Monday, November 7, 2011

Daylight Savings Time

I had a whole extra hour of Awesome yesterday.

It's amazing how much you notice a single hour of time when you have twins.

This got me thinking.

Scarcity is not a valid economic theory of value since economic goods are produced by man, and therefore by definition, not limited. That one is easy, the quantity of idiotic economists in existence notwithstanding.

But an individual's time is limited. It is scarce. So is scarcity a valid general theory of value? Steve Jobs explored this idea in his rightfully venerated Stanford commencement address:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.


No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

I love this speech. I love Steve Jobs. I love what he had to say here. But scarcity is not the ultimate source of values. If it were, hedonism would be the logical ethical ideal. Just maximize your pleasure. Nothing else matters. And the vagueness of Jobs' directives is evidence of this. "Don't waste [time] living someone else's life." "[H]ave the courage to follow your heart and intuition." He can tell you that time is scarce, and he can talk a bit about independence and pursuit of values, but he can't be much more specific about what kind of values he means or what it really takes to achieve them. I think he knew, in his own life, how to achieve values that went way beyond any kind of hedonism, but I just don't think he had the words to explain it.

Ayn Rand has given us those words. She was the first to have taken the next step, and defined a theory of value that is even broader, and yet more prescriptive, than scarcity theory. In her words:
There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.

And when tied to her view of the nature of man:
Man’s distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason . . . [The] valid definition of man, within the context of his knowledge and of all of mankind’s knowledge to-date [is]: “A rational animal.”

We come to the foundation of her ethics:
Man’s life, as required by his nature, is not the life of a mindless brute, of a looting thug or a mooching mystic, but the life of a thinking being—not life by means of force or fraud, but life by means of achievement—not survival at any price, since there’s only one price that pays for man’s survival: reason.


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