"Never Take Any Of It Seriously"
Mencken and Rand
In case you don't know who said, "Never take any of it seriously," it was the author and philosopher, Ayn Rand.
What she actually said, or wrote, was: "We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" [Dagney Taggart to John Galt in [Atlas Shrugged "Part Three / Chapter I Atlantis"]
In a long letter written in August of 1960 she attempted to explain to a fan what she meant by that enigmatic sentence. Though her explanation is somewhat long, at the beginning of it she wrote, "this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book ...." [The Letters of Ayn Rand-The Later Years (1960-1981) To R. A. Williams, August 29, 1960] [Emphasis mine.]
What she does not say explicitly is nevertheless implied—what they, "never had to take seriously," was the world of politics, or all that the great mass of humanity is concerned with.
She uses the word politics in this same broad sense in another place. "Now, if men give up all abstract speculation and turn to the immediate conditions of their existence—to the realm of politics—what values or moral inspiration will they find?" [Ayn Rand, Voice of Reason, Chapter 11, "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation."]
When Dagney said, "We never had to take any of it seriously," she was referring only to herself and John Galt, and perhaps those few others who shared their values and principles. I mean it in the same way. The principle is only for those individuals who have chosen to live by the principles of individual morality, because they are the only ones capable of understanding what is truly important and what really matters.
Politics never has to be taken seriously. All of politics is an unintended circus. Every politician is a clown promising what he cannot possibly deliver. One cannot blame them for making the promises, it's how they get elected, but how can anyone who understands that not laugh at those who are stupid enough to take them seriously.
When I say none of it matters, I do not mean none of it is without consequences. Every war, every oppressive law, every violation of individual freedom is a consequence of politics. What I mean by it not mattering is that no moral individual needs to be concerned by politics beyond knowing what is going on politically. All of politics is wrong. There is no way to, "fix," it. All the moral individual needs to know about it is whatever aspects of current politics directly affect his own life so he can take measures to protect himself from any of its negative affects. Beyond that, there is nothing a moral individual must ever do or be concerned about.
Mencken On Politics
No one describes the nature of politics better than H.L. Mencken:
Politicians, political candidates, and elections, beyond their entertainment value, have no importance whatsoever. All politicians and would-be politicians are buffoons who are incapable of producing any product or performing any service anyone would willingly pay for. I'm not suggesting they are without ability or talent, they are all consummate con-men successfully accruing to themselves as much unearned wealth and undeserved power as possible.
"Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons." [H.L. Mencken, Damn!]
The success of politicians actually has little to do with any ability of their own beyond their psychopathic ability to lie without compunction—the success of politicians, as well as any others whose success depends on popularity or notoriety, lies in the incredible ignorance, gullibility, and paranoia of the mass of humanity.
"So long as there are men in the world, 99 percent of them will be idiots." [The New Mencken Letters, (1977), "Letter to Upton Sinclair, 14 Oct. (1917)]
When Mencken refers to, "the inferior man," he means the 99 percent of them who are idiots. It is important to understand this to understand his correct view of politics.
"The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear—fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety." [H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)]
"The inferior man's reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex—because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious."
[The Impossible H.L. Mencken]
The inferior man, who may be identified as any member of the TV viewing public, is therefore willing to believe anything any leader, religious teacher, or authority says that promises easy answers and simple solutions. He is thoroughly gullible and credulous. He even admits it; he calls it faith.
The costliest of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. [H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)]
"The curse of man, and cause of nearly all of his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible." [H L Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)]
Thus, what seems inexplicable about politics, and civilization itself, is explained:
"Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary." [H.L. Mencken, In Defense Of Women.]
Is there terrible oppression in the world, crushing poverty, incredible cruelty, sickness and suffering? Yes there is. No one wants to hear it, but all the misery one hears about every day is exactly what those who are suffering it deserve. It is not some omnipotent being imposing some kind of punishment, it is simply the consequence of defying reality.
In a truly moral society, most of the people living today would be dead, because most people live by mooching off the productive efforts of others, or live totally irresponsible lives which would kill them if others were not forced to clean up after them. Far from instituting justice, all governments defy justice; every government policy and law flies in the face of justice producing the greatest injustices imaginable. Nevertheless, the justice of reality prevails, and all the horrors, misery, and suffering of the modern world are not injustices at all, but the ruthless justice of reality.
