Long Live the Objectivist

Ayn Rand's ethical system honors life above all else, and provides the perfect framework for embracing the importance of health, quality-of-life, and longevity.

The goal of this article is to bring the topic of longevity to the forefront of the Objectivist dialogue. Until now diet and exercise have been considered a hobby like airplane models or stamp collecting. In fact, longevity is much more.

It is an integral part of the Objectivist experience; a core principle that logically upholds our unique ethics. It serves as a clear dividing line between our morality and all others, between the idea of man as a victim and man as the arbiter of his destiny.

The Ethos of Death

Pick an ethos, any ethos and you will find that most share a focus on life after death, in one form or another. This has been true throughout history; spanning multiple cultures and diverse schools of thought. The concept of life after death has many faces but the implications are the same: “Pay no attention to the life in front of you, it is only an illusion. Life is overwhelming and death is frightening; if you would only believe in (insert belief system) everything will be ok.”

In the traditional Christian faith life on earth exists primarily so god can weed believers from non-believers; testing their faith in order to distribute heavenly rewards. Once in heaven the faithful are relieved of every earthly concern including reason, productivity, sex, self-responsibility and pride, to name a few. Death is seen as man‘s escape hatch from the demands of life on earth. It is the gateway back to the easy living of Eden and a time when man’s only concern was to worship god as food fell from the trees into his mouth. There is a strange entitlement to this kind of thinking: that somehow eternal, blissful life is man’s birthright; stolen from him by Eve in her selfish pursuit of knowledge.

Add to this a belief that everything happens according to god’s will and you have a potent anti-longevity cocktail. If god wants to teach you a lesson on humility he might, like the Biblical Job, give you cancer, or orchestrate a car accident, or any number of dire misfortunes beyond your control. Followers live in a constant state of supplication, hoping for the “blessing” of a long, healthy life. Their god reserves the right to manipulate their bodies and natural law to execute his “higher plan;” a plan beyond both question and comprehension.

This helplessness is a common theme of the anti-life ethos: the idea that death is not something that can, or even should, be proactively avoided. Under this code the only way to secure your well being is to appease an external entity that doles out disease and death or health and happiness on an unknowable whim, or worse. This concept was brought into stunning clarity in 1997 when I attended a Christian funeral and the message from the pulpit was that the decedent had been “called home” because god could “no longer bear to live without him;” a particularly chilling idea.

Under this abhorrent moral system, life is a rigged, futile game with man as the patsy. There are no rules, no absolutes and no way for him to protect himself. And even if he could extend his life by pro-active action, why would he? After all, it is only through death that he can return to the blissful, robotic comfort of a heaven he deserves.

The Ethos of Life

In stark opposition to this anti-life ethos stands Objectivism. With a wave of her pen, Rand dismissed the disjointed ethics of the death and created a moral standard based on reality. Objectivism freed man from the arbitrary, the external and gave him a standard for living that was within his control: his own life. It is right for man to practice that which is good for his life as a rational being and to actively avoid the things that destroy his life. To do so he must think. Plan. Decide. Act. If he fails to do so, he does so at his own peril.

The implications of Rand’s system are radical and affect every decision we make. Rather than accepting the code of others, we create a code for ourselves. Many of us have taken up the lifelong task of carefully weighing our actions based on reality. This is no small endeavor. To quote Rand, “If devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” Life is not for the faint of heart, the lazy or the follower. It demands a tireless pursuit of man’s virtues: reason, purpose, self-esteem, rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness and pride.

Longevity, Objectivist Ethics and You

To apply that same discipline to preserving and extending your life is morally in line with Objectivist principles. It speaks to the conviction that your life is valuable and worth preserving. It demonstrates that the natural world is knowable and that you are in command of your destiny. It says that you believe in your effectiveness and ability to make change. To ignore death is foolish, short-sighted and flies in the face of reason. To throw up your hands in surrender or live in quaking fear of it is a helplessness that is beneath you.

The pursuit of longevity is man’s last stand; and as such requires a deep and resolute bravery. Death has universally been the mystic’s hold on humanity; their threat to keep the masses submissive. An open pursuit of longevity acknowledges death without trembling and gives mankind the dignity that cowering in the mirage of eternal life denies him. To stand against the tide and fight as hard as you can to live as long and richly as possible; that is the call of longevity.

Theresa Anderson

So stop, in this moment, and consider the pursuit of longevity in your own life. Are your actions regarding your health consistent with your values? What habits have you put in place to enhance the length and quality of your life?

I hope that you will join me on this journey to explore longevity and investigate the intriguing research and information that is available on this exciting topic. We are fortunate to live at a time when science and philosophy have converged to give mankind unprecedented hope in our effort to, as Dylan Thomas wrote, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” We no longer have to accept mortality as a curse, but can choose to rise up and meet it with the grace and determination afforded by our benevolent view of life on this earth.

Theresa Anderson writes a fitness blog at betrulyfit.com, is a licensed Yoga instructor, and operates the Institute of Fitness Arts & Sciences in Orlando, Florida.

