THE MORAL INDIVIDUAL

The Only Path To Success And Happiness

Knowledge And Work


"... one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Success and happiness are possible to anyone willing to do what is required to achieve that kind of life, but it takes a lifetime of effort and dedication to the most important thing in life, making one's life the best it can possibly be.

There is an alternative, however, and to some extent, most people choose it. It is easier than a life of true success and happiness, but it is a life that is less than fully satisfying, only partially successful, never being all one can be—a life full of disappointment, regret, and frequently a great deal of suffering and unhappiness.

But there is no other, "easier way," and any promise of an easier way is a lie. See the companion article, "There Are No Shortcuts"

What Is The Only Way?

No one can tell you what you must do to succeed and be happy. Everybody is different and what anyone is able to do, will enjoy doing, and what will truly fulfill them is different for every individual.

The path to success and happiness is not like a route marked out on a map or a particular highway that automatically leads to bliss. The path to success is marked out by principals beyond which lies failure and disaster, but within those boundaries there are no limits and success will be different for every individual. The path to a life of romantic adventure and joy must be discovered by every individual and no one else can possibly know what it is.

Nevertheless, the principles are certain and apply to every human being because they are determined by reality which no human being can defy and be successful.

I ended the previous article with these words:

"Ultimately how you choose to live your life is entirely up to you. Whether or not your life will be successful will be determined by one thing, the nature of reality. If how you choose to live your life conforms to the requirements of the real world in which you live, and conforms to the requirements of your own nature as a human being, your life will be successful and happy. Within those limits, there is almost nothing you must or must not do and you are free to live however you choose, only you must choose it."

The purpose of this article is to identify two principles based on the requirements of human nature that are essential to the pursuit of success and happiness, without which no success or happiness is possible.

Knowledge Before All Things

The necessity of knowledge and reason was addressed in the article, "Two Moral Principles: Knowledge and Reason." In that article the necessity of knowledge and reason was addressed from the perspective of morality, or ethics. Since the purpose of ethics is to identify the principles required to live successfully as a human being, ethical principles are also the practical principles by which human success and achievement are possible.

Here the emphasis is on the practical reasons why the gaining of knowledge is the most important of all human achievements and necessary for the achievement of a fulfilled life.

  • Cannot Do Anything Without Knowledge There is nothing your life requires you can have without knowledge. When you are first born it is not your own knowledge that keeps you alive, fed, clothed, sheltered, and safe from the dangers of life, it is the knowledge of those who choose to love and nurture you, but it is still their knowledge of how to provide those things that make your young life possible. As you grow older, more and more of the things your life requires will depend on the knowledge you gain as you grow and mature. By the time you are an adult, most of how you live will depends on your own knowledge.

    The success or failure of the life of any creature is determined by what that creature does. I explained in the article, "Instinct," that the behavior of all creatures, except human beings, is determined by an inbuilt automatic pattern of behavior called instinct. The animals do not need knowledge to live because they do not need to choose what to do to provide themselves the things their lives require. Human beings have no such automatic pattern of behavior and must consciously choose everything they do. The reason human beings must have knowledge is because they must know what there is to choose and which choices will provide what their nature's require to live successfully.

    There is not a single thing a human chooses to do that can be done without knowledge. From the simplest daily routines of life to the most difficult tasks, every action requires knowledge. By the time we are able to dress ourselves and prepare our own meals the enormous amount of knowledge required to perform such tasks is taken for granted, but none of them could be performed if one did not know left from right or front from back, or how to use a can opener, or what a refrigerator is. Everybody takes for granted how a faucet, a light switch, and a stove work, how to boil water, hammer a nail, or use a knife. No animal knows any of these things or needs to, but a human being could not live without knowing them.

    The single most important category of knowledge required by human beings is language. Without language there would be no knowledge because we could not identify anything, think about anything, or ever make an informed choice.

    For human beings knowledge is the first and most important necessity of life. Things like water, food, clothing, and shelter are sometimes called the necessities of life, but for human beings, without knowledge none of those necessities would be possible. For human beings, knowledge comes before all other things. Whatever else a human being does the first must be to learn because, for human beings, it is learn or die.

