I think it was in Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand wrote something about how excusing one’s behavior with the phrase “I’m only human” is bullsh-t. I don’t condone the book, the woman and all her “philosophies,” I just want to give credit where credit is due, but the reasoning she offered for her dislike of the phrase did make sense to me, so much that it’s become one of those kernels of truth for me, something I think about sometimes and maybe even value. Rand’s dislike for the phrase “I’m only human” was more specifically a rejection of the premise of the phrase, which is something like “Humans are inherently lazy and lacking sufficient willpower to uphold personally- or culturally-assigned values.” I have the feeling that this premise is actually more true than false, Rand obviously didn’t, but despite my feeling regarding its truthfulness, I do think relying on that premise to justify, say, consciously allowing yourself to get into a four-hour long internet tunnel when you know that you’d feel like a much better human being if you instead worked on being a person you want to be (i.e., Writer, Well-Read, Physically Fit, A Good Significant Other/ Friend/ Sibling/ Daughter/ Son)… to excuse yourself from working on being a person you want to be because you’re “only human,” the idea being that you’re biologically determined to avoid ‘work’ and so it’s just your natural state to be somewhat of a sloth-like zombie and that that is an acceptable way to live, is just not a very healthy thing to do if you’re interested in feeling good about yourself.
Because I mean one of the truths about being a modern Western individual is that you likely have this idea about a person you want to be, and that person has a title even, a title like Young Professional or All-Around Good Person Of Above Average Intelligence, and to justify excessive ‘gaps’ in productivity by holding firm the belief that you’re “only human” and thus naturally lack sufficient motivation to do anything beyond obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit — where the premise of the idea of doing “anything beyond” obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit has, in a kind of relief, suddenly become sort of congratulatory, as if by doing “anything beyond” watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit you’ve become secretly heroic or are, just by not wasting oxygen, currently actualizing a person you want to be/ have always known you were/ are at your core — to justify your inaction with the belief that you’re “only human” is a behavior that stands in opposition of who you tell yourself you want to be and believe you are, if you have any Western-style aspirations at all. I know that no one’s perfect, on a scale of one to 10 I’m like a three on the ‘Bad’ to ‘Perfect’ scale probably, but I feel like consistently allowing yourself the luxury of the “only human” argument is almost infantile, or would lead to a more infant-like, helpless, non-productive state that I personally would find very meaningless and bleak.
I apologize for having started this piece of writing off with something about Atlas Shrugged, I know a lot of you feel very strongly about that book. The thing about personal goals of any sort is that for some people like me the existence of these goals alone — goals which can range from as concrete as Get Another Freelance Gig So You Can Start Saving Big Money to as abstract as becoming the person you want to be — serve to create the illusion of progress, of moving through time and space in a linear, structured fashion, even if you’re doing nothing to meet these goals. The existence of these goals also create the illusion of identity. So if you’re anything like me, a person almost helpless to his fixation on this narcissistic idea of becoming a Whatever, a Writer and a Very Good Person and a Successful Young Savvy Professional in my case, just a preconceived narrative really, buying into these types of goals is a way to delude yourself. Just having these ideas alone seems to be a substitute, however unsustainable, for consistently behaving/ being more in line with who you’re telling yourself you are. In this little navel-gazing paradigm can also exist, conveniently, the concept from above that you’re “only human,” because the existence of goals and the identification with those goals doesn’t necessarily mean — anymore, In This Day And Age — that you’re doing anything to complete those goals. Here’s a relevant video, NSFW language.
So that’s sort of a defense of productivity right there.
The thing about what I’ve written thus far is that’s not necessarily good advice, if it can be conceived of as such. Because what I described above can really just be distilled into the idea that being “productive” means “bettering yourself”/ “being happy” and that transitively being “productive” means “behaving like your preconceived notion of Self,” which is basically what people do when they buy environment-destroying SUVs as status symbols, or routinely mysogenize women because it affirms ideas about themselves that they for whatever reason find desirable, or work their asses off at work while neglecting individuals who love them very much and who might offer a much more meaningful connection than the one they have with their work, etc. Just as problematic but in a more abstract sense is the fact that the defense of productivity seems to have relatively little to do with what might be considered a deeper idea of happiness, one that isn’t already conceived or available to be bought into, one that doesn’t seek Answers From Within but instead relies on external cues and circumstances to drive an agenda of contentedness that most likely should be inwardly focused.
I’m trying not to be ironic about “Answers From Within” — what I mean to earnestly address is for example the pathos of the movie Office Space and the popular television show The Office, the feeling that the many grim versions of the Self are limited, unavoidable and completely unsatisfactory. Another example of what I’m trying to address is just general 20-something disillusionment: the problems of the rising tide of post-college humans who feel awkward about their parents who were expecting a more familiar, less alien narrative out of them, who tweet they don’t feel like “real people,” who enthusiastically place all their faith in the prospect of becoming one of the cliche definitions of an American, one they approach as if approaching a pristine rack of shiny, perfectly-tailored suits when, in reality what they behold and are so hopeful about is a dirty pile of worn out generic pieces of sh-t manufactured by Chinese sweatshop laborers and purchased from Wal-Mart 20 years ago.
My point is not productivity is bad, or that some preconceived notions of Self are Bad, but that the premise that they’re defined, concrete and of limited range is maybe Bad, and most definitely false. And if you use your willpower to leverage productivity in the pursuit of these ideas of Self, I think you have to rely on ‘rules’ and ‘guidelines’ that are external to you and have never and will never take into account how you actually feel and what you actually care about. So like just choosing a Self, as is encouraged/ expected by (and probably a premise of) Western society and powering your way into it like a mule can’t be the Secret Of Life, in my opinion.