Like most college students at the end of May, I finished my exams with the full intent of taking a well-earned moment of peace from challenges overcome. However, a “moment of peace” does not necessarily mean a “moment of inactivity” or a “moment of mental unconsciousness.” Quite oppositely, I found my moment in peace through pursuing my own interests outside of the classroom. I read, I wrote, and, perhaps most importantly, I got a job.
But the interesting part of this anecdote is not that I spent the summer doing paperwork at a paper mill (no pun intended, though make no inaccurate assumptions about the perceived boredom of such a job). Instead, I want to relay a conversation to you, reader, that I had with a friend of mine regarding our jobs.
While I was sitting in my office scanning some schematics into a digital archive, I sent a text to my friend asking what she was doing that day. After a brief span of moments, she responded that she was working as a lifeguard at her neighborhood pool. I responded laughingly, joking that it’s a “small world.” What her follow-up text said was really what provoked my intellectual curiosity: “haha,” she laughed, “It’s just reality.”
Though my friend likely only intended to be conversational, her response was actually a deeply philosophical statement about the metaphysical necessities for man’s existence. In short, I should not have been surprised to find out that she and I happened to both be working during the summer. Why? Because man must work in order to live.
True, she and I are largely supported by our parents at the moment because of the value they place on us as their children, but the point is that man cannot survive without producing. Unlike animals that are specifically equipped to gather sustenance from their environment, humans lack nearly every physical advantage available in the animal kingdom. Instead, man must create his advantages, i.e. produce, to not only avoid death, but also to achieve a level of existence proper for himself (two concepts which are very different metaphysically). For example, man possesses none of the attributes necessary to capture and kill game, but so essential was capturing game to ancient man that he created the spear and proceeded by using the advantage that he created to achieve the goal it was intended for.
Some may argue that man survives by consumption, that, even in prehistoric times, man could simply live through obtaining all that he needs from his environment through chance encounters with resources that happen to be readily available. However, this claim has broader implications than these individuals would like to admit. Imagine, for example, a world in which man does not produce in order to live: no habitations beyond caves and grottos provided by nature, no drink except freshwater sources that individuals happen to run across, and no food except variable sources of grains, fruits, and vegetables that one is fortunate enough to encounter (and even those are all dependent on man’s willingness to attempt to find those things rather than rely on others to do so for him). Nonetheless, at the first unexpected adversity, if man refuses to use his rational faculty to produce a solution, he will inevitably be no more able to avoid death than he would be to achieve life.
In order to truly achieve a successful level of existence, man trades his produced values for the produced values of others. This way, an individual can specialize his productive abilities, allowing others to do the same. In turn, time is saved – either in the length of one’s life or in the time saved from someone providing a service more efficiently than the receiver would be able to have done so himself – which allows for further thought, productivity, invention, and specialization which begins the cycle anew.
If an individual chooses not to produce, however, and instead decides to consume, he would be unable to trade because he would have nothing of value to offer in return. For this reason, a free market economy cannot rightly be called a “consumer economy” because even the “consumers” produce through their labor (represented in monetary payment from their employer) and then trade that productivity with the producer of the good or service that they actually desire. Consumerism as such is only possible through force (physical, legal, or moral; the last requiring the sanction of the victim) or the charity of the producers. Either through force or through an overextension of one’s charitable sentiments to the point of altruism, the cycle of productivity outlined above breaks, stagnates, and begins to work in the opposite direction: inhibited productivity leads to a decrease in saved time which leads a decrease in thought, invention, specialization, and then to a further decrease in productivity. Because of this, only a truly free capitalistic system can be said to respect life as man’s ultimate value rather than subsistence and death.
So, while I marvel even now at the unintentional depth of my friend’s statement, it is clear that she recognizes a fact of life that altruists fail to notice, or simply fail to admit: their arguments existentially cannot lead to a successful life because they are not rooted in the metaphysical requirements for man’s life. The maxim that states “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” is more than the “cruel” religious precept “forced” on generation after generation of those “unfortunate” enough to be under its influence. As my friend stated so accurately, “It’s just reality,” but even more so, it’s just life, and what a wonderful life it is.