Riding The Lightning

“Albert Pine said, ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world, remains and is immortal.’”

Agent Jason Gideon

That quote is from the end of the “Riding the Lightning” episode of Criminal Minds – one of the most intensely thought provoking episodes from the show’s very first season. Here’s a summary from the Criminal Minds Wiki:

“The team is sent to the Florida State Penitentiary to interview husband and wife serial killers set to be executed. After the initial interview, Gideon suspects that the wife may not be guilty of the crimes committed.”

And here is how the episode ends:

That story was, of course, fictional. A “false reality” if you will. But I’d like you to consider, just for a moment, the false dichotomy presented, in the quote, between doing for ourselves and doing for others – the old selfish versus selfless false choice.

Ayn Rand once said, “Words do have exact meanings.” Whether it’s through ignorance, or malice, I believe the confusion surrounding the “S” word to be truly one of man’s most significant challenges.

“The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual ‘package-deal,’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

“Selfishness” — The Ayn Rand Lexicon

“To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of ‘selfishness’ that one has to redeem.

The first step is to assert man’s right to a moral existence—that is: to recognize his need of a moral code to guide the course and the fulfillment of his own life . . . .

The reasons why man needs a moral code will tell you that the purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions.”

“Selfishness” — The Ayn Rand Lexicon

To me, Sarah Jean Mason’s act was one of “selfishness” – in the truest and most proper sense of the word. I really wish that we could all remember that – before we start tossing around terms like selfish and selfless so casually – sacrificing what we should value the most in the process.

We’re all living in a “false reality” my friends.

I want ice water.

More of my Random Ravings

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18 thoughts on “Riding The Lightning

  1. Wow. This is heavy for so early in the day. The video, although just a clip from the entire episode, had this old woman all choked up. Doing or sacrificing for others (selflessness) can certainly constitute doing for ourselves (selfishness). It depends on the values and priorities of each individual.

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    • Sorry PT. The confusion surrounding this issue is a MAJOR peeve of mine.

      “Riding the Lightning” is one of my favorite Criminal Minds episodes, and that scene just happened to be one of the first things I saw on TV this morning. Strangely enough, it always reminds me of the untold numbers who have suffered, and even died, for false causes. I honestly believe it to be one of the most important issues of our time. I’ve struggled long and hard to come up with my own words to explain why, but I’ve come up short of what I want so far. Ayn Rand’s writing remains. IMHO, the preeminent source of the subject.

      Please note that I’ve added another piece from The Ayn Rand Lexicon, all of which is from the introduction to her book “The Virtue Of Selfishness.” I strongly recommend both what’s on-line and the book.

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      • I can’t argue with Ayn Rand. And I certainly can’t say it any better than she did. Each of us has to establish and adhere to our own personal moral code or we’ll have no core, no foundation from which to approach the rest of the world. “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

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  2. In his new book, Edward O. Wilson speaks cogently about humanity’s dual nature, on the one hand motivated by aggressive self-interest but on the other by a strong social need to cooperate at the tribal level. Wilson contends that both aspects evolved logically and naturally and both have strong survival value. He says specifically,

    “. . . group selection is clearly the process responsible for advanced social behavior. It also possesses the two elements necessary for evolution. First, group-level traits, including cooperativeness, empathy, and patterns of networking, have been found to be heritable in humans–that is, they vary genetically in some degree from one person to the next. And second, cooperation and unity manifestly affect the survival of groups that are competing.

    He speaks of “multi-level” selection, meaning group and individual selection combined. To my mind, this explains both selfish behavior and altruism, a dual nature that Wilson says is an essential property of the human condition. It makes us what we are, forever pulled in two directions.

