The Worship of Need versus the Requirements of Life
NOTE: Today I am very sorry to learn that a very good, kind, passionate and brilliant Objectivist friend, Paul Beaird, has passed away. Let me echo a friend’s heartfelt, moving eulogy for Paul: “We do not have nor do we seek any crutches in order to diminish our grief, but we know what kind of life they represented and we can celebrate and appreciate that they were far above ordinary men.” I posted the following on Paul’s Facebook wall: “Paul, I’m very sorry to hear about your passing. Thanks for tirelessly and passionately sharing your thoughts and views on Ayn Rand Fans in the Philippines. I’m also glad to know you and to have exchanged views and ideas with you. Your spirit and kind words live on. May you rest in piece…” Paul posted his last Facebook status on July 27. His post read: “Dedicated to my culture hero, Yaron Book, is my article The Requirements of Need versus The Requirements of Life. Talks about the moral obstacle to freedom. Look at my Notes and if you see it as one of our weapons in this War for our Freedom, please copy/paste it EVERYWHERE. Tea Party ammunition.” Now I’d like to post Paul’s final Facebook note, as it is his last will to have it reprinted. He said: “Please re-print the article EVERYWHERE.” Thank you, Paul. I will always cherish my exchanges with you.
By Paul Beaird (Posted July 27, 2011)
(dedicated by my culture hero, Yaron Brook)
One word has moved you, your parents, your grandparents and theirs to vote to government seats Representatives who were also moved. Today, the growth of their Programs has made you into a slave and has corrupted the moral character of your neighbors.
You don’t know Jeremy. He lives in the American countryside. After he graduated from high school, he searched the Internet for a malady he could claim, found a psychologist who could verify his claim; then he made his claim. Ever since, he has lived on Social Security Disability. More than 10 years later, he has never held a job. Jeremy has never felt the joy of productive achievement, unless you count high scores on Internet video games. He has never felt the pressures of real life that make for that firm inner sense of discipline that can face any life challenge. He does not garden nor read on nutrition; his diet is artificially-flavored, mouth-teasing flavored chips and stimulants, those energy, drinks. Given the bodily results of his diet, he’ll never attract the admiration of a woman. Heavens forbid he should father a child. He is very attentive to national politics and leaves his mobile home to vote for whoever offers the greatest “benefits”. His “happiness” is being unstressed by life’s challenges. Jeremy was more deliberate than most, but in your city, there are many wasted lives like his. None of them is guilty of having created the temptation that leaves a moral character undeveloped. That was done by those who were moved by the one word.
The word that created Jeremy and your payments that make his life style possible is “need”.
When President Woodrow Wilson gave the approval of the 16th Amendment, which reversed the Constitutional protection against a federal income tax, the argument among the States was that they did not want to seem to deny the general government access to their money in time of need. The first installation of the federal income tax was only at the rate of 2% and only on the very rich. Today, everyone who earns, pays. Gradualism is the strategy of seduction.
When President F. D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, following the lead of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany against whom we had fought World War I, it was only to take care of the needs of orphans and widows whose men the government had been sent to their deaths in World War II. Today, nearly every senior is dependent on a monthly check that is less than he’d have, if he’d deposited the same money, taken from him by force, into a simple interest-bearing savings account over the same period of time. This inadequate check has not spread the wealth, but the need.
When L. B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, installing the first version of socialized medicine in America, it was to provide access to medical care only for the needs of the elderly and disabled. Today, money is taken from every senior’s Social Security check to pay more for Medicare than he paid during his working life, yet payment for too many needs is uncovered.
Today. Well, today, according to the March 2011 analysis of Madeline Schnapp, director of macroeconomic research at investment research firm TrimTabs, social welfare benefits, from programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance amount to 35%, as a percentage of the nation’s total wages and salaries (based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis). If we translate percentages into people, having thirty-five percent of the citizens on government checks means that for every person getting one of these government checks, there are two people who are working to earn the money. If the earned incomes of two people were divided evenly among the three people, those who work must live on only two-thirds of their income, and then you subtract all the taxes those workers pay, before they get to pay their bills. As America’s moral philosopher Ayn Rand said, “The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.” (“Man’s Rights”)
Maybe it is time to take a closer look at that one word, the concept “need”.
