Happiness

I was discussing the relative merits of movies vs novels as a medium for telling a story and happened to reread a passage in The Fountainhead that struck me deeply.

Just think, Howard, think of it! You’ll be rich, you’ll be famous, you’ll be respected, you’ll be praised, you’ll be admired–you’ll be one of us!…Well?…Say something! Why don’t you say something?”

“Look, Peter. I believe you. I know that you have nothing to gain by saying this. I know more than that. I know that you don’t want me to succeed–it’s all right, I’m not reproaching you, I’ve always known it–you don’t want me ever to reach these things you’re offering me. And yet you’re pushing me on to reach them, quite sincerely. And you know that if I take your advice, I’ll reach them. And it’s not love for me, because that wouldn’t make you so angry–and so frightened….Peter, what is it that disturbs you about me as I am?”
                                             — The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

Some people criticize Rand’s dialogues for being unrealistic. And that is true. Real life dialogues are really as perceptive as this. But the question is: Why should dialogues in a novel be realistic? Here Rand contrasts riches, fame, respect, praise, admiration, acceptance – Peter Keating’s values – with pride and self-belief – Howard Roark’s values. Second-hand values against first-hand values. And Peter and Howard both realize that despite Peter’s having achieved all his values, he is still disturbed by the fact that Roark does not pursue Peter’s values. The dialogue is a tool to move one aspect of the story – Roark’s discovery of the difference between his values and that of most others – forward. And it does that job brilliantly. Why would one want real-life dialogue instead of dialogue like this? I read novels for entertainment; for those things that I cannot get in real life, atleast not in a short timespan. Significant events in real life are mixed up with so many mundane events that one needs a condensed depiction of the significant things to remind oneself of what is important and what is not. Every event, dialogue or description in a novel should be significant. It should serve a purpose; it should move the story forward. Real life dialogue in a novel is a waste of time.

Anyway, I got distracted. The point of this post was that by rereading this passage I have a better definition of happiness. My mental definition of happiness was – “the state of mind that results from the achievement of one’s values”. The passage above emphasizes that happiness results from the achievement of one’s values only if those values are objective – consciously chosen by one’s one mind by an objective standard. Achieving a value when one does not know why one values it does not bring lasting happiness.

Aspiring for a developed India

A commentator (call him X since he did not disclose his identity) wrote:

Consider India, which is a developing nation with majority of its population still below the poverty line. If we aspire for a developed India, every Indian must be educated . It is only by (good quality and free) Government schools one can achieve complete literacy, as the poor cant afford education. I feel that government must actively be a part and ensure that quality education is available for free of cost (till 10th standard).

The short answer would be that government already plays a very active part and that has ensured that the quality of education (irrespective of cost) is quite pathetic. I could write an arguement about why this state of affairs is inevitable and why government subsidized education cannot meet its intended goals. But I am not going to do that. Instead I am going to write about the premises underlying this argument. These premises are completely incompatible with my own premises. So it is difficult to find a point to start. Nor is it going to be possible to reach an arguement in one post that could convince anyone. So my goal in this post is simply to identify the premises and point out the incompatibility. If you are actually interested in a conclusive arguement, you will have to stay around for several more posts.

Read the arguement again. What is the vision? A developed India. I suppose that means things like a certain percentage of literacy, a certain percentage of child mortality, a certain kind of roads, a certain percentage of people below the poverty line, a certain stability in growth, etc, etc… What is the timeframe for this vision? No timeframe is mentioned. This suggests that a timeframe is not essential. The lack of a timeframe is one clue (among others) that this vision is not linked to X’s life. In fact, the vision is not linked to any specific individual’s life. It is statistical, collective.

Now consider my vision. I want to live in a world where I am free to act on my thoughts and take responsibility for wherever those actions may lead. Underlying this vision is the premise that life is worth living and that my enjoyment (material, spiritual, whatever…) or happiness achieved through my thoughts and actions is the sole purpose of my life. My vision is not linked to any specific collective.

The achievement of my vision involves a society that respects life and the values required for life such as freedom and individual rights (political), goodwill and cooperation (social), rationality and purpose (moral). Such a society will have the sort of statistical properties that X implies. But the two visions are very different. To repeat, X’s vision is not linked to any specific individual’s life; my vision is not linked to any specific collective. X wants India to become a developed country irrespective of the course of his life. I want to live in or bring about a free society irrespective of what happens to India.

What are the premises underlying X’s vision. As I see it, it is the idea that man’s life must have some ‘greater’ purpose, beyond his own life. The mystic seeks a purpose in another, more important world. The collectivist seeks a purpose in other men. Both seek a purpose that is external. But purpose, vision, thought are all inseparably linked to an individuals life. My vision is based on this simple fact. To quote Ayn Rand from Anthem, (emphasis mine)

I am. I think. I will.
My hands . . . My spirit . . . My sky . . . My forest . . . This earth of mine. . . . What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.
I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.
It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgement of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.
Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: “I will it!”
Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me.
I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.
This god, this one word:
“I.”

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