which are truly the most valuable qualities there can be. Of course, these qualities are tied to the natural world, in the ways which make us more successful organisms, and so they are the qualities most closely associated with having power, which is why power is often mistaken to be the highest good. And this is also why taking the means (power) as the end itself (s-e) often leads to false pride, and the destruction of s-e in others, and eventually (given enough time) in the self. The distinction here is between constructive power and destructive power, with the former being a proper means to the end and the latter not. Another consequence of this is that selfishness, seeing oneself as valuable in isolation of others, is destructive to the soul (by which of course I only mean the psyche and the emotional energies which provide us with s-e). As social beings, we need to see ourselves as belonging to a larger group (organism), and this means that the more we are able to include others within our own concept of the self, the more our s-e is tied up with the s-e of others. If we feel cut off from meaningful relationships with others, our feelings of self-worth dwindle. It is in both feeling connected to others, and feeling useful/powerful enough to them to engender mutually-reinforcing s-e, that we make our real living as human beings and achieve our full potential and full actualization of our values.

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Booklover, I certainly empathize with you on the whole religion and politics thing. I've gotten into heated exchanges on here with people who don't share my liberal/progressive views. It is a lot easier to socialize with people who share your values, for sure. And while I feel that religious faiths and political philosophies other than my own are destructive to humanity and therefore undermine our fundamental values, it is also the case that one can actually be religious or (shudder) Republican and still be a good person. To that end it can be a real sign of strength if one can look past such faults and see the value of those people within. It can be a sign of still greater strength if you manage to get them to give up their wrong beliefs, but it is demonstrably better to remain civil to those with differing beliefs even if they are clearly being unreasonable in holding such views. We are all more alike than not, and we are also all still more like children in our species development. Even the best of us behave poorly, especially when confronted with others acting poorly as well.

Yeah no I know what you mean. :-D

From a personal correspondence:

LAW: The prospect of self-imposed isolation and discipline -- with some purpose, of course -- has its appeal for me still. So, I'm not sure that I agree about the necessity of belonging to larger groups, and in fact I think that seeing oneself as valuable in isolation from other (currently living) organisms is certainly the only way to avoid destruction of the self when one is in fact isolated. But otherwise I do agree that we need to feel connected in some way or other.

AMF: You present a formidable counterargument, although much of the rebuttal is subsequently given by you as well. I don't agree that seeing oneself as valuable in isolation is a terribly useful coping strategy when one is actually isolated. Soldiers captured by the enemy, or people held hostage against their will, or prisoners in general, do much better when they feel as if there are people who are important to them waiting for them on the outside. Another example is contained in the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway". He tries to commit suicide out of lonely desperation, and even goes so far as to invent another "person" (Wilson) for him to have a significant other. There is definitely something to your argument though, in that a person will desperately cling to the belief that they are a "good person" in even the loneliest, most desperate circumstances, but I think we would agree that it is far better to have an outlet for what is clearly an emotionally-laden belief, and that the forced isolation of another person can be among the most devastating things to a person's feelings of self-worth. All such atrocities which rob a person of their dignity is a direct assault on their feelings of self-worth, which is why they are so horrible. So I would say that this desire to feel like a good person is like a fire in need of fuel, and acceptance from others is the fuel on which it feeds and without which it starves. Another excellent example is given in the case of a king (I think) who wanted to know whether babies born to foreign mothers would speak the local language or the language of their own people, and ordered the nursemaids to feed and otherwise take care of the babies but never to speak to them. Every one of those babies died for lack of interpersonal connection. I would say then that emotional connections to others are absolutely essential right down to the biological level, and the only way people survive long periods of isolation from others is because they have first been given a degree of interpersonal connections which sustains them, and indeed when people do not survive such periods it can often be attributed to the lack of a will to live stemming directly from the lack of emotional connections with others. There is also the cases of widows/widowers who die shortly after their spouse dies, and many other cases of self-destruction due to broken attachments to others.

I think you may be conflating membership esteem with all forms of self-esteem, which is not a complete representation. Based on previous discussions about the psychology of value-determination, I would label four major "tiers" that need to be considered:

  1. Personal Esteem - The valuation of the self, and things outside the self (without distinction), based on their capability for generating benefit, or their similarity to such mechanisms ("enjoyable" things).
  2. Membership Esteem - The valuation of one's partial contributions to the benefit of like-minded but distinct individuals, on the premise that group efforts reduce the action-costs for personal benefits.
  3. Contractual Esteem - The valuation of contracts or arrangements with different-minded and distinct individuals, which generate benefit through bartering across mismatched valuations.
  4. Populous Esteem - The valuation of a 'social commons' for securing specific resources and benefits, especially when followed by a divergence into personal and unrelated activities.


