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  1. Thanks JASKN. I completely agree with you. I am going to think about this some more.
  2. I have always been uncomfortable with the statement 'If *you* want to help *them*, *you* will not be stopped.' To put the statement another way: 'We would want to stop you but we would not.' Isn't this a rather rude, dismissive and mean-spirited attitude? When talking about the poor, it is a floating abstraction with platitudes such as 'We have do do something about the poor'. Or, 'We must evaluate a society by how it treats its poor'. It is important to break down what is meant by the poor. There are many reasons or categories of poor. What people really mean by the poor is one way or another 'victims of society'. As Objectivism correctly holds, there are very view actual victims other than victims of specific actions by other people such as robbery or bodily harm. But anyone caught in a social cycle of poverty is in principle capable of overcoming their situation and thus are morally responsible for their own well-being. For example, welfare mothers caught in bureaucratic poverty. Or, inner city youths caught in poor schools and lack of employment opportunities. But there are also people who are not morally culpable for their poverty through illness or accident. There are also people who willingly choose destitution as a way of life. So, taking such a blanket dismissive attitude towards the *poor* reflects a lack of judgment and context which in my opinion is not objective. Would we not encourage those caught in a vicious cycle of poverty to work their way out of it? Not out of altruism but in the name of benevolence and respect for human life. Many people are caught in a trap from which is admittedly very difficult to overcome. It takes education, time, patience and encouragement. But this leads to the question of the meaning of *selfishness*. People have sincerely asked why Objectivists use the word selfish when it is clear (to the asker) that it has a negative connotation, that is, acting without regard for the values of other people. The Objectivist would answer that that is exactly what we mean. For truly selfish people, their are no inherent conflicts and that acting *selfishly* is a virtue. I personally think this an over-simplification and can lead to personal disaster -- even for 'rational' people. I once loaned my copy of TVoS to an acquaintance who seemed interested in Objectivism after reading Atlas Shrugged. After returning the book, he seemed to have no more interest. I daresay this scenario has been repeated many times. There are many very informative and reasoned essays in that book. But, a well meaning good hearted person learning that selfishness in Objectivism really does mean the conventional definition could quickly lose interest. Someone can sincerely question the tenets of Objectivism and find what they think are flaws. I agree that there is much the *official* Objectivist literature that could benefit from reasoned criticism and response from those interested. (Perhaps this process has been gaining momentum.) I believe Ayn Rand is an historical figure along with seminal figures such as Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Locke, etc. But we need to carefully distinguish between objectivism as an approach to philosophy versus Objectivism as defined by Ayn Rand. I think that most people who only have a passing understanding of Objectivism only know it as advocating 'selfishness' and 'unbridled' capitalism. I don't mean to imply to 'soften' Objectivism but to stress its advocacy for life, rationality, benevolence and prosperity. I personally wish there were more heroic fiction along such lines. Fiction can have a greater cultural impact than non-fiction.
  3. Many objectivists say that they would vote for Obama over a candidate like Santorum. If I remember correctly, many or most Objectivists stated that they would rather vote for John Kerry or Al Gore over George Bush. The common thread is that Santorum and Bush are acknowledged Christians. Ayn Rand characterized the left as "mystics of muscle" and the right as "mystics of spirit." I agree that both the left and the right do not consistently advocate for freedom and that each wants to control those aspects of life that they believe are metaphysically important. But here we are with the left driving us to economic ruin and the right wanting to outlaw gay marriage and throw people in jail for so-called victimless crimes. It seems like Objectivists care more about gay marriage than the dismal economy. I believe that everyone suffering because of the economy represents the greatest danger. If the economy is in ruins and there is little hope of being corrected in any meaningful way, then life as we know it will not be the same for a long time. I believe that Objectivists have stated that socialism as a political philosophy is dead and we have more to fear from theocratic philosophy. This is true about Islamism but this is not much of a political concern in America. But here we are with socialism on the ascendency in America and all over the world. Some people think that Christians in the White House is the first step towards some sort of autocratic theocracy. I just do not see any reason to believe that. The American people still have the Enlightenment view of freedom (at least in general terms) and I do not know of any Christian who thinks or advocates anything remotely like theocracy. Sure they want "social issues" laws passed but that does not imply theocracy. To the contrary, socialists always encroach upon all freedoms as they gain more power. The fastest road to losing all freedom is socialism and not Christianity. I do not like many positions of the "social conservatives" but it is better to have people in government who advocate for freedom even if not consistently than socialists. The road to a philosophic revolution towards reason and individualism will take time but will never happen unless people like Obama lose in the elections.
