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Something I've been thinking about lately as I learn more about Objectivism is the definition of egoism..particularly when it comes to the line between selfishness and altruism. For example, there is some evil, horrible stuff happening to children in Africa right now. I guess the question I ask myself is how much of a blind eye should I have? My religious/altruistic upbringing complicates my ability to focus on my own happiness. You could argue, and you might, that it may be in my own self interest to go and try and help people. But on the other hand, of course I want to stay right here in US and enjoy prosperity and living my life to the fullest. I don't know, but I will figure it out. I'd appreciate any thoughts you have on the subject.

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How would it be in your own self interest to go to a dirty third world country and get yourself killed by a mindless 13 tear old barbarian with an AK-47?

Watch Tears of the Sun, with Bruce Willis. Note what happens to the Priest and Nuns who stay behind.

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For example, there is some evil, horrible stuff happening to children in Africa right now.
Okay, but I think that on any grounds this is an irrational emotional concern. Why don't you focus on bad things happening to people, generally? Why are you only concerned with children?
I guess the question I ask myself is how much of a blind eye should I have?
Not at all. An alert, mentally active person would know that these are facts. You ought to know that indeed Somalia is hell, Sudan is hell, Zimbabwe is hell, Congo is hell, Ghana is reformed heck, Swaziland is tinpot dictatorship hell, Zambia is ambiguous, and so on. But what exactly are the consequences of being aware of reality?
But on the other hand, of course I want to stay right here in US and enjoy prosperity and living my life to the fullest.
Totally reasonable. What would be the point of you going to Africa -- what would you do, how would it make your life better?

The problems of Africa are not because they lack sacrificial animals, they are because they are still mired in primitive tribalism, and have yet to embrace modern civilization. (Many Africans do, of course: not enough do). If you want to be useful to their lives (and I am not advocating self-sacrifice), you ought to at least do something that would be some use to them. What they need is an education, of sorts, in rational self-interested behavior -- an end to group-think, tribalism and barbarism. What could you do there that promotes their rational self interest? For starters, it has to promote your self interest, otherwise you're just being hypocritical (and thus useless).

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It takes a lot to help people on the scale you're talking about, and none of it has to do with vague sentimental BS like talking about "suffering children". There are plenty of people already talking about suffering children, and quite a few sacrificing themselves for others.

If there is to be a rational reason why your goal in life is to make a difference, by changing an entire continent, you should figure out two things, before all else:

1. Assess your chances of success.

2. Figure out the best way to go about it.

Then, if you know what's to be done, you can talk about taking a role, as rational person, in something like this.

Beyond that, if we had an answer, one of us would've done it already. The reason why some rational African isn't single handedly turning around Africa is not because he wouldn't care, it's because he can't think of a way to do it.

I know how to go about turning this country around, it's by sticking to my guns, leading by example and telling the truth to those who care. If I went to Africa and did that, they'd kill me, and that would be that.

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Something I've been thinking about lately as I learn more about Objectivism is the definition of egoism..particularly when it comes to the line between selfishness and altruism. For example, there is some evil, horrible stuff happening to children in Africa right now. I guess the question I ask myself is how much of a blind eye should I have? My religious/altruistic upbringing complicates my ability to focus on my own happiness. You could argue, and you might, that it may be in my own self interest to go and try and help people. But on the other hand, of course I want to stay right here in US and enjoy prosperity and living my life to the fullest. I don't know, but I will figure it out. I'd appreciate any thoughts you have on the subject.

If you're really concerned about helping people, why not try looking closer to home, where not only are your efforts likely to go much farther, you are even more likely to reap satisfaction from it, seeing as you have a bit more invested in your own community. Yes, terrible things are happening in Africa, but unless you want to join the military and go kill the folks violating others' rights there is probably not much you personally can do. But if you want to help people (and it is best to work a bit harder at identifying who exactly you want to help, and why), you don't need to look overseas. Think about it.

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Something I've been thinking about lately as I learn more about Objectivism is the definition of egoism..particularly when it comes to the line between selfishness and altruism. For example, there is some evil, horrible stuff happening to children in Africa right now. I guess the question I ask myself is how much of a blind eye should I have?

Suppose for a moment that we live in the 31st century and you have just finished making Africa a great place. You are about to come back to the States and live happily for the rest of your life--but then you turn on the TV and see a news report about millions of young intelligent creatures starving on Alpha Centauri. Would that mean you have to cancel your happiness and get on the next spaceship to Alpha Cen? Does the mere knowledge that somebody is doing less well than you take away your right to do as well as you can?

