Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Benevolent Universe of Food

By Diana Hsieh

[Note: This post is part of Modern Paleo's weekend schedule of blogging on Objectivism on Saturdays and free market politics on Sundays.]

One of the most unusual ideas in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is the "benevolent universe premise." In her poignant essay, "The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy," reprinted in Return of the Primitive, Ayn Rand described it as follows:

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days--the conviction that ideas matter ... That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one's mind matters ...

Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power or the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one's immediate background, one is unable to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: "This injustice (or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony) is the exception in life, not the rule." One feels certain that somewhere on earth--even if not anywhere in one's surroundings or within one's reach--a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters.
In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff explains the idea as follows:
[For Ayn Rand], Happiness ... is not only possible, but more: it is the normal condition of man. Ayn Rand calls this conclusion, which is essential to the Objectivist world view, the "benevolent universe" premise.

"Benevolence" in this context is not a synonym for kindness; it does not mean that the universe cares about man or wishes to help him. The universe has no desires; it simply is. Man must care about and adapt to it, not the other way around. If he does adapt to it, however, then the universe is "benevolent" in another sense: "auspicious to human life." If a man does recognize and adhere to reality, then he can achieve his values in reality; he can and, other things being equal, he will. For the moral man, failures, though possible, are an exception to the rule. The rule is success. The state of consciousness to be fought for and expected is happiness.

The rejection of this viewpoint is what Ayn Rand calls the "malevolent universe" premise (others have called it the "tragic sense of life"). This premise states that man cannot achieve his values; that successes, though possible, are an exception; that the rule of human life is failure and misery. (OPAR 342)
Personally, my switch to a paleo-type diet nearly two years ago has strengthened my own sense of the "benevolent universe premise." How so?

The standard advice on a healthy diet -- meaning light on fat, heavy on whole grains -- is not a diet suited to the nature of the human animal. For some years, I tried eating according to that standard advice in an effort to lose about fifteen pounds. The whole time, I felt like I was in a cosmic struggle against my own body. Simply to maintain my weight, I had to deprive myself -- not just of those uber-satisfying fats, but also of the sugars I constantly craved. I was hungry; I was grumpy. Yet I couldn't see any alternative, except allowing myself to gain about five pounds per year, develop type two diabetes and fatty liver diseases.

As a switched to a paleo diet, my whole perspective changed. The war between mind and body over food simply ceased. By trading rich fats for empty sugars, I discovered that food could be deeply satisfying and delicious -- without creating those itchy cravings for more more more. I found a way to eat that allowed me to feel better, look better, and perform better -- without the slightest feeling of "missing out" on the yummy foods for the sake of health.

In essence, I feel like I've been transported from a malevolent food universe into a benevolent food universe by eating paleo. My basic method for doing that was exactly what Objectivism recommends for every aspect of life: I identified the relevant facts of reality -- and then acted accordingly. That's not always easy, and people can make honest mistakes, often for years on end. Heck, I might be making some mistakes now, but I know I'm on the right path -- and that I'll correct my course as necessary.

If a person consistently strives to act on his best grasp of the facts -- not just about food, but in every area of his life -- then he can and ought to expect success and joy as a result. Every person can create a benevolent universe for himself... if he chooses to think.

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