  4. Virtue and Character

    Human life is not guaranteed. A successful life requires using one's reason to identify those things in reality that will nourish one's life and taking those actions necessary to gain them. These things are values. Basic values of life are food, clothing and shelter. Other values including family, religious beliefs and recreation satisfy spiritual needs. Virtues are values of character. Character reflects a person's commitment to rationality in relation to reality, other people and his or her own thinking processes. For example, honesty is the policy of being true to the facts of reality to others and to oneself. Virtues, like all values, are self-created. Pride and honor are respect for and acknowledgment of the achievement of one's own or other people's values. Pride is the recognition of one's own achievement of values. Honor is the commitment to preserve the mutuality of values in relationships and organizations. It is never to betray a mutual value and it is not expecting to be betrayed. It is taking responsibility for one's actions, good or bad. One can see the greatest expression of honor in the American armed forces. Doing one's chosen duty involves a life and death commitment to oneself, one's fellow soldiers and one's country. You can see honor in service men and women in their respect and precision in the execution of their duties. Maturation is the process of assuming responsibility for one's own success and happiness in life. It is getting an education and learning skills needed for providing values for oneself and one's family. It is developing a work ethic of punctuality and commitment to excellence. Character as the commitment to values is self created. Children at various stages of life are dependent upon their parents. A child's growth includes assuming greater independence. It also includes learning respect for the independence and values of other people. Incomplete maturation causes character flaws which can be categorized in different ways depending on how the maturation failed. These flaws contrast with the independent man or woman who deals with other people -- and themselves -- with rationality, honor and respect. The egotist mentality is a failure of honesty and independence. The egotist attempts to enhance his or her self worth by trying to create the appearance of intelligence, education or moral superiority. He or she has a chronic need to impress other people with exaggerated or invented tales of their background and accomplishments. Narcissism is a more extreme version of egotism in which the person is militantly only aware of or concerned with his or her own values. The cynical mentality is a variant of the egotist or narcissist. The cynic believes that "Everybody is out for themselves; I have to get what I can." Such concepts as values and other people's values have no explicit meaning. Such a person may not overtly harm another, unless they can get away with it without detection or penalty. Criminality includes a great amount of such cynicism. The elitist mentality is another variant of the egotist mentality. The elitist believes himself or herself to be member of the intelligentsia, those people who believe they are entitled to define and control the ideas and values of a culture. Contrast the elitist with an authentic intellectual leader who, respecting the mind and values of the people, uses reason and persuasion rather than arcane language or emotional appeals. The demagogic mentality is a more extreme case of the elitist who craves political power. The demagogue achieves power through intelligence, cleverness and charisma. The demagogue has elements of the cynic in that he or she does not care about other people except as pawns in their self-aggrandizement. Having achieved their power, they will waste no time casting out putative friends and crushing potential rivals. Perhaps all elitists are potential demagogues but lack the popular appeal to ever achieve any direct political power. Elitists without such power find themselves to be the propaganda ministers of the demagogue. The serf mentality is the opposite of the elitist mentality but is also a failure of independence. The serf does not feel self-confidence to create his or her values. Serfdom has two contrasting elements: dependence on others and resentment for that dependence. In a political context, others are society or the government. A slave is a serf without actual choice or rights, but the serf is self-entrapped by his or her own dependence. The victim mentality is a corollary of the serf mentality with a greater emphasis on placing blame for one's own weaknesses or failures on other people or society. The entitlement mentality contrasts with the victim mentality. He or she does not blame others yet feels entitled to whatever they want from other people. The serf mentality does not include those people who are truly in need or dependent through sickness or accident. However, there are people who make many bad decisions in their lives which make it very difficult for them to sustain themselves. They then become serfs or victims. A variant of the serf mentality is the true believer who is morally dependent on a cause or organization. It is the cause and his or her efforts in service to that cause that gives the true believer a sense of self worth. Anyone who challenges the true believer's faith with logic and facts is met with indifference or hostility. A member of a cult is a more extreme true believer. He or she devotes his or her entire life to the cause. The true believer might be motivated by naive idealism, which is the belief in some doctrine without knowing its full context. This is common in young people, who naively believe that all personal or social problems can be solved by the one true cause. The true believer's cause may or may not be just. The cause might be to correct government policies or social mores that infringe