If it were so, then you could probably never live your life to the fullest. Even forgetting about the possibility of life in other solar systems, and just considering the 6 billion people living on Earth: What is the chance that, out of the 6 billion, the number of people having some misery that you don't have equals 0 at any moment in time? Prosperity can only come from each individual improving his own situation, but if you were only allowed to improve if there was no one you were outdoing, then no one would ever be allowed to improve. It would be like a race where you are only permitted to put your foot forward if everyone else was already ahead of you!

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Suppose for a moment that we live in the 31st century and you have just finished making Africa a great place. You are about to come back to the States and live happily for the rest of your life--but then you turn on the TV and see a news report about millions of young intelligent creatures starving on Alpha Centauri. Would that mean you have to cancel your happiness and get on the next spaceship to Alpha Cen? Does the mere knowledge that somebody is doing less well than you take away your right to do as well as you can?

If it were so, then you could probably never live your life to the fullest. Even forgetting about the possibility of life in other solar systems, and just considering the 6 billion people living on Earth: What is the chance that, out of the 6 billion, the number of people having some misery that you don't have equals 0 at any moment in time? Prosperity can only come from each individual improving his own situation, but if you were only allowed to improve if there was no one you were outdoing, then no one would ever be allowed to improve. It would be like a race where you are only permitted to put your foot forward if everyone else was already ahead of you!

I see your point. You could create a number of scenarios to support that as well...like if you were living happily with your friends and family on a tropical island, and you knew the world was collapsing everywhere but your island, who would it benefit to go and help?

It's the humanity that gets to me. Doesn't it seem inhumane to ignore the misery of strangers? That's the real question. Riddle me that, forum reader!

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Hi James.

CapFor gives a good answer. I hope he'll forgive me for taking another tack.

To answer the question of how much of a blind eye to have, you have to know what your purpose is. (Incidentally, I'm uncomfortable with putting it that way. I don't think one turns a blind eye. One simply acknowledges suffering's existence and places it into context. But I know what you mean by it.)

Never forget that Ethics must first answer two questions before it can even get off the ground. If Ethics is the question "What should I do?", you need to answer the questions "For whom?" and "For what purpose?". The only context in which "should" or "ought" makes sense is with respect to a purpose or goal. The first mistake that Altruism makes is that it asserts the answer to these questions without regard to evidence. Without considering facts, there can be no possible answer to the question of what to do, no possible motivation - no purpose. But once you consider that you are alive, and that you, as a human, have volition, you can choose to go on living.

Since you have chosen to live, and since you know that life is contingent, i.e. that it must fulfill certain requirements in order to continue to exist, you know, in the most abstract sense, what to do. You should continue to choose to fulfill those requirements. In the most basic terms, that's really all there is to it. That's the core of ethics, or more specifically, of egoism.

But in order to address the question of blind eyes, or whom to grant aid, you need to know many, many specific facts about the requirements of your own, particular life. One of the things that adult humans need in order to be fulfilled as humans is a career. A career is a specific kind of purpose that directs you in producing the wealth you need in order to live. As for the side question of the validity of the desire for luxury and comfort that America offers you, that's an indicator, a lot like a feeling. It's a response to values and you should introspect to see exactly what values you are responding to and how they fit into whatever over-arching purpose you choose for your life.

You choose a career because it serves to focus your attention, energy, resources, and time in an efficient manner. You could just get a series of odd jobs, earning whatever the job of the moment pays, but without far-sighted planning, you'll always be at the mercy of your momentary circumstances. Because you are human and can hold in your mind the scope and quality of your entire life, you don't need to be at the mercy of the moment as a lower animal would. Man doesn't adapt to his environment. He adapts his environment to suit his purposes.

I'm condensing a lot of abstraction and evaluation, but the point is that you should consider how aiding another person will serve your life. It's one thing to hold the door for someone because you see courtesy as a virtue. It's another to decide whether to risk the flood waters to help a drowning man. And it's a horse of an entirely different color to figure out if helping people in Africa is going to serve your ultimate goal of meeting the requirements (both physical and psychological) of your life.

Some questions to ask are: How would you produce the wealth you need? How would you minimize the risk of having your rights violated, from petty theft to torture and murder? How would you decide whom to aid? Exactly what aid is possible in a lawless land?

I hope looking at it from the perspective of your life's purpose and goals is helpful for you, James, in more than just deciding whether to aid others here or abroad, too!

Rachel

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The best way to help them would be to stop all support for the dictatorships there.

Exactly. Since life is self-regenerative action, you don't really help a man by feeding him (except temporarily, in an emergency). The only way to help someone live qua man is to let him feed himself.

