This is a premise I believe can be defended in reason to infinite precision: Everything squalid on the face of the earth, for all of human history, is the consequence of selflessness, of the deliberate, conscious, completely voluntary renunciation of the self by a person who has self-induced the belief that some objective he seeks can only be attained by an act of self-destruction.
But that argument is just the corollary of this one: Everything we know of Splendor, within our own minds and in the world around us, is an artifact not just of selfishness but of the most profound and most profoundly-beautiful self-love. If there is any normal state for human beings — normal as a matter of ontology, not statistics — this is it: To be so much in love with the things you make with the time of your life and the effort of your mind and your body that you cannot bear for those things to be less than perfect.
Think of that: Whether you’re looking at a skyscraper or listening to a symphony or simply teaching a child to read, the source of the Splendor you experience is self-adoration and nothing else — not just your own delight at being alive, or the child’s, but also the architect’s, the composer’s, the author’s and all of the people who worked on those creations. And then consider that it is self-love — the self-love that leads you to seek the best values you can obtain for yourself and for your family — that every dogma you have ever heard of, religious or political, denounces to the depths of every imaginary hell.
This is not a conspiracy theory. It’s all too real. The people in this world who would dominate and enslave you have only one way of achieving that objective: By conning you into cheating yourself not just of your self and of your sovereignty, but of everything you might have known of Splendor in your life. It might seem poetic to say that they rob you of everything and leave you with nothing, but this is false. In fact, they rob you of everything you might have been in your life, and every Splendor you might have known, and then deliver to you a life of infinite Squalor instead.
How rich might you be, if you had devoted your life to making everything you could of your time, instead of feeling guilty about every self-loving thought you have ever had?
How deep might your love for your spouse be — how enthralling might your love-life together be — if you had concentrated on making your marriage perfect, instead of worrying that seeking your own happiness might be a betrayal of your beliefs?
How much more completely could you be a parent to your children and a worthy companion to your friends, if you had been willing, for all the years of your life, to put your own values first in your life, not the goals dictated to you by your doctrine?
How much more might you have achieved, had you been willing, for all your life, to live up to your self, to be that hero of your own life that you imagined in such loving detail when first you abstracted the idea your self?
I’m not trying to take anything from you. But I am trying to point out how much has already been taken from you by other people’s attempts to dominate you — and by your own attempts to dominate them.
I like to talk about the cost of government this way: If we say that the first great betrayal of American freedom came about with the 1789 Constitution, then we can make an effort to calculate the cost-to-date of this hellhound we have unleashed on ourselves.
So we start with the idea that every action of government occasions some loss of wealth. Taxes, obviously, take wealth from the productive, deploying it toward unproductive ends. Regulation increases costs without increasing the economic value of the regulated good. Tariffs, duties and fees all raise prices. Labor laws increase costs and decrease productivity. Deficit spending impairs the credit markets. In short, there is nothing that government does that does not result in a drag on the economy.
Now consider that each one of those costs carries with it a corresponding opportunity cost in the marketplace: If my money has been stolen by taxation, I cannot invest it in pursuit of profit. So the drag occasioned by government is actually doubled: Introducing force into the market not only destroys wealth at first-hand, it also destroys the opportunity the producer of that that wealth had to put it to further use, and thus to produce even more wealth.
It gets worse. Each one of those opportunity costs has an interest value, going forward. And since we can expect successive profits to be reinvested, the fact is that each one of those opportunity costs has a compound interest value.
So here is an interesting question: What is the compound interest value of all of the government we have afflicted ourselves with in the United States since 1789? What might we have achieved with that wealth, had we not wasted it on the vain pretense that people’s behavior can be governed from the outside?
Now let’s take that all one giant step further: If we acknowledge that every human being who has ever lived has inhibited his or her self to greater and lesser degrees in response to attempts by other people to govern our behavior — how much have we lost?
What is the compound interest value of all of that lost human potential? How much incredible wealth are we still throwing away, every day? How much richer could we all be, if some of us were to decide to stop pretending that other people can be governed from the outside?
How much better could your own life be, if you stopped worrying about what other people have the power to do to you, and what you have the power to do to them, and instead devoted your whole mind to making your own life better in every way you can think of?