The Ethics of Production
All productive acts contain, at their root, an idea. And at the root of that idea is a philosophic principle: something of value the individual mind can identify and prize.
Production requires two forms of synthesis: physical and intellectual. In the whole history of man, no builder — or no successful builder, at least — ever began by erecting walls at random then set about uniting them, as a kind of casual afterthought. Some vision preceded his construction, preceded even his gathering of tools and materials. This vision was of the end product — a simple product, perhaps, or some space for industry — and his purpose became molded to fit his vision. Everything — from the tools he gathered, to the laying out of rooms and corridors, to the techniques employed in building — was governed by a desire to bring that vision into the tangible world. And, at the end of his project, he was able to sit back and look upon the product of his labors and know that it was good.
But “good” in the context of productive acts has two meanings; “good” is not merely the intrinsic satisfaction the builder receives from seeing the manifestation of his skills, in knowing he has successfully navigated a series of tasks.
“Good” also has an extrinsic definition, one completely separate from any utilitarian metric given by society to a good that serves some functional purpose. The individual’s own particular set of values, indeed his very personality, is branded upon that which he produces. Because production, even of the most pedestrian form, is an inherently philosophic act.
The individual’s creative process is the bridge between the self and the abstract nature of the ideals by which he lives his life.
The Absolute is that which stands above man. It is purity, perfection: all the virtues which inspire men in their virtuous pursuits. The all-corroding laws of time and nature cannot touch it as they do other forms of matter, for the Absolute is eternal. Logic dictates this must be so; ubiquity can manifest itself than in no other form of existence but a universal constant.
Such an existence, however, is necessarily abstract. Defining the Absolute in any measure that can be of use to man, whose rational processes are limited and shaped by his temporal existence, may seem something of a Sisyphean task. Though man can conceive conceptually of the Absolute, it is primarily through individual concepts, which must be integrated through the individual’s process of cognition: justice, truth, parity, etc. Their existence, however, remains somewhat abstract, for their manifestation depends upon individuals taking actions catalyzed by a desire to advance virtue.
Action, however, is fleeting. If virtue is to be durable, if man is to live a virtuous life, he must be a producer and, even more than that, make virtue the cornerstone of his productive process.
Anyone who seeks value is driven to create; the nature of the contemplative soul is such that it is not enough to conceive of good, it must be made tangible. Thought, though substantive, is often esoteric and can be too easily dismissed as nothing more than subjective opinion informed by personal experience.
An act of production presents the thing which values in a form others may see and promote. Patrimony, which comes in the form of purchasing a consumer good, implies an endorsement of whatever value catalyzed the individual’s productive process. An individual promotes his values and ideas not just through production, but its converse: consumption. It does not matter if the object is a work of art, a piece of furniture or something as mundane as a food product: if there is merit demonstrated in the process of creation, and by logical extension, the final product offered for sale, the value-driven individual is compelled to promote it through his purchasing power. Consumerism is a means of self-expression. Its benefits are dual: the consumer supports those products in which he finds values that resonate with his own, advancing them in the corporeal world, and, by so doing, further roots his personal life in those values he finds of most merit, leading to a greater sense of personal satisfaction.
All labor, then, when done correctly, is an act of self-affirmation. Whether done for one’s own personal benefit or contracted out to serve the purpose of another, the emphasis of labor is on the self. The individual mind alone is capable of conceiving of the process by which tasks are to be completed. But the genius of mechanical processes is so much more than acts of computation or engineering: it is in the philosophic value of an object, in the degree to which it embodies whatever man values most highly, bringing into physical being those abstract philosophic concepts upon which man’s happiness hinges.
Originally published at The Politics of Discretion.