Feeling "cut off from meaningful relationships with others" is a combination of loss of outside-relations in personal esteem and lack of membership esteem. However, these tiers can be leveraged against each other: consider the heavy membership esteem cultivated in the military. In combat situations the "protect your group" sentiment can be used to numb soldiers to personal damage or losses (as comparatively minor losses when measured against the membership benefit). 


In the same vein, you speak of multiple meanings of power in the same way. Can your argument be successfully broken into discrete points against these distinct categories? And further, can it convey the complexities which arise from inter-tier competition (such as "personal power" vs "membership power")? 

Hey Drake, this is an interesting reply. I would first of all like to know where you got these different "tiers" of value-determination from. Do you have a source?


The first thing I would point out is that the 4-tiered approach you present has an underlying philosophical perspective, specifically one that comes from the individualism side as opposed to the side I am arguing for, which is the organismic perspective. My argument is at its root an attack on individualism and the selfishness it values, in that according to this philosophy one makes choices as an individual from the perspective of "what's in it for me?" I argue that there is a continuum along which one can situate oneself as to how they form their identity, ranging from the one extreme of complete selfish individualization (the kind Ayn Rand argues for, in which one is virtually commanded to be as disloyal and conniving in pursuit of one's selfish interests as possible), to the other extreme of seeing oneself as an almost insignificant part of the universe on the other, in the hyper-altruistic version of identity. Everything in between these two extremes are versions of organicism, in which a person forms their identity by seeing themselves as belonging to ever larger groups of beings, whether as a couple, a family, a community, a philosophy/religion, a nation, or even living beings in general, as in when one has a pet which one feels responsibility for, or all sentient beings, or just all life in general. We may generally frame our organismic perspectives with us at the center, and with degrees of inclusion/exclusion based upon circumstances, as well. But valuing things for the pleasure or enjoyment they bring to you in complete isolation of how taking such pleasures affects others is not usually possible.


Let's take your first tier, personal esteem, as an example. I would think that one's own physical powers (strength, beauty, etc.) would count prominently among such valued things, no? Surely, one gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction from being attractive, or strong, or physically capable of some feat. But taken in isolation of others, what do such things amount to? Let's take attractiveness. One can see that one might be very attractive to members of the opposite (or same!) sex, and this can provide a visceral kind of self-satisfaction. One can even imagine that one might take a great deal of pleasure and self-esteem from having copious amounts of causal sex with strangers. My argument is not that one can never find self-esteem in all kinds of pleasures available to humans. But is this the kind of activity which brings lasting self-esteem? I would say that taking physical pleasures of this kind can work towards building up one's self-esteem, but that taken to extremes they would begin to work against this highest goal. What we really strive for, those of us with developed senses of how to derive meaning from our experiences, is intimately tied up with how we see ourselves within the context of the people we long to belong to, i.e. how others see us. Meaningless sex is not wrong in and of itself, but it doesn't satisfy our need to be intimate with someone who we actually care very much about.


I suppose I would answer your last question in much the same way - in striving to build an edifice of meaning in our lives, something to give our lives a sustainable purpose beyond our often very childish desires to take in hedonistic pleasures or accumulate personal power, this is best accomplished by merging our identities with those of others. Having others for whom one can work for and help is, in the long run, far more satisfactory than succeeding as an individual but doing little for others. When we are successful, in any area of life, the definition of that success is nearly always predicated on the fact that that success can be shared with others, and that we can feel proud of each other's accomplishments, or that demonstrating some strength or possessing some power is generally something good for a larger organism which one belongs to. We celebrate the victories of others, even in direct competition with still more others, because we like to see ourselves as belonging to an organism which possesses such qualities. When the competition is strong, it provides a lot of satisfaction. But when the competition is weak, and one organism completely dominates another, we are left either feeling victorious against an organism which we would exclude from our identity, or we experience a sense of unfairness, depending upon to what extent we experience our own identity as being wrapped up with the organisms in question. It's like a very complicated set of Venn diagrams at this point, but I think my meaning is relatively clear.


So my argument is that organismic self-esteem (also organismic love) is really the most basic to our sense of self, and that any other forms of self-esteem are generally only good insofar as they contribute to, and do not detract from, organismic self-esteem.


