“Who passed through Life in white cloud, / And in placid rest slept, / Who never felt the cold of disgrace, / Who passed through Life and did not suffer, / Was a spectre of man, and not man, / Only passed through life, not lived.”
– Francisco Otaviano –
(by Barry Holubeck / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)
When a policeman is shot and killed, it is not hard to understand; life in the streets is dangerous, but we know someone must live it if we expect to have a minimum of order and security. So, when that happens, the gossip is about knowing exactly what has occurred: Was it a coward criminal deed? Was it during combat? Or was it the policeman’s corruption that eventually killed him? But we never hear someone questioning the “merit” of such death — policemen and criminals die by the bullet, and that’s it. But when someone dies by jumping from a precipice with small wings between the arms, then the gossip is of a different nature.
“By its nature, evasion is a form of nonintegration. It is the most lethal form: the willful disintegration of mental contents. A man in this condition no longer has the means to determine consistency or contradiction, truth or falsehood. In his consciousness, all conceptual content is reduced to the capricious, the baseless, the arbitrary; no conclusion qualifies as knowledge in a mind that rejects the requirements of cognition. Thus the real evader […] reaches only one end and one kind of “safety”: all-encompassing blindness.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 225.
(Stop evading. Look at reality. See something you can’t accept? Combat it.)
Combat has a built-in morality, and it is beautiful. But please understand what I mean by combat. It is not a war or a violent situation in which you find yourself. Combat is an attitude toward life, it is choosing the fight rather than running away from it. The most easily recognizable forms of combat are the explicit ones, like the one I practice in the favelas, but it is not the external appearance that matters — it’s the underlying ethic. When I press the trigger of my rifle, I am not choosing death; I am choosing life — the life of a man qua man
— as my standard of value.
“For what end should a man live? By what fundamental principle should he act in order to achieve this end? Who should profit from his actions? The answers to these questions define the ultimate value, the primary virtue, and the particular beneficiary upheld by an ethical code and reveal thereby its essence. […] The ultimate value is life. The primary virtue is rationality. The proper beneficiary is oneself.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 206.
(Diogenes Sitting in his Tub, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860): Man’s life qua man is the Objectivist standard of value, not life at any price. One thing I can say for sure: Diogenes was not an Objectivist.)
Ethics provides “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” Value, according to Ayn Rand, is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” Value presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where there is no alternative, there are no possible goals and values. The fundamental alternative of life or death is the precondition of all values. This shows that life should be our ultimate value, something to be pursued as an end in itself, the standard for all other values.