“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” — Ayn Rand
You may not realize it, but all individual humans are in a state of constant self-policing. When deciding what actions to take we are constantly weighing them against the standards of a group that we have membership in. This is the reason why we feel comfortable around people who have similar ideologies (internal operating code). We can already expect that we will agree on key issues and so we get along with a sense of security that we all display the same information to each other–that’s how we know we can understand each other and are in agreement.
Groups that are vague and mysterious will never gain new membership because people don’t understand their operating code. Other groups may not explicitly say what they believe, but others join in because they like how the people in a group act.
“That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character,” -Ayn Rand.
Living in these groups, we are constantly thinking about how to fit in, if not gain more popularity. Think back to high school, where we felt pressures to dress and act the same. People who were different were weird and weird was bad. Weird was exclusionary. Weird was alone. We want to be “normal” and ultimately strive to have the same internal operating code. We long to feel close with one another. Any Christian will tell you the magical experience it is when everyone worships to the same rhythm at Christian rock concerts. Any sports enthusiast loves feeling a part of the crowd at sports games and sits in the section with their team. Yes, even watching something as unproductive as sports feels meaningful when its with other people.
“The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.
The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.” -Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
By Rand’s theory, man is solely responsible for his own happiness. This is the definition of being selfish, or rationally self-interested. When a man proposes to a woman, its not because he thinks he’s doing her any favors. Its because he wants her to be his wife and there is nothing more selfish than taking an incredible woman as your spouse, depriving all other men in the universe from having her. Or you can persist and suggest it is a self-sacrifice and say “Honey, I’m doing this for your own good.”
The problem with living a radically individualistic life, however, is that if being true to ourselves means being confident in our beliefs, then how can we ever be confident when every other person on the planet has different beliefs?
The answer lies in understanding that ethics is something personal. Even our understandings of the criteria for group membership are vague and undefined- different for each individual. If you stop buying from one vendor, don’t be surprised when they stop buying from you. No longer are you in the same group of mutually helping each other survive, but now you may even be competition.
When an individual does something which they perceive to be against the group, they will deliberately withdrawal to reduce the damage they are having to that group because they care about them. This proves man’s inherent good. Afterwards, the individual may try to justify leaving by saying the group wasn’t that good to be apart of in the first place and eventually isolates themselves until they find a new group. This is no way to live, and no way to survive.
In many religions, mechanisms were invented to ensure that the group could stay together. In Catholicism, this is the function is known as confession. Individuals go to a priest who offers forgiveness on behalf of God.
In Protestant faiths, individuals believe in Christ as their personal savior and don’t believe that a priest can act as an intermediary between God and God’s children so they give their confessions privately in their head.
The idea behind confession is that Christ paid the price for the sins of man on the cross and that from this point on all people are completely justified. This does not, however, mean that you will not be excluded from your groups. In Catholicism, the only way for someone to come into communion with their group is if they go to confession and then partake in the body and blood of Christ during communion at Church. Meanwhile, Protestant Churches have strict rules for excommunicating those who do not forgive a brother.
Outside of religion, however, the only thing stopping you from rejoining a group after making a mistake is yourself. Once you acknowledge you made a mistake and you’ve reconciled in your head why the action is wrong then you are able to forgive yourself on behalf of the group. Why? Because only you will be able to perfectly understand the reasons for why you did what you did. That doesn’t make it okay, but only you can trace back the logical progression of events which led you to do what you did.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” -Bob Marley, Redemption Song
In any case, while Rand was right that we shouldn’t be forced into blindly self-sacrificing for all, we must choose our groups for meaning and survival. Otherwise, we would end up continually self-isolating, which, as Marx pointed out, is unlivable when most people don’t even self-produce the basic things they need for survival.
That being the case, you must decide who you will be when you return. Will you be a villain making the same mistakes because you refuse to admit you are wrong? Or will you be a hero, who came back because he knew he would do anything to make the lives of those around him better, despite his shortcomings?
Another proponent of the hero archetype is Joe Rogan, who proudly displays the mug shots of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra among others behind him as he does his show, reminding everyone that even legends were fallible people too (Rand would say their mistakes were errors in their thinking which they corrected later).
Society can produce an unkind and unforgiving world, ready to burn your existence out of their memories, especially if they stand to gain.
“Too often character assassination has replaced debate in principle here in Washington. Destroy someone’s reputation, and you don’t have to talk about what he stands for.” -Ronald Reagan
Well, that’s not the world I want to live in, and that’s why I’d never condemn people in the same way I’d expect them never to condemn me. Understanding that man is inherently good, deciding who you will be is key for your survival and the good of all mankind.
“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” -Ronald Reagan
Music Pairing: 1000 Words