As for my use of the word "power", I intended to use it in as broad a sense as is possible. Constructive power is power which is organismically constructive, and destructive power is power which is organismically destructive. You will notice that this allows me to point out cases where an individual is acting seemingly against his own interests (self-destructively), whereas this behavior (and especially the fact that they may take such pride in that behavior, think medal of honor winners!) makes perfect sense from an organismic perspective.

Another good way of understanding these problems is in the example of the lottery winner. So suppose you won an absurd amount of money. You can spend it any way you like, on yourself, on charity, or anything in between. My contention is that you want to spend it on the in-between stuff as much as possible. If there is stuff you can buy which you can share with others, like building a new park in your neighborhood, or creating a local business which creates a lot of local jobs, this will provide far more personal satisfaction than the alternatives presented by the philosophies at the extremes, like giving it all away to charity (lol, hell no!), or having your own private mansion built. And the wonderful thing is, if you do start a local business and help out a lot of people, you might end up being able to afford a pretty nice lifestyle anyway, and with friends to share it with rather than being all alone in your own private fantasy-world.

Your initial point highlights a critical omission on my part, an explicit definition of Self. I rely on the concept of an "assessed-self" which contains weighted valuations of all structures within interactive distances that mimic the cohesive mechanisms that preserve an entity. For an entity capable of reflection, the assessed-self forms the map of "things of value" based on a perception of criticality to the mind's continued stability. From this perspective, the physical differentiation between the person's body and its environment does not result in a mental differentiation of value. Consequently, when I refer to the "self" in this way, it not only represents the literal individual, but also the objects, experiences, relationships, group associations, etc. which embody the mentally perceived identity of that person. 


So my initial questions could be interpreted for "him", "his groups", "his competitive position", or "his social forums" as independent aspects of the complete evaluation which actual minds follow. The assessed value of one's identity within each of these channels varies in the same fashion as above, so one's actual behavior is selected accordingly.


I do believe what you describe as your perspective is fundamentally similar to the concept of the assessed-self. The main difference is merely that I choose to be more exact in the specification of modes of contact which lead to categorically-similar evaluations of identity.


To expand upon this further, I would point out that your examples of personal esteem were not, in fact, based on personal perceptions. Beauty, strength, and generally any form of social prowess directly contribute to Contractual Esteem. Why? Consider what you described: it is the belief that you are more beautiful than other people, and thus hold a social power which you can trade for sexual relations. It is the mismatch of value between oneself (or one's group) and the "others" who you trade with which forms the basis of this esteem. As you pointed out, the fundamental characteristic of Contractual Esteem is the consideration of the Other.


For completeness, I would list the fundamental characteristics for each tier as:

  1. Personal - There is only the extension of Self. External things are either valued as an indistinguishable part of the Self or fade into irrelevance.
  2. Membership - Many entities overlap in an Us, yet still maintain partial separation. The interactions of group members outside of the group requires protection-by-association to behaviors unrelated to the group's identity.
  3. Contractual - Comparison against Others, as above.
  4. Populous - An "Everyone" in which only actions carry value, not identities. 


You are entirely correct in your indication that Contractual valuations can be volatile and become obsolete as social environments shift. In that respect, Membership value is distinctly more stable and durable over the long-term. 


However, your own attitudes are the flaw in your argument as you clearly express a personal preference toward Membership Esteem, which also indicates that you have found that your own values lay in that tier. That's certainly an unavoidable effect, but a conflict arises when you attempt to argue in favor of provincialism directed toward your province. Your argument will resonate with like-minded people, but people with differently-distributed identity will find no connection to your argument. If it did have success, it would be in convincing such people to focus on their existing value, not your own.


Your argument is, however, very relevant to modern history. We are currently progressing through an era dominated by Contractual contact and our societies are shaped accordingly. There are many cultures which have chosen a reversion to Membership societies on exactly the same arguments, but they cannot completely escape the influences of the outside and they will eventually "drift" into similar behaviors. 


It is important to note the full spectrum of tiers, however, as a narrow perspective in modern society often leads to ignorance of age-old Personal value and the slowly-emerging Populous value fostered by globalized environments. Despite your selection of only two sides, fulfillment can also be found through lifelong friendships and self-knowledge (Personal Esteem) or full expression of one's creative capability to an attentive (if brief) audience (Populous Esteem). Each tier has its own quirks and limitations, so I do not believe an argument for provincialism is sustainable when humans naturally spread across every tier as we develop and connect with one another.