From one perspective, need is, as the Webster’s New Riverside University dictionary defines it, “A lack of something necessary or desired”.
A man can lack food and his body will respond with pain. The cells, tissues, organs, and functions of his body are not being supplied the nutrients they need to function and his body responds with hunger pains, then headache, then lack of energy. There actually comes a point in hunger, when the body begins converting stored fat and other nutrients into a form the blood can carry throughout the body and the hungry person stops feeling hunger, for awhile. After that, the mind may not notice, but the person is starving to death. It is said that the Buddhist monks of Asia can literally fast themselves to death, thinking they are escaping to a purely spiritual realm. Christian esthetes used to do the same in the early centuries of that religion. Hunger hurts. Children don’t develop, their brains lacking for nutrition; their bodies become swollen; they and their desperate mothers cry.
Clothing is a kind of protection from the heat or cold of one’s environment. Without it, the skin burns or freezes. Much of the body’s resources become devoted to combating these effects, in shivering, in heat stroke and death. Clothes protect the body from harsh objects, including wind-blown sand, that hurts the skin and may cause cuts that open the interior of the body to infection from bacteria. For females, clothes block the attraction of unwanted touching, attack, and sexual attention. It may protect males from reactions of repulsion. Without clothing, people are subject to dangers of nature and neighbors.
Housing is shelter from both nature and neighbors on a bit wider scale. Without a home, one has no safe place to rest and sleep, to keep and prepare and eat food, to acquire and keep other possessions, to protect one’s children, to retreat from the heat of the day or the cold of the night, summer or winter, rain or snow. One has no place to clean one’s clothes or body or eating-ware. Without a home, one is a permanent wanderer, even if only within a small geographical area. Given that a home is a place of storage, one cannot build a life above daily poverty, without a place to shelter what one acquires.
The lack of medical knowledge, skills, and medicines, one is subject to every disease of bacteria and virus and allergy. One has no way to repair bodily injuries such as are frequent when working in nature. Lacking the medical methods for repelling infection, one is weakened and vulnerable to attack by other sources of illness, which need not have ended one’s life, except that one has no resistance to them. Most such sickness and disability is accompanied by pain, from mild to unbearable. Life without medicine is short and full of anguish, as one watches one’s children die.
Lacking tools, one cannot move heavy objects, control animals, plant, tend, and harvest plants. One cannot erect structures, nor build furniture, nor control the smoke that comes with heating one’s home. One cannot repel wild animals, including invading tribes. One cannot make clothes, nor shoes, nor coats against harsh weather. Without tools, one can certainly not advance to refining ores and making stronger materials, which are used to manufacture machines, which are used to make more tools, packaging, preserved foods, and the greater advances of civilization, including the extension of hearing and sight by means of electronics, of action through robot arms in high-technology factories. Life is very narrow and deprived when man lacks tools. Most of the literal pain of work and life existence in nature floods back into human, when people lack tools. Much that makes life bearable cannot be done and is not attempted. Instead, belief systems of spiritual forbearance are invented to “explain” why man is so miserable.
The provision of food, clothing, shelter, medicine and tools all require knowledge. One gains knowledge by observing nature and how it works and taking action there to produce results and observing what actually results from a variety of actions. But, no one has the time to learn all that can be known of nature by this process. By means of language, people can share their observations and experiences. When, their knowledge is organized into an orderly process of instruction, people learn by education. Without education, people cannot advance their lives out of the pain of deprivation into a greater productivity and storehouse of goods to improve their lives. Lack of education leaves man on the level of animals that learn by copying their elders, but never advancing beyond what is needed for today. But, for humans the lack of education has another dimension of suffering. The human mind is an astonishing tool for gaining knowledge. It cries out for use. A mind that does not ask questions and seek for answers in the presence of the complexity of nature is a mind that aches for lack of action.