22 comments from readers  

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6 points
Well reiterated! Not only are we mandated to pursue longevity, thanks to Ayn Rand, we are also liberated from the horrors of "earning paradise in the next life by suffering in this one."

I see people all the time who aren't even among those submissive, dogma-driven Christians or Muslims but who nonetheless "wig out" if offered too much pleasure, too much ease, too much butter, too much sugar.

I am happy to report that you can live a very happy low-cholesterol, low blood pressure life while eating all the yummy stuff I want and doing only the things that bring me pleasure (such as saving animals' lives and helping people. It makes me feel like a god when I do that.)

I think a whole lot of the illness in the world is purely voluntary. I ever go so far as to call it "elective illness." I think people actively look for suffering, because they have been told this world is not the real world, and that they won't get into the real world except through pain. What a lie and a waste! (Also I think people are superstitious about it: "If God didn't give me allergies, I would probably have to have cancer, so I'll stick with allergies.")

What do you think?
I think you nailed it! ;)
Excellent article, well written. It reminds me of my own values.

I told my mom when I was 10 years old that I would live to be older than 110. She smiled, but I was serious. I've been working out 3 to 6 times a week (aerobic, weights, stretching, yoga) ever since. I'm now 50 years old with the body of a 20-year-old and no constant aches or pains.

I've been an Objectivist for 19 years, and it has helped me to understand values, especially their heirarchy and the necessity of time-allotment to values in descending order of importance. I consider health the second-highest value (objective, not optional), after productivity and before romance or any other value. Without health and the positive prospect of longevity, you cannot truly enjoy life and keep command of it.

Per Theresa's advice, I will look more deeply into Ashtanga yoga (from her web site) and non-weight usage, which I already use sparingly.

Thanks, Theresa, for an excellent health article with an eloquent prospective on the link between efficacy and health.
Short and sweet. I like that. I myself "got that" from Atlas Shrugged, when I read it for the first time 50 years ago. I made up my mind then, that I was going to stay away from doctors, work out every day to keep in shape, be responsible for my own health, and take vitamins to boost both my metabolism and my energy. Still works today. I don't get sick, I don't go to doctors, and I feel like I'm 25 years old. Thank you Ayn Rand.
I have not thought of this issue in terms of longevity and health, but I have thought and written about it in terms of enjoying life to the fullest because it is life that is paramount and not what happens after death. Well said.
Thanks for an interesting column. Longevity is an especially important topic these days, since it may soon be possible to actually live forever. Ray Kurzweil has written some great books on this topic that fit very well with Objectivism. It's an exciting time to be alive.
This is so beautifully written that I want it on my website. It lifts this vital subject out of the closet of private oddity into the sunlit realm of reason and reality, where it has always belonged. I think I'll spend some time at Theresa's website. I invite the reader to spend some time a the site of Life Extension Foundation, www.lef.org, where science is devoted to this topic, not mysticism.
As a 74 year young man with a 13 year old son and a beautiful wife just short of 60, I beg to differ on a few points. I hope you will give some consideration to my comments.

I believe your "either or" viewpoint - that belief in life and an after-life are mutually exclusive is rather naïve. I believe that the biblical â??Heaven and Hellâ? probably exist here on earth. By â??living right,â? according to the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, et al, we have a far better chance of creating our own â??Heavenâ? right here in River City. Hell is likewise the result of the opposite behavior.

My goal is life is to dance with my wife at our 50th wedding anniversary . . . Iâ??ll be 103! Good, clean living â?? paying attention to diet, getting regular exercise, certainly increases the probability of reaching such a goal. Focusing on long life and getting the most out of it, to my way of thinking, certainly does not prevent a person from looking forward to and hoping for a â??just rewardâ? after death.

I spent a great portion of my life as an alcoholic, albeit a functioning one. But I missed out on a lot. I once gave a humorous speech in a Toastmasters speech contest entitled, â??Why I Quit Drinking!â? The punch line was, â??When I realized that I had been drunk when I proposed to my first wife, drunk when I proposed to the second and drunk when I proposed to the third, well . . . . THATâ??S why I quit drinking!â?

But I cleaned up my act, rediscovered a belief in God, and was fortunate enough to find and marry my wife, the mother of my son to whom Iâ??ve now been married for just over 21 years.

I have a bachelors and masters in the scientific field, and see no real conflict between science and religion. On the contrary, I am amazed when confronted with an otherwise intelligent human being that believes that this wondrous universe â??just happened.â?

I have long been an Ayn Rand fan, and feel that her philosophy on the mechanics of living is the only way to true happiness. Belief in oneâ??s self, oneâ??s capabilities, goals, achievements are essential to true happinessâ?¦. I truly believe that. And if a belief in God and a belief that following his guidance as written in the bible and other sources of wisdom were to necessarily prevent one from living a goal oriented and productive life brimming with supreme self confidence and joy in oneâ??s accomplishments, well, then I would also some serious questions.

But it absolutely does not!

