The Virtue of Self-ishness

Was it 1984 when I walked up to a teller of the Santa Monica branch of First Interstate Bank to deposit my paycheck? I must have laid on the teller counter, title up, the copy of “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand which I was reading, because as I filled out my deposit slip, the teller remarked with palpable moral indignation, “Don’t tell me you want to be selfish!?”

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What is the truth which personal authenticity expresses?

I don’t presume to know what “The Truth” is, for I agree with the postmodernist view that there is no such thing as objective truth, a truth independent of the observer. As quantum physics demonstrates, the very act of observing something, alters it, and so you can not objectively experience or know anything. Moreover in the unity of the quantum soup of existence, nothing exists separate from me or objective to me.

Yet elsewhere I have written of the love of truth as one of the skills which enable personal authenticity. So seemingly I am suggesting that there is a truth with which our authenticity comports. And I am. But where might we find it?

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The Politics of Working on Oneself

In 1972 the Club of Rome issued the controversial report, “Limits to Growth”. The study applied a computer model of socioeconomic trends, and determined that no matter how optimistically one tweaked this, that, or all variables, the future outcome of the trends was social and economic collapse – more or less delayed. Why? Because of the values underlying the social order.

Back then, the Stanford Research Institute also explored 40 possible alternative futures, and determined that a very few avoided a major world crisis before the year 2050. Willis Harman, director of the Institute concluded, “The macroproblem which the world faces,and which is rapidly and ineluctably becoming more serious, is at root a problem of value and basic premises – in short, a moral problem.”

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Is spirituality a matter of becoming less or more human?

For far too many spiritual seekers, their spiritual aspiration is like an iron maiden of virtue whose inner critic spikes ceaselessly stab our all-too-human souls. We envision becoming “spiritual” as transcending our humanity rather than becoming more fully human.

Modeling their behavior according to ideas of spirituality that they have read in books, many seekers I meet are genuinely upset with their humanity. They want to be generous, not stingy; admiring, not envious; loving, not hateful; calm, not upset; joyous, not sad; accepting, not angry; holy, not human. When these seekers experience such human ‘blemishes” to their spirituality, they become fearful of their spiritual prospects.

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Is Being Good, Good Enough?

We all have parts of ourselves which we don’t like. Perhaps it’s the sadness from which our forced laughter distracts us. Or the envy we feel for someone’s good fortune. Or the anger that occasionally bursts forth much to our embarrassment. For many of us, these dark and difficult feelings are unacceptable. They don’t measure up to our assumed standards of decency, goodness, or spirituality. So what are we to do with them?

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