on people's rights. But the problem with the true believer is subverting their own or other people's values for the sake of the cause. That is not to say that it is not proper to risk one's values when fighting for something that is right. Judging the true believer depends on the context. Is it right or wrong, true or false and does it interfere or promote other people's rights and values? The childish mentality forever believes in Santa Claus. He or she believes that the government can forever bestow bounties on all good citizens. As such, eternal and universal riches and happiness are possible. The child does not know the adult world and adult responsibilities. He or she does not know that if one wants something one has to work for it. Work is not fun and the rewards of work are not always immediate. The child only knows now, he or she does not know the future. A variant of the childish mentality is the negative thinker. This is usually more naïve or innocent. Lacking in their own self confidence and knowledge of the world, they believe in the power of external forces and constantly believe disasters are coming. They will grab onto every "chicken little" fad such as imminent global warming or global famines. Their lives may be boring or they do not believe they are being "moral enough" so they join their cousins the true believers in fighting for the latest cause. The negative thinker will bristle at any refutations of their cherished beliefs. They will use any kind of rationalization to discount any challenges to their ideas. Good news can even be met with disappointment. A less innocent version of the negative thinker is the envier with a component of resentment or hatred of the "good for being the good" (Ayn Rand). Feeling a failure, such a person will not reconsider their own negative thinking and will feel hatred towards other successful people. A person who politicizes such attitudes will grow to hate successful countries or societies. They will want to tear them down. The rebel mentality is the child who one day realizes that there is no Santa Claus and he or she hates the fact that he or she has to take responsibility for his or her life. The rebel rejects conventional standards of right and wrong. As a child, he or she hated parental limits and requirements and as an adult hates limits and requirements of a civilized society. Some rebels are true believers and direct their frustrations toward political causes. They hate authority, the military or the government (at least the aspects of the government that do not conform to their ideals). They derive their sense of self value by posturing as David fighting Goliath. Of course there are legitimate motivations for rebelliousness. Parents or governments can have unreasonable restrictions and limitations on liberty. The justification of the rebel's cause must be judged upon what is right and true. A final character flaw is manifested by the evil mentality which believes in his or her entitlement to destroy other people's values. This can be a criminal, tyrannical dictator or terrorist. It can be members of a religion or any ism that believes it is justifiable to kill people in service to itself. Examples of evil mentality include the street rioter and angry demonstrator who churlishly and childishly demand that other people accommodate themselves to their demands. It also includes the blogger who spews hatred and obscene insults. He or she is one step away from doing in action what he or she says in words. An evil politician will engage in evil activities including using his or her power to intimidate or deny the rights of anyone who has the potential of threatening their power. The serf and its variants all have a component of feelings of personal helplessness which is a lack of self-confidence in one's ability to understand the world and thus knowing how to create values and prosperity in life. An educational system derives from the dominant philosophy of the time. If altruism and service to society are the dominant ethic, then students are not taught independent thinking skills that create intellectual self-confidence. In the elitist and demagogue, there is always a component of power lust -- the insatiable desire to have influence and power over other people. Independent people approach other people with mutuality and respect. The elitist demagogue needs to feel superior and have power and control. The elitist comes to expect their status from parents, teachers or merely the station of their birth. This is obvious in a feudal or a caste society. In a society with an educational system that stresses subservience to society, there are the individuals who rise to the top and become the college educated intelligentsia class who are taught that it is their station in life to be the ruling elite. Another source of elitism arises from a person's lack of feeling for one's own personal power, control and self-respect. A natural part of the human experience is to feel that one has the power to create one's values and that other people or forces cannot restrict their achievement. This includes not just physical needs but also needs such as love and parental respect and honor. A child of an alcoholic father may feel powerless and a lack of security for having his or her needs met. The child may grow up feeling that if they cannot control their own destiny, they will psychologically substitute it with the need for power over other people. Some such people succeed at this through charm, intelligence and charisma. The elitist and the serf exist in a symbiotic relationship. Each needs the other. As the serf needs the elitist for guidance and sustenance, the elitist needs the serf for justification and power. The elitist actually believes that the serf is powerless and incapable of creating their values in life and must be taken care of. The serf agrees. The elitist has no respect for the serf but must pretend that they