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.
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.