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A Toast To The Worthwhile Life
What are these "essentials"? Ever the analyst, I will offer you a taxonomy: There are objectives which are essential to the worthwhile life, and qualities which are essential means to those ends. First the objectives. Ayn Rand once said in an interview that the two things in her life which brought her joy were her work and her husband. In broader terms, creative effort and romantic love. She was right on both counts, and this is by no means unique to Rand. Every human being needs both, and needs them deeply. To deny or downplay the importance of either is a tragic error. We are creatures of mind, body, and will who need to transform the external world, to make it our own in a non-trivial sense. Every creation, every artifact of art, industry, or science constitutes concrete evidence of our efficacy. Call it Promethean if you wish, but do not ridicule it. We cannot live, with any semblance of pride, without such vocational visibility. In its absence, we are merely loafers on a beach. Aimless, secretly ashamed, hoping against hope that the world will not notice our self-betrayal.
Romantic love may be more difficult to achieve—and keep—than our occupational goals, but it is every bit as important. We need more than efficacy. We must do more than just build things, we must also build an inner self. And that self will shrivel and slowly die if it never sees itself reflected in the loving gaze of another. We all want to experience the triumphant sense of "walking with heroes." Unfortunately, too often we assume that the only path to that state is professional success. We forget that to gain and maintain deep and abiding love is itself truly an heroic endeavor, one worthy of our mightiest efforts.
In this enumeration of essential objectives let us not overlook family and friends. Too many Objectivists, and libertarians more broadly, seem to ascribe relatively little value to their families and friends. Yet, in many ways, these are the bedrock of our lives. We need the understanding, the acceptance, the affectionate concern such persons provide. I certainly know, for my part, that my life is immeasurably enriched by my two dearest friends: Chris Sciabarra and Lindsay Perigo.
The worthwhile life also should have generous doses of visual beauty, musical delights, and laughter. Sensory and emotional pleasures are admittedly secondary to the physiological necessities, but without the former, life is indeed "nasty and brutish." In contrast, a proper life is marked by inspiration and elegance—not affectation, elegance.
Now, this has grown to be a lengthy toast, so let’s refill those glasses. I see that some of you appear to have depleted your champagne. In deference to your thirst, I will finish as quickly as possible.
What are some of the essential qualities we need to cultivate in order to reach the objectives I have cited? We need integrity for one. That is, a personal policy of speaking and living the truth, as best we know it. In its absence, we will never accomplish much, either professionally or personally. The odd thing is that we can deceive others on occasion and "get away with it," but every time we try to deceive ourselves that "self" recedes farther and farther into the distance. Eventually we will have no idea who we really are. An alienated self can neither produce great works nor find great love.
In addition, a streak of sensitivity would be a blessing. We are creatures who feel as well as think. There is not much good in identifying reality if that reality means nothing to us emotionally. It does not matter if what is at hand is a fine wine, a brilliant line of reasoning, reassurance from a friend, exhilarating sex, or evocative music. We need to appreciate this world. It is the only one we have. We cannot fully appreciate that to which we are insensitive.
We need courage as well. Courage to face psychological as well as physical dangers. Courage to admit our own mistakes, courage to forgive the mistakes of those we love, courage to be proud of our virtues, courage to accept our imperfections, courage to fight relentlessly for our dreams even if all the world opposes us.
So, drain your glasses, my friends! We drink to the good life, the worthwhile life, the life of riches. Riches of all kinds: achievement, knowledge, creativity, joy, love, friendship. May the year 2005 be full of such riches for each and every one of us!
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