Though in that same vein, I have perhaps also agreed with your argument: provincialism in favor of Contractual Esteem is definitely an untenable position. However, it is not the choice of mode which makes it thus, but rather the drive for provincialism which is inherently unstable. I've tried to maintain an objective distance in my points to avoid implied aggression, but I think you would find yourself capable of easily enumerating many cases of Group reverence or Member protection being taken to destructive extremes; I believe it would only damage the discussion if I were to forcefully present such examples. 


Good food for thought?

I believe it would only damage the discussion if I were to forcefully present such examples.


Not at all. Since my argument relies upon being able to show that organicism, understood properly, can not be taken to destructive extremes, a successful counterexample would effectively undermine my entire argument. So, whatcha got?


Keep in mind, I do not suggest that organicism entails prioritizing cooperation over competition. Competition is also organismically very valuable, and there is a range of circumstances over which it becomes virtually impossible to tell whether cooperation or competition has organicism in its interests. In most cases, there is a benefit and a drawback to either choice. Just a head's up.

The general symptoms of Membership behavior taken to extremes are:

1) Undue devaluing and sacrifice of individuals toward the "greater good" of a Group, or 2) Undue protection or privileges for individuals in central roles for the "sake" of Group standing.


For examples of 1), see:

  • Nationalistic fervor in WWII, esp. the "glory to die for your country" 
  • Motives for genocide, where individuals are lumped into "bad" Groups
  • Eugenics movement for eliminating individuals to "strengthen" the Group


For examples of 2), see:

  • Catholic Church protection of pedophile priests to avoid reputation damage
  • [insert litany of groups caught for hiding criminal actions by members]
  • 'Above the law' status adopted by the financial elite of Wall Street
  • [insert litany of noble-status prerogatives assumed by leadership levels]


In direct arguments, it's very easy for such examples to come across as attacks on one's personal values (by association), which then leads to a defensive response that shuts down any chance for open dialogue. 


Beyond just cooperation and competition, my goal is to have you also consider the contexts of free action (personal) and decentralized contribution (populous). The particular point to recognize is that free action comes as the prerequisite for cooperation and that free action for individuals is not inherently competitive.


Though both individuals and groups can be framed within a competitive (contractual) perspective, those tiers do not in themselves consider the Other required for competition.  

1) Undue devaluing and sacrifice of individuals toward the "greater good" of a Group, or 2) Undue protection or privileges for individuals in central roles for the "sake" of Group standing.


This is why organicism is not merely Membership behavior, because this is precisely what organicism does not advocate. And your point regarding free action is irrelevant - the question is not whether there is some sort of external pressure put upon an individual to act for the preservation of either the self or the larger organism. Organisms are much more fluid and dynamic than I think you have taken me to mean. There are just as many times when what organicism prescribes is to sever organismic ties as to preserve or create them. The central issue at hand is whether the individual's actions are such that they are organismically creative or organismically destructive. For example, do we think that cooperation should be prioritized above competition is all cases? Clearly not, because this leads to just the sort of examples you mention. Conversely, do we think competition should be prioritized? Also, clearly not, because we think that there is a definite organismic benefit to cooperating with each other in larger organisms than going it alone in all cases.


Let's take your eugenics example. We have learned that white people are no more or less genetically fit than any other so-called "race". Operating according to that principle was clearly doomed to fail, as it prioritized one type of organism over another without proper justification. The same fault is found in your genocide example, because there exists no proper justification, from an organismic perspective, for doing so. What you must keep in mind is that it is not any single organism against which we should judge whether an action is right or wrong - it is against all possible organisms, present and future, to which we must look. We can easily imagine an organism composed of both black and white individuals (we live in one), or one composed of both Hutu and Tutsi. We must consider what sorts of behaviors we would prescribe for those organisms as well. If we act against the dictates of organicism, as in the genocide or eugenics examples, we act shamefully, and others should (and often do) be repelled from organizing with us, and the very belief that this is how others should react to us is damaging to our self-esteem, which is the source of our organismic motivation. If we act according to organicism, we behave admirably, others are (or should be!) attracted to the prospect of organizing with us, our self-esteem is properly reinforced, and consequently so is our motivation for acting organismically.


I give atheism as an example of an organismic strength because I take great pride in it. Why? Because I think atheism is an honest worldview that allows people to make better decisions regarding how we should behave, especially/ultimately regarding how we should behave towards ourselves and others, i.e. in an ethical sense. I believe our organisms should be about something real, our actual connections with each other, and should not be about some substitute for that, like our connection to a deity, or to each other through a deity which is defined by others. I am not motivated by the idea of organizing with others for the sake of something beyond our present reality. I am motivated to organize with others because of the quality of those experiences. 