do. The elitist endlessly proclaims how much they care about the "little people," but continually prove that it is a lie by never actually doing anything that will actually help individual human beings unless it serves their own purposes. The serf endlessly believes the sincerity of the elite not knowing they are merely pawns in elitist power struggles. The serf believes the elites will someday create universal wealth and prosperity from which they will eventually benefit. If they see their elites with power and influence and wealth they will rationalize it to themselves that the elites are doing "good" work and deserve the perks of power. The serf actually admires the trappings of the elite, believing that their power and wealth prove the elites effectiveness at achieving success. Some cynically approve of and envy the elites who trample on other peoples rights in their quests for power. The serf/elite symbiosis follows the altruism/socialism paradigm. If society is the benefactor of individual action then the serf believes he or she is a member of that society and thus is entitled to its benefits. The elite capitalize on being the administrator of those entitlements while justifying it on altruistic grounds. Caught in the middle is the productive independent individual who has to pay for the entitlements and suffer the bureaucratic elite. The elitist/serf symbiosis represents an attack on the American idea of individualism. The fact that America was built and prospered with individual Americans working together in common enterprises is a reality that the elites want to ignore. They do so because they have a vision of a communal society that deprecates the life and values of the individual. The elites encourage class warfare rhetoric. It is true that some people will have more monetary success than other people and the elites want to encourage envy and resentment towards wealthy people. The left is always crying for increasing taxes on the "rich." Not only is this legalized theft, it encourages hatred and blame for economic problems on them. In fact, it those people with money that invest and create jobs. Their innovations lead to ever higher standards of living for everyone. To the extent that businessmen accept the ethics of altruism is the extent to which they feel guilt for their success. Such businessmen associate with and encourage politicians who reflect their philosophy. This furthers the growth of a statist government. Return to America
  5. Benevolence And Altruism

    Good replies. I wasn't aware of other mentions of this issue in Objectivist literature. Thanks.
  6. Benevolence And Altruism

    Ayn Rand emphasized the evils of altruism in much of her writing. It seems to me that she and other Objectivists did not discuss much about the opposite of altruism. I know that she would say that the opposite is rational self-interest or as the book is titled: "The Virtue of Selfishness." I have no quarrel with these terms; they emphasize that life is the standard of value and the ethical standard is for the individual to work for his own life and happiness. But in another sense, there are ethical principles to be considered concerning relationships with other people. Altruism takes the position that in any ethical situation between two or more people, "other" people are the standard of ethical action. The opposite in this context is benevolence which is mutual respect for the values of the self and of other people. Post-Enlightenment social philosophers actually believed that society is something that has existential reality. Auguste Comte was the philosopher who coined the term altruism, from the Latin root alter meaning other. The doctrine of altruism holds that the fundamental moral obligation of individuals is to serve others and place their interests above one's own. Altruism is inherently self-contradictory. If everyone is to regard others as the beneficiary of action, then no one individual person is to be the beneficiary of any action. For altruism, "others" means society. In practice, society is vague but has to refer to some actual people. The resolution is that need is the standard of value. Whoever has greater needs is entitled to the values of those with greater assets. This means that people do not have an inherent right to the use of values that they have created. Benevolence is the opposite of altruism. They are not synonymous as is commonly believed. Benevolence is the recognition of human value and values. It is not a claim on or responsibility for other people. On the contrary, the individual who creates his or her values in life understands and recognizes other people and their own values. Benevolence is an expression of an individualistic ethic based on human life and values. Benevolence is "I want to." Altruism is "I have to." Benevolence respects and fosters values. If another person is needy or has an unforeseen tragedy or emergency, the person of benevolence understands values and empathizes with their situation. Altruism denigrates the individual's values including their own sense of self-value. It breeds resentment for other people and society. The consistent altruist would view themselves as slaves to other people's needs. Or else they believe that they, themselves, should be the object of other people's altruism and make demands on other people or "society." True altruism -- not benevolence -- breeds indifference to human suffering and needs. Either version of altruist, the giver or the taker, believes that all people have to be bullied or intimidated to be altruistic. I wish that the general public had a clearer understanding of this issue when learning about Objectivism and its principle of "The Virtue of Selfishness." I know that Objectivists say that selfishness means rational self-interest, but many people on learning about Objectivist ideas do not understand its life, values and benevolence principles. Return to America