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Escapism

Escapism

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January 25, 2011

Question: Man appears to have a need (on varied levels) to escape from reality using methods such as entertainment, like fiction novels, movies and TV, and even methods of perceptual alteration such as drugs and alcohol.

Can Objectivists enjoy and appreciate escaping from objective reality (altering perception via chemicals or entering another world through the imagination) and remain in congruence philosophically?

Answer: You can find a discussion of one form of "escapism" (fantasy fiction) in my article " The Charms and Enchantments of Fantasy ." Or consider Robert Bidinotto's view of action thrillers in " Best Thriller Writers--Ever ."

Objectivism holds that reality should be the focus of one's thoughts and actions. Thus the premise of the idea "escapism" (that existence is tawdry and dull, and that we should live to escape mentally from reality) is false. Of course one's life can be dull, but in the richest and freest society on earth, one cannot simply blame external circumstances for the shortcomings in one's life (if one were a medieval peasant, or a prisoner in the gulag, it would be another matter: one might be more justified in seeking "escape," but then one would want physical escape, too).

That said, there is a need to envision reality differently than it normally appears. We need to see our values concretized in artwork, and to see in artwork recreated elements of reality that are selected to address profound issues about human nature, our relation to reality and each other, and our values. This often requires seeing representations of things that don't normally exist. You'll never meet someone like Dominique Francon of Ayn Rand 's The Fountainhead , but it is helpful to consider her strange, idealistic pessimism.

We need more generally the reinforcement and pleasure of seeing our values represented in the concrete. We do this through historical and journalistic accounts, through watching sporting events, and through forms of light entertainment such as thrillers, fantasies, and romances, as well as in other ways.

We also need to stretch the range of our experiences, and experience times when we extend our emotional experience (as when we are exuberant at a party, or compete at a sport). We travel and seek adventures to stretch our experience, and we explore different situations vicariously in film and literature. All this is appropriate so long as these pursuits are congruent with a basically rational, reality-oriented lifestyle.

Objectivism is not a rigid dogma. You must make choices in your context and according to your tastes and personal values.

So Objectivism endorses seeking entertainment and accepts the use of some intoxicants and stimulants, in moderation, as may be appropriate to one's needs and tastes. However, Objectivism opposes the abuse of or heavy reliance on any drug, and its basic approach to life is incompatible with seeking to impair one's mind. When one abuses a hallucinogen, for example, one doesn't escape from reality, one merely impairs one's ability to perceive reality and cope with it. This is not healthy. Indeed it is a sad sign of our culture that our youth in particular often spend a great deal of time attempting to obliterate their grasp of the world rather than seeking to improve it. In my own case, at least, it was the outward sign of cynicism, alienation, and laziness. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Objectivism is not a rigid dogma. You must make choices in your context and according to your tastes and personal values. It opposes the war on drugs: it advocates the legalization of the drug trade. It does not hold that good literature must be dull: it endorses entertainment as an important value in art. But it is always, first and foremost, a philosophy of reason and objectivity. Life is a serious business, one which deserves our engagement. When we party, we should seek joy, not drunkenness. When we read fiction or go to the movies we should not abjure thrillers, but neither should we seek cheap thrills to the exclusion of thought and the rounder pleasures of fuller works of art. We should experience life in its variety, not excluding simple fun, but not excluding rich experiences either. And never seeking ignorance or irrationality.