Human beings survive and prosper by means of achievement, not theft. Productive men can carry on their backs a certain number of parasites, but if the preponderance of people attempted survival by such dishonest means, human society would collapse. It is in a man’s self interest to produce and achieve. not to seek values by duplicitous and parasitical means.
“There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery.” One difference between such men lies in the social consequences of their actions-for both themselves and others. The robber victimizes others while the producer benefits himself and, as a consequence, others as well. In the long run (and in a free society) the thief is caught and incarcerated while the producer prospers. The exploiter seeks to live out a contradiction-in effect, a double standard: human beings must produce in order to survive and prosper, but I don’t have to. In pursuing this contradiction, he makes enemies of rational, productive men, and necessarily surrounds himself with fellow scoundrels, the only type of men willing to consort with such as him. He consequently spends his life sneaking, hiding, concealing the truth, living a covert, subterranean existence, a desperate man, on the run from the law and from society’s most honest members. This is a prescription for failure and misery.
By contrast, honest men, precisely because they consistently uphold the principle that man must produce to survive, lead an opposite kind of life-one of openness, of pride, and of an utter lack of skeletons hidden in their closets… The more fundamental point, however, regards a man’s relationship to nature, not to society. Human beings do not live in a Garden of Eden in which all the goods their survival requires exist ready made for the taking. It is not society that prohibits man’s life as a parasitical non-producer; it is nature. Reality requires man to produce if he is to flourish: the productive person lives in accordance with this fact of nature, but the parasite fights it. It is a battle no man can win. Society will imprison him-but nature will cause him to starve when he runs out of victims.
In the climactic scene of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark points out that human beings have but two possibilities in their quest for survival: they can either face nature independently, learning to create values-or they can seek survival parasitically, through the intermediary of the independent men. “The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. Paraphrasing Ayn Rand: one type seeks to conquer nature; the other to conquer those who conquer nature.
The creators and producers of values can reap a harvest of abundance; they can build, grow, construct, achieve-and prosper. They need no one else. But the parasites choose not to deal with nature-and, therefore, left to their own devices, in the absence of victims, subsist in misery. Viewed in principled terms, therefore, it is clear where an individual’s actual self-interest lies.
For example, how much food actually exists today, even in America, the world’s wealthiest nation? For what duration of time could that food last? If men chose to end productive work-to cease growing, shipping, and selling food and to subsist by parasitical means instead, their recourse to robbery and victimization would entail the survival of those most cunning and violent-for all of several additional days. For after the most aggressive brute plundered his final victim of the last morsel on earth, his own process of starvation inexorably ensues.
Considered long-term, as a matter of consistent principle, human well-being requires the creation of values-the creation of values, not their plunder. Consequently, a life of honest productivity, and the rejection of parasitism in all of its forms, is the life that Ayn Rand construes as egoistic, and the one she endorses.
The rational case against cynical exploitativeness can be summarized succinctly. The exploitative aspect of such an existence leads an individual to war against society’s most honest and productive members, making men’s intelligence, their rationality, and their commitment to justice his deadliest foes-and necessarily fills his miserable inner life with fear of being caught, and guilt at the realization that this is all he deserves. Further, the code that urges victimization of others often is combined with the view that hedonism-a mindless, indiscriminate pursuit of bodily pleasure-is in a man’s self-interest. This aspect of the code generally leads to self-destruction by means of toxic drugs and/or excessive amounts of alcohol. Above all, by repudiating rational productiveness as his mode of survival, he devolves into a hopeless war against human nature and against reality, which requires productivity of men. Therefore, in every way-socially, psychologically, biologically, and metaphysically-cynical exploitativeness leads only to failure, misery, and, if not quickly corrected, early and unfulfilled death.