Human existence is full of pain, injury, disability, and death, when there is a lack of food, of clothing, of shelter, of tools, of medicine, of a process of education. Knowing this, anyone would think that the desire to avoid such profound suffering would motivate anyone, everyone, each one to do what is necessary to overcome the lacks and provide for a better life. Yet, it is observable that not everyone does.
What is clear is that this vast chasm of need is universal. Everyone is born with need and its presence never leaves him every day of his life, asserting itself in a felt way at mealtime. Like the color of your eyes, anything which you live with that was not a matter of choice and cannot be changed by choice is not a moral issue. The universal fact of need, as an unremovable ingredient of life on Earth, does not create a moral demand on anyone. What is a moral issue is what a person chooses to do about it.
From a fundamentally different perspective, the Oxford English dictionary defines “need” as (verb) “to require (something) because it is essential or very important..” Or (noun) “circumstances in which a thing or course of action is required”.
Required by what? Needed for what?
The human body is composed of nutrients, from tiny structures inside the cells of the body to large structures such as organs and the skeletal frame. To maintain the structure and function of all, a new and daily ingestion of nutrients is needed for cell repair and fuel. Growing and eating those is a requirement nature has set on keeping one’s life. To fail to eat for long enough is to starve the body and render it unable to perform its life-living functions. When functions stop, the health of one’s very life is threatened.
To eat, obtaining food by growing it or trading for it is a requirement of nature. So, one needs ground or other occupation to produce values others will want to give you food in exchange for.
To work, whether the ground or other, requires tools and knowledge of how to use them to effectively produce values one needs or others will trade for. To have those tools requires those who know how to invent and produce them for use and trade. To know how to use them requires education, time in which to practice their effective use, and time in which to make mistakes and learn from experience.
To obtain that education, there must be people who have the leisure away from their life-sustaining work to teach and there must be a focused and active mind in the student and the teacher, the ability to provide active example and worded explanation. Those are not skills that come automatically.
As Ayn Rand stated this dependency, this chain of natural requirements, “If you want to live, you must work, if you want to work, you must think.” And thinking requires a choice. Do you know anyone who hopes to avoid the consequences of nature’s requirements for keeping life, while choosing to not think, actively and with a will to understand? Because it is a choice, a choice to gain knowledge and take productive action, this is the issue on which need becomes a moral issue. Not need, as such, but the choice to use one’s native capacity for gaining knowledge and taking action. . .that is what gives this human condition a moral dimension.
To preserve life, one must engage in temperature control, not too hot and humid, not too cold. Many of the tools we use must be stored for use when needed, so there has to be a safe place where they can be stored. Safety from predatory wanderers, whether human or animal, also requires shelter. Life needs those things and conditions. They require shelter. Shelter is a requirement of life.
Clothing plays much the same role as shelter, except closer to the skin to prevent exposure to the extremes of atmosphere and scratches, which can give disease access to our inner body. Clothing is a requirement of keeping life.
Because we inhabit an atmosphere full of life forms that feed on us and cause the failure of our bodily functions, we must be able to detect and counteract such health hazards. This is the wide field of medicine. Nature requires an ever-expanding knowledge of medicine, if we are to keep our lives.
These and so many more are facts. They are the facts of nature. They are the facts, conditions, actions, and knowledge nature sets as the requirement of keeping our lives.
And they reveal our human life process of two steps. The knowledge of our minds guiding the actions of our bodies. . .in nature where we have our lives and where actions (and inaction) have consequences. Nature gives us the capacity for pain, which serves as a warning alert system, signaling dangers to our bodily integrity and well-being and very lives. But, avoiding pain (just like seeking pleasure) is not the human life process.
These are two very different attitudes and produce very different results. Equipped with a mind, nature requires of us that we carefully observe what is around us and in us. We must make careful comparisons between things with similar appearances, take similar actions, are affected similarly. We must both look and think closely about all around us in order to discover what mechanisms, enacted in exact ways, result in what reactions, what actions and results of their own. We look, we see, we compare, we logically tie things that “go” together. We finally figure out what actions of our own on the materials of nature produce the objects and conditions that aid our life and what are dangers.