  • Small Knowledge Means A Small Life

    Since everything you do in life requires knowledge, from playing a game to creating an industry, what you are able to do in life is determined by how much you know. You cannot play a game if you don't know the rules are. You cannot make something of wood if you know nothing about wood, how to acquire it, how to use wood tools, make measurements, use fasteners and glue. You cannot compose music if you know nothing about notes, scales, chords, keys, or musical notation. There is nothing you might want to do in life that you can do without knowledge specific to the kind of thing you might want to do.

    Since life consists of what you do, and what you can do depends on what you know, the less you know the less you can do and the less you will live.

  • Limited Knowledge Limits Everything

    Every aspect of your life is limited by the extent of your knowledge. The less you know, the less you can do and the less you can appreciate and enjoy life.

    I said about art in The Autonomist's Notebook:

    "The kind of art any individual will enjoy is determined by the kind of person they are. The trite mediocre majority will enjoy trite mediocre art. The exceptional individual cannot enjoy the insipid fare that satisfies the average. He can only be bored or irritated by it. But the art that the exceptional enjoy cannot be enjoyed by the average, because it is too hard. One measure of art is the demand it places on those who enjoy it. The average person will despise great art because it is too difficult. The exceptional will despise the commonplace because it is too easy."

    The, "exceptional," in that description are those who have learned all they can about as many things as they can and continue learning as long as they live. The, "average," individual learns just enough to survive in this world, how to do the shopping, find a program to watch on TV, read the sports page, and do some routine job someone else provides. He's satisfied with what he knows and makes no effort to learn any more—after all, he knows as much as just about everyone else, which unfortunately is not very much. The mediocrity of the average is not forced on them by heredity or society, it is what they have chosen to be because to be anything more is too difficult.

    What was said about art is true of everything in life from the kind of entertainment one will appreciate to the kind of people whose company one will enjoy to the kind of literature one will like, and of course, the kind of activities, from productive work to one's pastimes, one will find fulfilling.

Human Life Is Productive Work

When Edison said, "... one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration," he was referring to creative genius, but the idea applies to life itself. What every individual is, the kind of person they are, is determined by their own choices and actions. The most important thing any individual will ever create is their own person and character. The inspiration for that creation may come from anyplace so long as one knows there is no limit to what one can do and be—the actual creation is mostly hard sweaty work.

I am often struck by the number of people who believe the necessity to work, and work hard, is some kind of curse.

Reality (or nature) does not supply human beings with any of the requirements of their life—neither food, clothing, shelter, medicine, wealth, or knowledge. Everything a human being wants or needs to live successfully and happily must be acquired and produced by intentional conscious effort. Living, for a human being, means producing all that one's nature requires to survive and prosper.

The whole purpose of knowledge is to know how and what to do to be a productive human being, accomplishing and achieving all one must to live a fulfilled and satisfying life. What you are is what you have done, what you have accomplished and what you have achieved.

One of the most important requirements of a human being's psychological nature is the requirement to know one is worthy of life, competent to deal with everything living in this world requires, and that the life one is living is the best it can possibly be. That psychological state is only possible to the individual who knows, all they have and all they enjoy, they earned and deserve because they have produced them by their own effort and that all they are is what they have achieved and accomplished by their own chosen work.

The opposite psychological state is the state of disappointment, first with oneself and secondly with life itself. The individual who does not choose to learn all he possibly can, to work and produce all he possibly can, and make of himself the best possible person he can be will never be fully confident in his ability to face the challenges of life and will know that he is not all he could be. The dominant psychological state of such an individual is not the enjoyment of life, but disappointment and regret.

Work is not a curse, work is human life and the whole reason for living and the only means to a fulfilled life. Here are some important characteristics of work.

  • Everything of value to human life must be produced. The more valuable a thing, the more effort is required to achieve or produce it. Nothing of real value comes easy. If what you have in life came with little effort, or by what you call "luck," whatever its objective value, you yourself will never correctly value it and will come to despise it, because it will never satisfy you as a human being. Whatever pleasure you derive from it will have no connection to any meaning or purpose. Pleasure is nature's reward for making right choices and achieving what one's nature requires. Pleasure for its own sake can never replace the human need for knowing what they have and enjoy they have earned and are worthy of.

