Joseph Rowlands
Joseph Rowlands

Living Your Own Life

The static view of life can be seen all over the culture. It is the belief that life is a state, not a process. It is a focus on a particular point in time, instead of seeing your life as a continuity of action. It is the state of non-death, instead of the process of living.

The static view of life is one of the foundations of the welfare state. Here it is believed that a redistribution of wealth can make everyone's lives equal. By taking wealth from those that have it, and giving it to those that don't, we can bring everyone to the same level.

This is a mistaken view because it takes for granted the static view of life. By its focus on a particular state, the wealth each person in society has, it ignores and destroys the actual lives of people. Life consists of your actions and goals. It is a process of self-improvement and survival. It is not just where you stand at any particular point, but how you got there and where you're going.

The welfare state ignores this aspect of life, and in so doing, makes it impossible. It inhibits your actions by preventing you from taking advantage of your successes. Instead of opening up new opportunities with every successive action, you stay in the same place as before you began. Your actions become meaningless, and with them, your own life. Action is no longer purposeful, and your life cannot be goal directed.

To counter the claims of the welfare state, conservatives and libertarians promote the virtue of self-responsibility. They claim that the state should not provide you with wealth, but you should provide it to yourself. You should be responsible for your own life, and nobody else should have to do it for you.

This sounds pretty good compared to the alternative, but there are some pretty big problems with it. The primary problem is that it doesn't explicitly reject the static view of life, and the result is that it often encourages it.

By trying to answer the question of who should provide you with wealth, it already accepts that wealth is the real significant part of life. Again, it focuses on what people have, instead of how they got it, what they're doing with it, and where they're going with their life. It makes it seem like just having wealth is the key to happiness and the good life, and it doesn't matter where it comes from.

One consequence to continuing to uphold the static view of life is that it makes self-responsibility a moral duty, instead of a virtue in the Objectivist sense. Objectivism holds virtues to be worth practicing because you benefit from them. Other moral systems that hold the good to be something outside of your own life, create a conflict between the practical and the moral. In these systems, upholding virtues is seen as a cost, and vices are a means to reward.

The virtue of self-responsibility is no different. By assuming the goal is merely gaining wealth, self-responsibility becomes a cost with no benefit. Self-responsibility is upheld as something "you should just do", and the alternative is getting wealth for "free".

The static view of life holds wealth to be a value, no matter how it's attained. The dynamic view of life says otherwise. Life is a process, and that's the whole point. The wealth is not an end in itself, it is a means to continuing and improving your life. It does matter how you get the wealth.

Self-responsibility, as an Objectivist virtue as opposed to a moral duty, means nothing more than living your own life. It is the virtue of independence. It means dealing with reality directly, without the need of a middleman. It's not a chore that gets in the way of you living your life. Simply put, it is living your own life.

What are the alternatives to independence or self-responsibility? The first is that someone else can provide you with values. But imagine a life where all your values are provided by others. You may indeed have wealth, but you wouldn't be living. No purposeful action would be possible because none would be necessary. You couldn't act to sustain and develop your life, because someone else would be doing it for you.

Another alternative is that you could act, but rely on others to tell you how you should act, or what you should act to gain or keep. But this is no better. You may be acting, but you're not living your own life. You'd exist as some lifeless tool of others. To live by another's standards is to abandon your own life in an attempt to live theirs. An attempt that cannot succeed.

These alternatives are exactly what the welfare state aims at. They are based on the faulty notion that some people can live the lives of others. The welfare state is wrong. It is not compassionate to try to live some else's life for them. It can't be done. Life is a process, not a state. Others can't live your life for you, they can only prevent you from living it.

To counter the welfare state, we need to uphold a moral vision of individuals living their lives to the fullest, instead of the stale substitute of non-death. We need to show self-responsibility as not just the moral means of living one's life, but the only way.

Self-responsibility is not a chore, but the greatest possible affirmation of your life. It is a commitment to choosing and seeking values for your own life. It is the moral equivalent of claiming your life is your own, and you will not accept anything less.

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