It seems self-evident, however, that, in the real world, career choices made rationally in the individual's own self-interest can also lead to outcomes that, while favorable for the individual, are adverse to the interests of society. This was of course vividly demonstrated in the financial crash of 2008, brought on by analytical wizards on Wall Street who had achieved extraordinary financial success for many years by deceptive practices they knew posed heavy risks both to immediate customers and the economy as a whole. Moreover, following the crash, those who were most responsible for it -- those who by conscious manipulation had destroyed, not produced, value for their customers --were not only not thrown out of the game, but instead given the same generous bonuses they would have received as a reward for positive outcomes.
This is where the power of the daemon makes a difference. In contrast to the purely rational, and thus ego-based, pursuit of self-interest, which can produce negative as well as positive outcomes, a life course driven by the instinctual power of the daemon leads necessarily to positive ends. This is because, as an impersonal force of nature resident in the human psyche, it moves the individual, in its own interest, to creative achievement that has positive value for the common good.
The daemon is the driving force behind writers, artists, research scientists, inventors, physicians, space explorers, and baseball heroes. It can inspire both an Ayn Rand who warns against the threat to individual freedom posed by an expansive and activist government, and a Martin Luther King, Jr., an exponent of non-violence, who, in the interest of human justice, put his life at risk to bring change that would force people to treat others decently, if they weren't willing to do so on their own.
The power of the daemon is of course most evident in heroes who risk everything to help achieve an outcome they believe to be of great moral value. But it operates, too, in individuals with more modest abilities and aspirations. It urges all of us to pursue, both in personal life and in any line of productive work, a purpose by which we can add value to the world and earn our own small share of self-esteem and happiness.
It should be not be overlooked, of course, that even daemon-driven lives require the conscious participation of the individuals who lead them, since only they can make the choices, and provide the direction, needed to achieve and nurture the particular forms in which their inborn potential can find expression. That navigational skill would seem to require the same heroic virtues Ayn Rand associates with her vaunted "producers": namely, rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.
I think an additional virtue may also be necessary. It is implicit in Ayn Rand's understanding of "independence," which for her means the individual's refusal to succumb to any power that would impede his (or her) pursuit of rational self-interest. For the progressive, however, "independence" has a significantly different meaning. It is the refusal to yield to any power that would suppress the pursuit of moral ends.
Both Rand and progressives place great importance on the freedom of the individual to develop his (or her) talents and play a meaningful role in the world. Progressives, however, are sensitive to the reality that not all individuals will find a clear path to that goal, and that many will need special help to find their way.
The willingness to provide that help depends on still another instinct in the human psyche that is also unrecognized in the ego-oriented, rational psychology of Ayn Rand. It is the capacity for empathy -- the disposition to respond to other people's needs, whether or not they meet Rand's criterion of having earned that goodwill by some previous act of parallel value. True "empathy" is not tied to an exchange of value. It is what drives you to give the panhandler on the street the change in your pocket, not because you think he will use it as start-up money to build a more purposeful life, but because your own life-building instinct bonds you to a fellow human being.
At the broader level of national politics, this same instinct is what moves the "haves" in society to help elect, and then support with their tax dollars and energies, a government committed to helping the "have-nots." Many millions of Americans are today held back by the manifold obstacles of poor education, joblessness, crime-ridden neighborhoods, broken homes, and the like. These victims of society will not be helped by Ayn Rand's insistence that individuals be free to determine and achieve their own self-interest. Only the social support programs and public investments backed by progressive political leaders can help clear the roadbocks that keep so many Americans from enjoying productive lives. Empathy urges us to want for others the same opportunity we enjoy ourselves to add value to the world and feel good about ourselves for doing so. And it is only in following through on that instinct that we live a fully human life.
The Corrupting Morality of "Guilt and Death."
Rand's views, as interpreted from the words of John Galt in the second segment of his speech:
A fundamental principle in Rand's thought is that society's "producers," operating in accordance with their own rational self-interest, must be left totally free from outside interference in pursuing both the objectives and rewards of their enterprise. Without such freedom, the necessary focus and drive needed to make the venture a success are distracted, to the detriment both of the producer and employees, and of customers who would gain from the value of the thing or service produced.
The "interference" on society's producers that Rand has in mind takes many of the same forms about which businesses have always complained: added costs, such as union wages, mandated employee benefits, and taxes; and government regulations, which can be both costly and detrimental to productivity. In the Galt speech, however, Rand also posits a far darker interference, a malignancy that afflicts the very heart of the producer's creative integrity and morale. Two insidious powers, Rand claims, threaten the freedom of those who rationally pursue their self-interest through meaningful achievement and material success. One is the "muscle" (the police power) of the state, which seeks to gain the allegiance of society's masses -- and so its control over them -- by forcing society's producers to share their bounty with them. The other is the "mysticism" of religion, which requires that the individual surrender his pursuit of rational self-interest to the higher demand of self-sacrifice in the name of an unknown God.
The repressive powers of the state and religion grow out of the moral weakness of the many in society who do not seek to earn their own way by creating value for others. Instead, Rand argues, the indifferent masses, society's "parasites," take the larcenous view -- reinforced by the state, which seeks to dominate them -- that it is their right to have their needs met by those who are productive.
In challenging the morality of this view, Rand asks: If the "producers" must act to benefit others, how can it be right for others to accept benefits they have not earned? The moral onus is completely one-sided. Even more insidiously, those who accept benefits without giving value in exchange degrade the role of those who have produced the value. They elevate failure, weakness, need, incompetence, suffering, vice, and irrationality at the expense of success, strength, wealth, ability, joy, virtue, and rationality.
Rand believes that "altruism," giving to others without expecting anything in return, is only rational, and thus moral, when the beneficiaries can reasonably be thought to have previously earned it. Absent this qualification, altruism sets the standards of a false morality that is in opposition to the requirements of living. It deprives the individuals who receive it of the practical guidance implicit in moral certainty, and removes from them the motivation to be a producer of value in life, which is the only source of personal dignity, self-esteem, and happiness.