  • The first reward for hard work is the direct value of whatever one has produced or achieved. The greatest reward is the psychological knowledge of having produced the product or achieved the objective by one's own effort and that one deserves the enjoyment of both the accomplishment and the pride of that accomplishment.

  • Like everything else of value in life, learning is work. The most important work you will ever do is the work of making something of yourself. You are your life's most important project. You can never be more than your knowledge. No matter how hard it is, learning all you can is worth whatever amount of work it takes, because the reward is the greatest reward possible, being all you can possibly be.

  • Work itself is a learning experience. No matter what kind of work you do, you will always be learning new things about the things you work with, about people and how different people do their work. You will often be able to learn, "tricks of trade," and techniques from those doing the same kind of work as you are doing. When first starting out just learning how to work and work with others, and discovering the rewards of accomplishment are very important.

  • Work is often its own reward. In addition to the joy and pride one enjoys in their own accomplishments, work itself provides a kind of pleasure itself, especially as one becomes more skilled in whatever job they are doing. There is a special comfort in doing something well, no matter how routine it is, and there is something fulfilling in knowing what you are doing is truly producing or achieving something of value.

  • Strength and muscular effort are important but the most important part of work and what makes it of value is the intelligence that guides the effort. Anyone can swing a hammer or use a saw but hammering nails and sawing wood would never make a house without the design that determines where the wood must be sawed and nailed. Human work is effort directed by knowledge toward a specific objective. No matter how strong a worker is, or how much energy he expends, the value of the work is in how well the product (or service) fulfills a specific purpose, not in how much sweat was involved in its production.

  • What about entertainment and recreation? "All work and no play and all that...." We all need rest from work sometimes. Just as we need to stop to eat and sleep to refuel our physical nature, entertainment and diversion are ways to refuel and recharge the engines of our enthusiasm for life and work. Times for relaxing and enjoying the things we have earned and achieved are the rewards of our efforts.

    Relaxing and pleasure are rewards to be won, not the objectives of life. Entertainment and recreation that are inspiring, edifying, uplifting, and challenging, from humorous to serious, provide the kind of intellectual and emotional fuel needed for the pursuit of life.

    One who does not work has no need for rest, they have nothing to rest from, and the moments of indolence will only emphasize their inability to achieve or be anything. The pursuit of entertainment and recreation for their own sake will only interfere with an individual's ability to achieve or accomplish anything. Diversion for a worker is a temporary time of mental and physical refreshment. Diversion for a non-worker is only a diversion from life itself, a temporary escape from the consciousness of their own failure.

  • Whatever you have and enjoy in life, whether wealth, goods, services, pleasure, or position, if you have not earned or produced them yourself, you had to acquired them by stealing or cheating someone else who did earn or produce them. It means you are not capable of achieving or producing what you have and enjoy yourself, that you are not competent to live the way you live on your own, and that you are dependent on others to provide what you cannot or refuse to provide yourself by your own effort.

    There is no way for you escape the consciousness of your own failure as a human being, knowing you are living as a worthless parasite and a kind of slave to those others your life depends on. Only productive work cures parasitism.

  • It's easier, meaning it's less work, is almost never the right answer for any choice. The objective is never to avoid work but to be certain one's work is the best and most efficient possible. If some particular situations the least difficult method is best because no other method will produce better results but would be more costly in terms of time and effort. Such situations are rare, easier almost always means less well done.

  • The purpose of work is never for the sake of others or what you can contribute to your community or your society. The purpose of work is your own success and happiness. Nevertheless, if you work, the product of your effort, whether goods or services, will surely benefit all those others who make use of what you have produced.

    In any society it is only the worker producers that benefit that society, and it is only the worker producers that are worthy of the society of others, because they are the only ones in any society that are able to enjoy others without any claim on them other than their mutual pleasure.

Knowledge and work are the two fundamentals required for human success and happiness. They are not all that is required, but without these nothing else is possible or matters. For example, health is important to happiness, but no matter how healthy he is, an ignorant lazy fool will never be happy. To a great extent knowledge and work can overcome physical shortcomings and disabilities, but there is no cure or help for those who refuse to learn or work.

The importance of knowledge and work are no secret and they certainly are not short cuts, but they are, in a metaphorical sense, the keys that open the gate to the only path to success and happiness, a gate slammed shut against anyone who refuses to use them.

—(10/19/17)
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