Rebirth of Reason

The Good Life

Have Mind, Will Travel
by Matthew Graybosch

According to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), the word mercenary has the following definitions:

  1. Acting for reward; serving for pay; paid; hired; hireling; venal; as, mercenary soldiers.
  2. Hence: Moved by considerations of pay or profit; greedy of gain; sordid; selfish. --Shak.

The connotation attached to mercenary is as unsavory as the connotations of selfishness and self-interest; one often thinks of hardcases who kill for cash, who will betray an employer if offered enough money. However, as a student of Objectivism I think that this connotation is mistaken.

While the heroes of Ayn Rand's novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were businessmen who employed others, there are many Objectivists who are employees instead of employers. As such, they must be wary of the dangers of seeking identity though the company that employs them. Likewise, they have to be wary of identifying themselves by the work they do.

People who make the mistake of seeking identity though one's employer or trade sometimes find themselve devastated if they lose their job or find that their trade is unmarketable. While loyalty to an employer or to a trade can be admirable, such loyalty can be detrimental to one's self-interest if taken too far.

In order to live as best as one can, one must think like a capitalist. Instead of selling a physical product for whatever price the market will bear, however, one must sell one's abilities. Just as a businessman must be honest about the product he sells, one must be honest about one's skills and limitations, for they are the product that each of us must sell in order to earn a living.

According to the definitions I quoted earlier, all Objectivists are mercenaries. Regardless of the connotation irrational people place upon the word, there can be honor in being a mercenary if one deals honestly with an employer and gives the employer his money's worth by working to the best of one's ability.

In the romanticised stories of the "Wild West", many gunslingers advertised their services with the phrase, "Have gun, will travel." Likewise, if one wishes to live to the full, one should adopt a similar motto: "Have mind, will travel," and be ready to stand by it. When earning one's living, it matters not if one is a hacker or a housekeeper, as long as one does the work to the best of one's ability and gives the employer his money's worth.

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