Oh, there are many, I suppose, who slouch through life longing to be saved in the hereafter, but these lifeless people are not actually representative of the average, God loving person. In fact, living a life lacking in meaning other than the seeking of some reward for following some set of rules is as empty, stupid and silly as the thinking of the Muslim suicide bombers who expect their â??21 virgins!â?

No, life is to be lived, and lived to its fullest! And a long and happy life, a life guided by the golden rule will certainly get you into heaven on earth, and if there is a hereafter (and I believe there is) will probably fare you well there too.

Ryanâ??s Dad

Was happy to see this come forward.

Suggestively, I think that Ray Kurzweil & Terry Grossman would make a wonderful subject for a future article. Poignant info for this audience.
An interesting article, well written, concise, and true. If life is the standard of the good, then more life is good.

I resently finished reading Ray Kurzweil's, 'The Singularity is Near', and found it to be the most profoundly, world-view altering book that I have read since I first read Atlas Shrugged. The book is speculative in nature but, based on solid rational ground. I recommend it and agree that it would make an interesting subject for a future article.
I would like to add that taking care of our bodies and minds takes the strain off of our loved ones and the rest of society. The less care we need in our elderly years means we are not taking up vital resources that can be used for those who are not capable of doing so.

I am now 60 and have been on a plant based diet for a year. My health is vastly improved with no more signs of colitis that has plagued me for 40 years. I am able to do more work than ever before with 45 pounds off my body and a good cholesterol level. As a nation we could stop the obesity problem dead in its track with a little resolve.

What a sad state we are in and so many are relying on God to take care of them no matter what happens. Why would God give us a brain if we were not to use it? I agree that we need to plan for tomorrow and look out for ourselves and our families. Ayn Rand has made a huge difference in my life.
I'll be 67 Friday, and Theresa's article is the best birthday present I could ask for. Beautifully written!

Too bad Rand herself didn't connect her habits of diet, smoking and non-exercise to her philosophy of life.
I have to disagree with this article. Happiness is the standard, not length. Health and long life are only means to that end of achieving happiness, not ends in themselves.

One of the reasons I say this is that I have tried both ways. I used to be ultra health concious - excercise, vitamins, you name it. But the last 10 years I have gone the other way - I eat what I want - excercise only lightly and only when I want to (no strict dogmatic rules.) And just like the comment above - I too feel great - never better. I am very happy and feel like I did 20 years ago.

Also, all 4 of my grandparents lived to be 90 to 100 and there was certainly no healthy eating or excercise going on there!
Outstanding. I only wish Ayn Rand were alive to take advantage of the age-reversal technologies we are set to fund through the Manhattan Beach Project, an all-out assault on aging. Go to www.ManhattanBeachProject.com to see how many of the world's top scientists plan age-reversal capability by 2029.
I am not religious. However, I have heard arguments from intelligent rational people whom I respect (Dennis Prager is one example) in favor of religion specifically as a tool to live a more fulfilling life (here, on this planet), and for this life as an end in itself. That said, belief in God, generally, is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the tenets of an objective reality.
Excellent; Ms. Anderson easily integrates the spiritual, intellectual and physical in one swoop.
This was a great positive article, I think we need more articles like this about objectism because a lot of them focus on what is going wrong, instead of areas that objectivism can strive, keep up the great writing.
Yeah, I've been thinking it's funny that religionists would be sad at funerals.

Unless they secretly believe the deceased has gone to hell. Which wouldn't exactly be a compliment. Or wait, it rather would, given their morality, that they believe you go to hell for all the good things in life.

"I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more funâ?¦"

â??Billy Joel, "Only the Good Die Young"

But if they truly believe the deceased has gone to heaven, why aren't they happy for him? The only reason to be sad would be that they miss him. And wouldn't that be terribly selfish by their standards? If they really believe in a life after death, they should turn every funeral into a party.

Love the Dylan Thomas line.

"If there are no cigars in heaven, I shall not go."

â?? Mark Twain
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0 points
How rarely do I read things that shows the writer understood and thought about Oism and is actuating in their daily life? I put a big reward on being inspired.

Thanks, what a great article. It's *awesome* to encounter something purely good!
Bravo! Well spoken. As a man currently defying nature by spending 3 days a week on a dialysis machine to replace the lost function of bad kidneys, I agree with you totally.

We must strive to master nature and never let death, nor the mystics that flaunt it, intimidate us into anything less than rational behavior.

Good article. Thank you for expressing this idea so well.
Theresa, my apologies for the late comments, but I've only just now found this essay.

You write "Pick an ethos, any ethos and you will find that most share a focus on life after death, in one form or another." Having read widely in the history of ethics, I would like to offer a more positive assessment. Almost all of the ancient Greek philosophers were this-worldly; I especially recommend Aristotle and Epicurus. The same is true of many thinkers in the Chinese traditions of Confucianism and Taoism (an enjoyable recent example is Lin Yutang; see his 1938 book "The Importance of Living"). In the modern West, consider exploring Thoreau and Nietzsche. And that's just for starters.

It's true that you might not agree with everything these writers have to offer; yet they do provide variations on the theme of love for life on this earth, and will give you many years of great intellectual workouts!
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To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.