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    • That’s all quite valid Jim, as long as the actions individuals take are truly in their own rational self-interest – which, by definition, must include the good of mankind. Unfortunately, that “something greater than ourselves” the altruists would have us place ahead of our self-interests more often than not turn out to be anything but… 😕

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    • Thanks my friend. I knew you’d appreciate the point I was trying to make! 😀

      I hate to tell you, but you’re way behind on Criminal Minds one my friend. The episode mentioned in this post is from the very first season, while the season 7 finale airs tomorrow night. 😕

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  3. Damn, dude… you have the BEST taste in TV!!! I swear!!! But it seems like all the good shit’s going the way of IPS, which I really will miss. I remember once when Mary and Marshall were driving somewhere (fast) to face down some bad guys and Mary had just had a rough emotional time about something or other (maybe when she broke up with that ball player). Anyhoo, you know how Marshall is always going on with his literary and psychological and physicist self about everything – suddenly he clams up and after an awkward silence of Marshall speechlessness, Marshall says “that NEVER happens to me”! They can double and triple and quad entendre with the best of ’em!!! (hope that all came out like I meant it to!!!)
    Criminal Minds – I’ll be there!!!
    regarding synchronicity, I think a lot of times TV program director types do that on purpose, even if different channels – like Tampa Bay, Rangers, Arlington, etc. But they really can’t control the “live” stuff that happens like last minute outs and such!!!
    Some one I respect, but kind of a critical thinking snob, will swear up and down that it’s just as likely for these things to happen randomly as not…
    I just don’t know ’bout that – good thing it’s not up to me to decide!!
    Rock on Izaak!! Always enjoy your posts!!

    🙂
    janet

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    • Sorry it’s taken so long to respond Janet. I’ve been a LOT “under the weather” lately and just haven’t been able to keep up. I’ve even fallen behind on my TV shows! Of course, it doesn’t help that they’re all either season ending cliffhangers or the end of a series altogether. I STILL haven’t watched the final In Plain Sight! And did you see the messes they left us with on CSI, Bones, Castle, and NCIS?!?!? Poor Ducky! And OMG, I think the season finale of Criminal Minds is tonight!!!! 😯

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  4. E.E.(Doc) Smith wrote of “enlightened self-interest.” Would that there was more of it. As a word-smith, I really appreciate when a word, or words, are used with their exact value, but it almost never happens. Someone almost always highjacks it and twists it to their advantage, often religious. Heresy, apostasy and blasphemy sound like serious crimes and horrible sins. Heresy simply means, you don’t agree with my opinion, and my feelings are hurt. Apostasy means, you used to agree with me, but you’ve changed your mind, and I’m hurt. Blasphemy means, since you don’t agree with me, you don’t find find important, the things I consider important, and I’m hurt again. It’s all subjective, but oh so real to them.

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    • I’ve been fascinated with the written word since I first tried deciphering the mesmerizing little marks I saw my dad making way before I started school. Hell, you had to be at least 6 before you could even start school where I grew up, which left me nearly 7 when I finally got my chance. By that time, I was so full of myself for having done so much on my own that it was easy for me to decide that I didn’t really have to put up with all the non-education-related bullcrap associated with a “formal” education.

      Being a much less “amenable” personality type than most, the way people so casually misuse language has always been a major source of irritation to me. Had I been more so, I’m sure I would have pursued a “higher education” in the language arts. As it was, my “anti-social” tendencies led me to choose a less “people oriented” career path. So I guess I was very fortunate to be introduced to the works of Ayn Rand in college – by a librarian who actually hated what she stood for, who had also made the huge mistake of accusing me of sounding just like her.

      Whether you agree with Rand or not, there is simply no way to misunderstand her meaning. Her writing is just that precise. Amazing, considering that English was not her primary language. In the end, I guess I have my own “contrarian” nature to thank – for steering me away from the “mental meat-grinder” of a formal education, and towards being a better thinker that I might have been otherwise. 😀

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  5. @ Archon,

    Language is fun, isn’t it? What you say about heresy, apostasy and blasphemy is incisive, but I submit, incomplete. The religious context does more than make them “sound” like serious crimes, it makes them serious crimes. As in the Inquisition. If it weren’t for that context we could replace the words with some form of “disagreement”.

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