The point I thought you were going to make was that we can have motivation for selfish reasons. Organicism does not say that this is never the case. What it does say is that we can not sustainably think only about our own interests in the selfish, Randian sort of way where we are "free" to never consider ourselves as belonging to a larger group. It says that there is an optimal balance between thinking of yourself as an individual and thinking of yourself as a part of a group, such that behaving thusly is to be most in tune with our natures, and is the most rewarding, satisfactory kind of life one can live, and straying too far away from this ideal leads to a decline in our ability to take pleasure from the world. There are certainly those kinds of people who can only enjoy the world as it relates to themselves, or as it relates to others. Perhaps the thrill-seeker is an example of someone who elates only in individual feats (I'm not making a claim of psychological fact here, but it seems that such people have a lower regard for how their risky behavior affects the people who care about them). But I am not sure these people are capable of enjoying life as fully as the organismic ideal, and it certainly doesn't seem the case that a species-organism would benefit by having more members out on the extremes than those who have a balanced approach.


There are political consequences I would draw from this as well, and perhaps many more conclusions which could be reached from this perspective, in ethics and perhaps other fields as well, but I am tired and must leave off for now.

"What you must keep in mind is that it is not any single organism against which we should judge whether an action is right or wrong - it is against all possible organisms, present and future, to which we must look."

What you present is a logical fallacy. You cannot instruct people to rely on an unbounded data set- i.e., something which would take infinite knowledge to completely understand. The simple (and oft-encountered) practical result is that lack of knowledge will be construed as sufficient justification. If I "can't imagine" a world where the Hutu and Tutsi are close allies, is that firm enough to act on? Logical contradictions do occur, so how is a regular person to differentiate the truly impossible from the seemingly impossible quickly enough to make real-life decisions? Hence the basis for calling the above a fallacious proposal.


And, contrary to your statements, the very problem with eugenics was that it did engender a wide following at the time. It was the American eugenicists who spread such beliefs to Europe, and consequently to the Third Reich. And at the time, it made a great deal of organismic sense: who wouldn't want to strengthen the health and future potential of their peoples? Do we not cure illnesses, remedy handicaps, and encourage people to exercise and eat right?


This was dangerously enticing thinking in the midst of Nationalism because organismic thinking falls prey to the issue of relevance. Namely, who contributes to and draws from the Group resources (who are the Members)? It can't be everyone, not all at once, or the Group would be destitute in moments. The far-too-common reaction in stress and tight conditions is to cut off those who form the 'fringes' of a Group in order to consolidate resources. In the case of the above, the 'fringes' were the culturally un-integrated and physically incapable. Those damages were entirely within the grounds of Group thinking and were not at all reliant on competitive strategies.  


To clear the air on a side point, Randian thinking is pure bollocks. It's really a bastardization of Contractual thinking into a pseudo-individualist presentation. The "rugged individual" idealized by so many of her followers is just a miniaturized form of Nationalism, which is only concerned with being the pre-eminent and superior power among crowds of 'faceless nobodies'. That is not Personal identity, and should not be confused as such despite the misleading terminology of modern propaganda. 


And that's perhaps the strongest point I want to convey here: the "selfish" thinking you have reacted against is not, in fact, how people consider their personal interests! It expresses none of the friendships, the connections of blood or shared history, the search for similar ideas and interests, the reflection of memories and sentiment onto objects and pets... all of which are fundamentally central to how people view the world at a personal level. Is it "selfish" (by your use) to throw down $30 to go drink with your buddies for a night? Is it "selfish" to get into a fight with your teenage kid because they were out too late? Neither of those things make us feel good afterward, and both cost us individually, so why do we find them so easy to justify on a personal level? Because Personal value is not just assessed to the individual, it blurs across to people and things which share our identities.


Individuality and Personal thought are not your enemies on this, but neither are they something to ignore. The Randian "Kingdom of One" and the absurd universalization of Contractual thought which is espouses are, as we've both pointed out, completely flawed. It's in the normal vein of Contractual thought to produce universal conclusions in response to the unbounded possibilities of Others, so such overstepping isn't particularly surprising. That doesn't mean you should believe their tall-talk and treat Contractual thought as the only "mainstream" option. Personal interests and Populous interests are both major factors in modern society and they diverge from the Contractual "selfishness" at the most fundamental levels.


On a final side note, why "organicism"? Why not "organismic" or "organimism"? The inflection of it just has a very unpleasant flavor...

Okay, well, thanks for your comments, but we're just not going to see eye to eye here.


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