?o love life is not to aim at avoiding its required efforts, failures of learning and action, of its natural pains. To love life is to love the life process described just above. When a man relishes the challenge of using his mind, not on puzzles, but on the complex requirements nature sets on our lives, and seeks out more and more chances to use his mind at peak energy, he is revealing his love of life. When he cringes away from the exacting use of his mind, from the difficult challenges of work, from the potential for failure or pain, he is not loving life.
We are urged to give what we have produced to those in need, those who lack what we have produced, because they didn’t produce it, in the name of the value of their lives. This view forbids us from making moral judgments about others. Need is all that must be known about a man who is said to be deserving of what we have. But, what about that value of his life?
What is life? America’s moral philosopher, Ayn Rand, defines life as “a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action”. Notice the word “action”. And how does one know if a person sets a value on something? “Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” To love life is to value it and the actions required to keep it.
I call it the worship of need, because need is supposed to be so sacred that you are not supposed to ask questions, just give in. Here is the question they don’t want you to ask. If another man’s actions don’t show that he values his life enough to embrace the life pattern (the actions) needed to keep it, why am I supposed to value his life more than he does?
If man is to survive at a human level of social life, he must live in a moral society and justice is a key virtue of such a society. If you will not take the actions needed to produce what you need to keep your life, what justice is there in subtracting from what I have produced for the sake of my responsibility to my life in order to support yours? Or, as Ayn Rand asserted it, “An end will be put to the infamy of paying with one man’s life for the mistakes of another man.”
I also call it the worship of need, because every form of others-worship, whether religious or secular, insists on the sacrifice of a value for a lesser value or no value at all. That is what Karl Marx knew he was calling for in his famous phrase, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Human sacrifices. The sacrifice of the able to those who only assert their need. And, further, if we do sacrifice those who can produce, which is what Communism did to 100,000,000 of the good people of Europe, Asia, Africa, starving, executing, or sending them off to slave labor camps during the 20ty century, then we are left with no left to feed those who now have severe need.
The moral contradiction of socialism is revealed in the fact that Marx’s slogan, “To each according to his ability, to each according to his need” does not logically mandate the redistribution of the means of life, socialism, if the man who has need consumes only what he, himself, was able to produce. Let the producer be the consumer of what he produced and society will soon fill up with those who choose to produce. Either subtract from the life or subtract the life of those who chose to exercise ability and produce what nature requires in order to keep life and society fills up with nothing but those unable to produce, as Communism revealed during the 20th century. Will America in the 21st century prove it all over again? If so, mankind may never have a chance to recover in the rest of what will be its short future history.
A very different statement on the subject of need comes from the pen of the greatest champion of man, the greatest opponent of socialism, the greatest advocate of its opposite, Capitalism. Ayn Rand wrote, in 1960: “The moral justification of capitalism is man’s right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; it is the recognition that man – every man – is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others, not a sacrificial animal serving anyone’s need.” (Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World” collected in her 1982 book Philosophy: Who Needs It).
As a moral/social philosopher, she defines capitalism as “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” (“What is Capitalism?” in her 1966 book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal) And she defines “individual rights” as “a right is a moral concept defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” (“Man’s Rights”, in the same book).
After nearly two centuries, it was Ayn Rand who rescued the concept of “rights” from vagueness and abuse. American statesman Thomas Jefferson relied on the explanations of his teacher, British philosopher John Locke, and the progress of scientific understanding of nature to advance the natural rights of man, as the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and other ends serving the life of each person. His view was that the extent of rights went so far as could not cause harm to another individual and would leave an equal extent of freedom for each other person. The 19th century advocate of government-as-servant, not master, Herbert Spencer, also held these two standards about what a right is: the equal exercise of the individual’s choice by all, so that no one’s exercise was limited less that the freedom of all and that the exercise of rights did not cause harm to others. The phrase most often used was that the exercise of my freedom extended only so far as the end of your nose.
With history as source of evidence, these two standards provided no barrier to the advocates of socialism and ever-growing government power. Something that non-specific offers no resistance to those who can manipulate the idea of harm and those who talk about giving up some freedom, some of one’s rights, in order to enjoy the protection of society against harm. And, it was conservatives above all who used that argument most in their very defense of the concept of rights.
