November 28, 2009

"I earned this"

Before linking to this Debi Ghate article about Thanksgiving in the Christian Science Monitor [irony noted] I checked to see if I had done an Objectivist take on the holiday in past seasons. As far back as '07 the only thing I found was this excellent John Stossel piece that jk linked. So without further ado...

So, on Thanksgiving, we should thank ourselves and the other producers who make the good life possible. Why don't we?

From a young age, we are bombarded with messages designed to undermine our confident pursuit of values: "Be humble," "You can't know what's good for yourself," "It's better to give than to receive," and, above all, "Don't be selfish!" We are scolded not to take more than "our share" – whether it is of electricity, profits, or pie. We are taught that altruism – not mere benevolence or generosity, but selfless sacrifice for others – is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who inexplicably have a claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are asked to bail out failing banks and uninsured patients. We are asked to serve rather than lead. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.

JG like!

As for the CSM, perhaps they printed it only as an excuse to re-link their flawed Atlas Shrugged opinion from 2007. Like Martha Stewart of Sarah Palin, the author calls Rand's ethics "dangerous." In both cases - a danger to what, exactly?

Philosophy Posted by JohnGalt at November 28, 2009 5:17 PM

Interesting writing from Skousen. He was once the president of the Foundation for Economic Education, until he decided to invite Rudy Giuliani to make a speech at the annual Liberty dinner (for a $30K honorarium, no less). FEE's trustees quickly demanded his resignation. So I'm not too surprised that he'd make an off-the-wall criticism such as "Her defense of greed and selfishness..."

But as we've talked about before, Judeo-Christian charity and "altruism" are things I think Rand misunderstood. Being charitable is still up to an individual's freedom, so whether I drop money into a Salvation Army pot or buy a new CD, it's no one's business but my own and the recipient's. Bastiat would tell us that there's no economic difference, anyway: the money would be saved or spent by the recipient anyhow, just in different ways.

There's nothing mutually exclusive about being a capitalist and a devout and charitable Judeo-Christian. Would Abraham have tolerated incompetence in his herdsmen, or would he have managed his immense well so he could afford to give tithes and be generous to the poor?

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at November 28, 2009 9:44 PM

Thanks for the insights about Skousen but since I've never heard of the FEE or the Liberty Dinner I don't quite grasp the thrust of your explanation. (I just chalked it up to being the Christian Science Monitor.)

This idea that Rand "fully condemned charity" is unfortunate and did not, in my opinion, originate with her. Her villain was altruism - the idea that one's moral worth is measured in proportion to how much he gives to the undeserving and even by how undeserving his benefactors are. I read in her own hand that voluntarily helping others because you want to - because it makes you feel good - doesn't contradict rational selfishness. In my words, charity is not the same as altruism unless you do it because of what some third party may say about you.

Ghate addressed this distinction in the paragraph I excerpted. The collectivists preach that the moral ideal is altruism and "not mere benevolence or generosity." So be charitable if you want to, just don't expect it to satiate those who would take your money "to help others."

Posted by: johngalt at November 29, 2009 10:46 AM
This idea that Rand "fully condemned charity" is unfortunate and did not, in my opinion, originate with her. Her villain was altruism - the idea that one's moral worth is measured in proportion to how much he gives to the undeserving and even by how undeserving his benefactors are.
I haven't read enough of her to know, I readily admit. That makes me feel better, that it someone else who misunderstood charity, and that person also misunderstood what "altruism" really means. Altruism has no inherent requirement of pure unselfishness.
I read in her own hand that voluntarily helping others because you want to - because it makes you feel good - doesn't contradict rational selfishness. In my words, charity is not the same as altruism unless you do it because of what some third party may say about you.
They're not necessarily the same, but as I've said in a previous example, you can be altruistic while making a profit: ensuring that people who value a scarce resource the most will be the ones to get it. Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at December 1, 2009 1:55 AM

One more thing:

"The collectivists preach that the moral ideal is altruism and "not mere benevolence or generosity.""

This is true, but they promote "altruism" as a smokescreen. If a collectivist were really concerned about his followers' welfare, he'd release them from his rule.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at December 1, 2009 1:58 AM
"Altruism has no inherent requirement of pure unselfishness."

Actually, Rand said that is precisely what altruism requires. I'll have to look up a quote for you.

I think you've equated altruism with good ol' Christian charity and benevolence and I also think you should use those latter words to describe generosity without self-sacrifice. Because we don't even need Rand's judgement to see that altruism means "selflessness."

Note that the Latin roots of altruism are "other"-ism, in opposition to ego-ism.

Posted by: johngalt at December 2, 2009 9:29 AM

Here is a good example of Rand on altruism. From 'Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal' Chapter 12, Theory and Practice. Opening paragraph:

"Few errors are as naive and suicidal as the attempts of the "conservatives" to justify capitalism on altruist-collectivist grounds.
Many people believe that altruism means kindness, benevolence, or respect for the rights of others. But it means the exact opposite: it teaches self-sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of others, to any unspecified "public need"; it regards man as a sacrificial animal.
Believing that collectivists are motivated by an authentic concern for the welfare of mankind, capitalism's alleged defenders assure its enemies that capitalism is the practical road to the socialists' goal, the best means to the same end, the best "servant" of public needs.
Then they wonder why they fail—and why the bloody muck of socialization keeps oozing forward over the face of the globe.
They fail, because no one's welfare can be achieved by anyone's sacrifice—and because man's welfare is not the socialists' goal. It is not for its alleged flaws that the altruist-
collectivists hate capitalism, but for its virtues."

Posted by: johngalt at December 2, 2009 6:12 PM
"Many people believe that altruism means kindness, benevolence, or respect for the rights of others. But it means the exact opposite: it teaches self-sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of others, to any unspecified "public need"; it regards man as a sacrificial animal.
She is partially incorrect, going by her redefinition of altruism. I need not point out again that altruism doesn't inherently require putting others before yourself, nor does it mean sacrificing others for yet others. Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at December 5, 2009 7:22 PM | What do you think? [7]