Don’t ever get angry at a man for stating the truth.” -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, Ch. 10
I have a Stoic philosophy no doubt. This philosophy has had a tremendous influence on my view of life, and how I cope and prosper with the existence that I have. So much is out of my control, and it is certain that I will have sadness and tragedy in my life. In the end, I will be dust.
If all will be lost, if all will be forgotten, then why not just give up? The short answer is that to give up is contrary to nature. How do I know this? Well, keep in mind that I am not a Stoic zealot, nor am I a one-trick pony, oh no. I could find plenty of explanation of why it is my duty to compete in this wrestling match called life within Stoic philosophy, but a more direct, incisive path to an answer is through objectivism. Through my own reason, using the template of objectivism, I see that to produce and to do so with excellence, is virtuous.
Objectivism is the philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand. While her novels and essays are extensive, she is best known for her novel, Atlas Shrugged, and this novel is an allegory for how to live according to this philosophy. The more you read about Rand’s views and her philosophy, you can see how she became so controversial, and so reviled by many. The uncritical ear, make that the average mind numbed by all the mainstream smoke and mirrors found in our society, did not like to hear what Rand had to say. To this day, her philosophy remains outside the mainstream…mostly something to be examined, but not adopted among the elite intellectuals. Accepting the details of what Rand has to say is difficult for the uneducated, or even unopened mind, for the philosopher who has not taken the time to think things through. In many ways, this is similar to how the Stoic philosophy is viewed…a philosophy to be considered, not a way to live. As for me, I’ll take the “road less traveled” (thanks to Frost).
Photo by Dez Pain
Rand’s philosophy basically has four parts, which can be found here in her own words. I will extract the four parts as I understand them:
- Nature is what it is. Your perception of it is irrelevant. Facts are facts and you cannot wish something to be true. (Sounds a lot like “control” and “fate” in Stoicism, eh?)
- We use our reason to decipher through these facts. It is what makes us human, it is our survival tool.
- To pursue your own self-interest is natural; thus, it is good
- Humans should be free to cooperate without interference or force. When we cooperate we are choosing to do so because it is in our own self-interest.
So what does this mean in deciding “how to live?” Well, all of my actions should be for my own self-interest if I am living according to what is natural; in essence, they are for my own survival. This is the state of nature, it is what keeps you alive, it is what makes you prosper. Facts are facts, wishing it were some other way will not make it true. We use our faculty of reason every day to decide what is good for us and what is bad. We decide every day whether to help someone, whether to ask for help, and what that help is worth. We do this as a survival mechanism. Each of us has special talents, and each of us can nurture those talents to leverage them for our own survival. We can trade these talents for ones we are not so good at.
Imagine the value of garbage collection…it is a virtuous endeavor (“Photo: JohnNyberg, rgbstock.com”)
When I perform a task that I have mastered, presumably it helps others. For this service, others provide tasks at which they excel, in kind. In modern society, this “service” (or product) is generally transferred through some kind of monetary payment. Currency is an easier way for people to trade goods and services. My duty then, is to perform a task to the utmost of excellence for its own sake…for my own sake…this is essential for my survival. This is how I survive…because others value the task that I perform. If my task is not valued, then I will receive little payment. If my task is highly valued, then I should EXPECT payment. I will not perform my service for free, because this is unnatural, and is contrary to my survival (acting contrary to survival is essentially, the definition of altruism). In the long run, I must provide value to my fellow man, so they will provide value to me. Also in the long run, for me to expect a return from those who receive my product is perfectly natural, and thus moral. Unless I plan to survive on my own in the wilderness, that’s the bargain. If I wish to have wine, then I either make it myself (which I cannot) or provide the winemaker with something he needs (albeit indirectly in today’s modern society…through exchange of money), so that he will give me his wine in trade.
In a natural state, all of this should and would be voluntary. The part that so many don’t like to hear in Rand’s philosophy is that this is all driven by self-interest. What they miss is that self-interest does not mean selfish. In fact, what they miss is that cooperation is built into self-interest. I’ve written about the false philosophy of altruism before, but the heart of the matter is that our motivations, our relations, our morality…all of it, is driven by each of our own self-interest. In a moral society, everybody has a role, and everybody contributes…for their own survival. I must emphasize that this participation must be voluntary for it to be moral; otherwise, somebody is a slave to somebody else…somebody is a slave, and somebody is a freeloader/slavemaster…somebody is expecting something for nothing. In essence, freeloaders (called “looters” by Rand) are performing the worst kind of immorality. The ones who enable the freeloaders, the so-called altruistic and the collectivists, are the slavemasters and they might even be worse. In an unnatural state, the slaves are those who pull their weight, but have their products forcibly removed from them by the looters and slavemasters.
To survive, yes even to flourish I must provide the highest value product to my neighbor. I must do this because I need what my neighbor has to offer. To be virtuous is to live according to nature, and nature demands that I do my part before I take. That is why I don’t just give up, even in a state that is currently unnatural. My job is to enlighten about what IS natural and to act that way regardless of externals. That is why I wrestle!