Since Rand defines “a right is a moral concept. . .”, it makes sense that the root of her rescue of the concept rights begins in her moral theory. In fact, it begins in her value theory (meta-ethics), where she seeks the nature of the very first concept in any discussion of values or of morality, namely the nature of value. Long before discussing what values one ought to pursue, she simply says what values are. “Value is that which one acts to gain and or keep.” Goal-directed action is what aims at making some values part of what one is. On the nutritive level, all plants and animals act to make nutritional values part of their physical make up. Without that steady gain (profit over and above the energy exerted to gain that nutrition) the living being dies. Rand asks, Of value to whom and for what? All value-striving is exerted by living beings and the end for which they perform it is to sustain their lives. Life is the root of value. Only to a living being can anything be good or bad.
So, what is life? “Life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action.” The function of all action in and by an organism is to keep that life-sustaining action going, continuing.
When the exploration of these philosophical issues rises to man, the being of free will and spiritual values, morality is defined as “a code of values accepted by choice to guide a man’s choices and actions”.
At every level, the focus is on action. Because life is conditional and depends on a specific course of action, the core of Rand’s every moral concept is action. Since Rand considers rights to be the application of moral principles to a man’s life in a social context (among other men), it should come as no surprise when we read the definition of rights as a “moral concept defining and sanction a man’s freedom of ACTION in a social context.”
Now, we begin to have the clarity about what rights are that was missing in earlier advocates of freedom. “The concept of a ‘right” pertains only to action – specifically, to freedom of action.” This includes property rights and, those who wish to combat the anti-property arguments of the socialists, her discussion is worth your attention.
This leads us to a consequence of Rand’s views, what it is that violates individual rights. “It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men”.
“Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive – of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice.” In practice a right is one’s freedom of choice and action.
The Objectivist approach to any issue is, what are the facts of reality that give rise to this idea? Using that approach to the issue of violating rights, we can see that, if I want to restrain you from taking your own chosen actions, I can restrain you only by physical interference, only by means of physical force. I can threaten, you, but that is still in the realm of persuasion and, if you test my resolve, I can make my threat credible only by using force, as I threatened. If I want to compel you to take actions you would not freely choose, I can only do so my physical interference, only by physical force. It is only by means of physical force that I can violate your rights.
Finally, by a path so clear in its logic and attention to fundamental facts, Rand has led us to the point that we can clearly make the case for limited government. Not limited as to size, nor cost, nor Constitutional authorizations. The reach of government powers is limited by a purpose. The purpose of protecting the exercise of individual rights by exercising restraint on (and punishment of) physical force by any persons (including government personnel) against other persons or their property.
Government is not society. Government is not the center of society. Government is not the problem-solver of society. Society is the sum total of all voluntary relationships between free men and women in a geographic area. An economy is the financial/economic portion of that social arrangement. Government is the tennis referee off to the side of the game, mostly an observer, occasionally intervening to enforce “the rules”. Since the rule is that all persons have the right to take whatever actions fit their rational judgment for the advancement of their lives, so long as they do not use force or fraud against anyone else, government is the agency entrusted with the exclusive, legal use of physical force, to be used only as retaliation and only against those who start the use of physical force against others. All other challenges, problems to be solved, ideas to be promoted, inventions to be fostered, industry to be encouraged, “fair play” between citizens is NOT the business of government. It is up to those living, motivated, action-starting agents of any society, the people themselves, in private, both personal exchange and commercial trade.
Some mistakenly accuse Rand of viewing personal relations in commercial terms. No. She does regard ALL human relations in terms of voluntary exchange of value for value between traders of value. But, that is because ALL relations between persons must morally be to the gain of both and that requires exchange between voluntary traders of value, whether personal or commercial. No model is being imposed on the other. The core pattern is the same in both. In fact, a deeper exploration of this topic would show that they are not different in kind (personal vs commercial), but the same thing.