The ultimate moral principle is, produce or die. The requirements of human life are not provided by nature. Human beings are not, like the animals, provided the equivalent of instinct to know what the requirements of their lives are. Every individual human being must discover or learn what those requirements are and then choose to work and produce what their nature requires.
One Gets What One Deserves
Those who refuse to be engaged in some effort or work that produces some product or provides some service of value to themselves or others deserve to die. Those who claim they cannot work, have no more expectation of life than those who cannot breathe, or cannot digest food. Anyone who claims they cannot work, which claim is almost always a lie, is claiming they cannot live, and should not. They would not live in a just society. Any society in which those who produce nothing are able to live is an evil society which makes slaves of those who do produce for the sake of those who do not. "Produce or die," is the principle reality imposes on humanity. Where the unproductive live reality is defied and the consequences are always tragedy and disaster, both individually and socially.
All governments are an attempt to provide people, or at least promise to provide them, what reality forbids—the unearned and the undeserved.
So to worry about the terrible "injustices" one sees every day in today's society, or the world, is a distraction from what is really important in life. It is one of those things one should never worry about. Not only is it something one can do nothing about, which one should never worry about*, it is, in fact, an affirmation of the principles of truth, of the ruthless implacable justice of reality.
[*NOTE: There is nothing to worry about. There are only two kinds of situations in this world, those you can do something about, and those you cannot. One should never worry about those things they can do something about, they should just do whatever it takes to correct or improve the situation. One should never worry about that which they cannot do anything but learn to accept and adjust to the inevitable facts of reality. Wisdom is knowing the difference.]
You Can't Save the World
One of the things you cannot do anything about is the world. The aim of all activists is to save the world, or at least some aspect of it, like their society or their country. However different they are, the solutions all activists propose are political solutions. In a 2010 article entitled, "No Political Solution," I explained why all supposed political solutions are actually "social engineering," and none of them will work, because they require changing people.
Here are two things: a fact and a principle, that are the basis of all social values, the true nature of politics in the philosophical sense:
1. The fact is there is no way to change other people. There is no way to make a society the kind of society anyone supposes they would like. It is not possible because it is the kind of people that make up a society that determines the kind of society it is. It is not a society's political system, dominant philosophy, level of education, religion, ideology, or anything else that determines the nature of a society; it is what the individual people in a society choose to believe that determines a society's political system, dominant philosophy, level of education, religion, and ideology and the only way to change any of those things would be to change the people whose choices, beliefs, desires, and superstitions they are.
The reason people cannot be changed is because every individual is a volitional being. Even if one can influence another in some way to make changes, those changes must still be chosen by the individual. One can use force to make people behave in certain ways sometimes, but one cannot force anyone to think or to think any particular thing.
2. The principle is it is immoral to ever interfere in the life of another human being. It is meddling, presumptuous, intrusive, arrogant, tyrannical, and morally wrong.
The common idea is that interference in others' lives means using force or the threat of force. The use of coercive force is certainly immoral, but it is not the only immoral method of interfering in other's lives. Those who consider themselves "activists," who advocate any method of producing the kind of society they decide is the right kind, whether it is a totally "free," "capitalist," or "libertarian" society they are "working" for, their methods are as immoral as those who are working for a totally collectivist or statist society.
There is only one method by which individuals may morally deal with one another, the method of reason. Any other method is an abandonment of reason in favor of an appeal to the irrational in others, their feelings, their desires, their sentiments, their fears, their superstitions, their ignorance, or their gullibility. To appeal to any of these is as immoral as using threats of force. It is an attempt to manipulate others by means of their own irrational weaknesses. These are the methods of the con-man, scam artist, and politician, not a rational moral individual.
The truth is, no society is anyone's society to make into the one he would like. As noble as the activist's ideas might be, and however good an activist's intentions, the desire to save the world is actually a desire to make other people what the activist would like them to be. Mencken got that right too:
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it." [H.L. Mencken, Minority Report]
None Of It Matters
Any concern with the world, society, or mankind is a wasted concern, which means there is no political or world-wide issue that matters. The so-called, "founders," of the United States believed, or at least expressed belief in human progress. It was Jefferson that wrote that all men were endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But it is apparent, even when men are free to pursue happiness, they never achieve it. Again Mencken expresses it best:
"I have little belief in human progress. The human race is incurably idiotic. It will never be happy. [Letters of H.L. Mencken (1961)]
There is only one moral requirement: to be the best human being one can be in all things, physically, mentally, and morally. Everything else is a distraction from that moral imperative and must never be taken seriously.