Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Never sacrifice anything.

Let’s continue our analysis of John Galt’s Speech in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In this passage, Ayn Rand describes the moral hypocrisy of “sacrifice”, and why material values are not wise to sacrifice in the name of supposed virtue:

Sacrifice could be proper only for those who have nothing to sacrifice— no values, no standards, no judgment— those whose desires are irrational whims, blindly conceived and lightly surrendered. For a man of moral stature, whose desires are born of rational values, sacrifice is the surrender of the right to the wrong, of the good to the evil.““The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral—a morality that declares its own bankruptcy by confessing that it can’t impart to men any personal stake in virtues or value, and that their souls are sewers of depravity, which they must be taught to sacrifice. By his own confession, it is impotent to teach men to be good and can only subject them to constant punishment.“

Sacrifice is not a moral virtue.

As a reminder, Ayn Rand defines sacrifice as “the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue”.

This is important, because that’s not the definition most people are taught growing up. It is not a sacrifice to invest $10 in return for $100. It’s not a sacrifice to risk your own injury to save your children’s lives. It’s not a sacrifice to donate your time to charity, or spend your last money on food to survive.

The simple idea, is that sacrifice is one-directional: you can only sacrifice a higher value for a lower value.

The idea of surrendering a lower value for a higher value is not sacrifice by definition.

It is not sacrifice to stop eating junk food, if you value maintaining physical health. It’s not sacrifice to cease frivolous spending, if you value long-term financial freedom and stability.

These are the prices we pay in order to achieve our highest values.

Said differently, any price paid in the pursuit of values is not sacrifice.

A historical example of “Sacrifice” being used to morally manipulate people…

Prior to World War Two, there was no Federal income tax in the United States. Technically, Congress did levy a 3% income tax to help pay for military spending during the civil war, but that’s it. it was quickly repealed in the 1870’s.

During World War Two, tax law revisions increased the numbers of “those paying some income taxes” from 7% of the U.S. population (1940) to 64% by 1944. In fact, we saw the highest ever progressive tax percentage ever levied in U.S. history during this time. Those making over $200,000 per year in income were required to pay 94% taxes on additional income.

Today, income tax is just a completely normalized idea that everyone is expected to pay.

Historically, that idea would be completely insane and most likely spark a second revolutionary war.

Why did Americans accept it? The creed of Sacrifice.

Radio commentators, comic strips, politicians, and pundits all rallied to inflict income taxes on the general population in the name of sacrificing short-term comfort for success in the war. Giving up economic freedom and introducing a permanent loss of property rights through taxation for hundreds of millions of past, present, and future Americans was not moral. That’s precisely why it was a sacrifice.

In the hierarchy of values, individual property rights, liberty, and freedom are higher values than winning a war. The U.S. no doubt had a positive influence and involvement to stop the spread of National Socialism (Nazism) – but I believe Nazism would’ve self-destructed much like Soviet communism ultimately did because it’s unsustainable.

“The Greatest Generation” ultimately sacrificed our freedom for their short-term comfort.

That’s the power of war propaganda on an unenlightened and fearful populace.

“Are you thinking, in some foggy stupor, that it’s only material values that your morality requires you to sacrifice? And what do you think are material values? Matter has no value except as a means for the satisfaction of human desires. Matter is only a tool of human values. To what service are you asked to give the material tools your virtue has produced? To the service of that which you regard as evil: to a principle you do not share, to a person you do not respect, to the achievement of a purpose opposed to your own—else your gift is not a sacrifice. “Your morality tells you to renounce the material world and to divorce your values from matter.

A man whose values are given no expression in material form, whose existence is unrelated to his ideals, whose actions contradict his convictions, is a cheap little hypocrite—yet that is the man who obeys your morality and divorces his values from matter.

The man who loves one woman, but sleeps with another—the man who admires the talent of a worker, but hires another—the man who considers one cause to be just, but donates his money to the support of another—the man who holds high standards of craftsmanship, but devotes his effort to the production of trash—these are the men who have renounced matter, the men who believe that the values of their spirit cannot be brought into material reality.

“Do you say it is the spirit that such men have renounced? Yes, of course. You cannot have one without the other. You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness. Renounce your consciousness and you become a brute. Renounce your body and you become a fake. Renounce the material world and you surrender it to evil.

“And that is precisely the goal of your morality, the duty that your code demands of you. Give to that which you do not enjoy, serve that which you do not admire, submit to that which you consider evil—surrender the world to the values of others, deny, reject, renounce your self. Your self is your mind; renounce it and you become a chunk of meat ready for any cannibal to swallow.

Moral values must be objectively expressed to matter

Let’s say I value intimacy and depth in my relationships (I do). Let’s also say I surround myself with shallow, vain, self-obsessed, inauthentic “friends”. To make it worse, I settle for such friendships and have resigned myself of finding better ones.

In any objectively measurable sense, I don’t actually value intimacy and depth in my relationships.

I tolerate, sustain, and put energy into maintaining a state of being directly opposed to my stated values.

Insofar as that’s true, I can’t honestly say I value intimacy and depth.

Quite the opposite – what I value measured by by actions, is something more like “comfortable, complacent, and shallow relationships”.

Measure people’s values by the company they keep, the things they do, and how they spend their time and energy.

If the objective reality of someone’s life doesn’t line up with what they say they value, they are either lying to you or themselves.

Material Value is Subjective

Let’s take a look at Gold as an example. Gold was universally used by every successful culture for thousands of years as money – to store and exchange value. It is durable, stable, portable, and easily divided into small denominations. These are good characteristics for money.

Some say Gold has “intrinsic value” – value by virtue of its inherent properties and usefulness.

I used to believe that’s true, until someone posed a simple thought experiment to me:

“What happens when you’re stranded alone on a tropical island? Is your gold intrinsically valuable then?”

Well, if there were other humans on the island who thought my gold was valuable enough to trade food, water, and shelter for – I’d be okay. But in this case, I’m alone. I can’t trade my gold for anything useful for my survival. Gold becomes a burden to carry, costing me calories when I need to be finding food and shelter for myself. The relative value of gold drops to zero. I’d trade all of my gold for a guaranteed 30-day food supply on that island.

Value is situation, context, and preference-dependent.

The free market is predicated on this being true. It’s why I can sell you a pen for $1, and the interaction is a win-win. In that moment, you value my pen more than your dollar, and I value your dollar more than my pen. So it’s a win-win exchange for us to trade.

The hierarchy of values are situation-dependent.

Food and water necessarily have value to human survival, which is almost always highest in the hierarchy of values. But sometimes we temporarily place fasting as a higher value than eating. Sometimes we go to sweat lodges, steam rooms, and saunas to lose rather than gain water.