This is the opposite of the Marxian view of government, which is to choose between business or labor as the factor in society for government to favor.. Marx, having a false labor theory of economic value, favors labor. The conservatives, faithful followers of Marx from way behind, favor business. Rand thinks government has NO business favoring anyone, nor any economic “class”. Freedom means a government not acting to favor anyone’s interests, but to ban the use of physical force by anyone against any peaceable person. And, when I write “anyone’, you read “including government”, the ever-risky predator. Government is limited to one purpose in a “fully free society” (Rand’s phrase), the preservation of peace by means of the use of all its limited powers to restraining the use of physical force person against person.
By this means will be eliminated the society of human sacrifices. In this society, every person will be free to build his life and keep what he produces, or trade it for what others have produced. No one will be able, ethically or politically, to extract from others that which he did not earn. “Earn” is such a vital moral concept in making the case for the rights of man that the worshippers of need have carefully excluded it from both recognition of its moral character and even from the conversation. Read Rand on property rights and you’ll see both its power and its place in that very discussion.
Once you follow this argument carefully, you’ll see that morality, “freedom of action”, rights, government limited to a specific purpose, the social ban on the violation of the mind by physical force, the open use of reason, the open right of action based on individual, rational judgment. . .are all requirements of life, requirements of nature set on the keeping of one’s life and on the acting out of the two-step, human life process (the actions of one’s mind guiding the actions of one’s body on Earth).
There is one argument involving need that any society must face. What about those who are alive and literally, bodily, mentally unable to produce their living? Those, as Rand said, will have to depend on private charity. So, I ask you, in which society are people more likely to be generous, on a private, voluntary basis? A society in which you cannot count on any of your requirements being any concern of a cost-control expert in government having the power to take what you earned, without regard for your household budget, family enjoyment, personal dreams in order to “preserve the system as a whole”? Or, a society in which you earned cannot be touched by thief, nor vote of legislators, not by nations united against you, and in which yours is the only wish the matters for its use, disposal, investment or savings, and in which any act of charity is yours to decide according to the moral character of the person getting what you choose to give. Which society would you prefer to live in, if you hand to depend on the kindness of strangers? Socialism, or capitalism? Well, the evidence about who is the most generous has been “in” for at least a century by now. If one votes for life, one votes for a free America.
Yes, these have been abstract, philosophical arguments, but philosophy is never frivolous. Its methods, arguments, and conclusions always have practical effects on your life. If some philosophies do seem frivolous to you, I invite you to read Ayn Rand’s Objectivism instead. Very applicable to your life, if you care to meet the requirements of life, while you are here on Earth. So, what was that question again? Oh, yes. You have need? I have need. No moral status or entitlement in that. It is an unchosen fact of nature. But, me? I chose to think, I chose to work, I made provision to fill up nature’s requirements for my life. You come to me only because I lived up to that moral responsibility. What good does morality do you, when you are hungry? The very fact that you come to me shows that you know how much good responsibility does a man. So, tell me. What have you done? What did you choose to do with your time? Why should I value your life more than your actions show you value yours?
Once in awhile the moral philosopher must slap us, must say something so obvious that it wakes us up because we were not willing to hear it. It must be something so true that it describes, in a harsh way, the fact that reality is real and, though flexible, will not let your wishes break it. If you are not “for real”, it will let you break yourself on it. If you are told to be compassionate toward the suffering, the ones who do not have the means to supply the needs nature has defined for your survival., then be aware that “compassion” means to “suffer with”. If you are suffering with the man who did not provide for his needs by rational thought and honest work, you are in as bad a state of lack as he is and have no means to help him. The moral philosopher tells it to you straight. “Compassion as such cannot grow a blade of grass, let alone of wheat. Of what use is the “compassion” of a man (or a country) who is broke – i.e., who has consumed his resources, is unable to produce, and has nothing to give away?” (“From the Horse’s Mouth” by Ayn Rand in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It)
America! On the day when you can finally crave reality and will choose reason as your only way to find it, and are willing to accept that statement as the guide to your personal choices and politics, on that day, you will be able to save yourself and become, once again, the land of what once were free men and women, prosperous and unafraid. My job has only been to rid you of the guilt of living life according to the objective, factual, unyielding requirements of life.