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  • 4 weeks later...
I guess what I'm asking is...do you give any attention to the suffering of strangers?
When I am aware of it, of course. Dos that clarify ethical matters for you? If I happen to see a person bleeding to death on the road, I will probably help him assuming it's not dangerous to me.
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Since life is self-regenerative action, you don't really help a man by feeding him (except temporarily, in an emergency). The only way to help someone live qua man is to let him feed himself.

I agree completely. The question was directed at those who are unable feed themselves..like kids in Africa. But, I realized tonight that my view of the world has been distorted. In reality, 99% of the people on earth have fine/livable standards of living. Feel free to argue that percentage..the point is though, most people are doing fine. Altruism then really just means handing your right to make your life choices over to some dude in Alaska. Cool.

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If i had the extra wealth needed, and had some extra time, a charity involving Africa I would endorse would be one that helps young, moral africans get scholarships into universities in the west, or helps them get visas and workpermits in the west or something like that. But all charities that involve you actually going into the countries feeding the poor randomly is immoral in my book, as it just legitimizes the dictators, as they dont have to ever bear the effects of their opressive rule.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Altruism vis a vis Rational Selfishness is -and might always be - a stumbling block to those sincerely wanting to embrace Oism fully [ whom I would welcome aboard ], and those whose hatred , ignorance, self-denial, and fear of truth are best left to their own devices.

Despite and beyond all the excellent arguments offered here and elsewhere, I feel the emphasis on what one does,doesn't,do for others , is half the story.

Benevolence is a key word.

I for one reserve the right to do for another person [without presuming the favour to be returned] at any time I think it is appropriate.

This is no sacrifice,and certainly no duty.It is based upon my value of my own life,which often has an empathetic response in the pain and misfortune of others.

BUT, it is not to be presumed upon by anyone - by state or church or neighbour.

And, anyone who holds it up as the best in me will feel the full weight of my contempt.

I battled with this concept from the tender age of 20, and realised that it was capable of tearing me in half.

It seems to me that it is too easy to treat Rand's writing [ because of her sheer clarity and genius ] as totally complete.

As a brilliant thinker is prone to do - admittedly rarely in her case - assumptions are made; that you are still a human being, feel, as well as think, and have the right and responsibility to make up your own mind in a given situation. Join the dots yourself in the structure she provides.

That was, I believe intrinsic in her sense of life.

"The Letters of Ayn Rand" gave me the sense of a woman of heart,soul and mind, with an almost trusting naivety.

It could also be argued that in her identification and recognition of altruism as the longest - standing human evil , she was deliberately over-emphasising egoism in reaction to the collectivism she saw the world sliding into. But I can't accept this.

A far greater argument is this: That altruism means basically 'OTHER-ISM'. [ alter=other]

It does not merely involve what one gives,does for, another. Far more importantly it denotes a life lived through others. With others as one's authority,one's moral standard,and the holders of one's esteem. The second-hander.

So it becomes clear : the converse of altruism is not only rational self-interest, it also is independence of mind.

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If i had the extra wealth needed, and had some extra time, a charity involving Africa I would endorse would be ...

I've never understood why anyone would want to "help" strangers on a distant continent for any reason. What value are you achieving by doing so?

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Seeing as I was born in Zambia,lived in the fryingpan of Zimbabwe,and escaped into the fire of S.Africa,do I qualify for aid and charity ? Well at least a Green card?

Seriously, though, the African continent is in deeper trouble than ever,despite [or because of] handouts from the West.

This is a case of altruism not just being immoral,not just impractical,but doing further harm than when we started. Entitlement is the common mindset.

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I've never understood why anyone would want to "help" strangers on a distant continent for any reason. What value are you achieving by doing so?

You dont see any value to you that intelligent and moral people live productive lives in a free society instead of as savages in tribal hellholes? And before you answer, please remember that i said "if i had the extra wealth, and the extra time".

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You dont see any value to you that intelligent and moral people live productive lives in a free society instead of as savages in tribal hellholes? And before you answer, please remember that i said "if i had the extra wealth, and the extra time".

People *thousands of miles away*? Do remember that we live in the real world, not some abstraction where vaccinating babies in the Congo is going to magically make a Free Society appear out of nothing. And keep in mind that you'd most likely be funneling money into the hands of tin-pot dictators and tribal lords, propping up their power instead of eliminating it. No one has enough extra wealth or time to make THAT valuable.

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People *thousands of miles away*? Do remember that we live in the real world, not some abstraction where vaccinating babies in the Congo is going to magically make a Free Society appear out of nothing. And keep in mind that you'd most likely be funneling money into the hands of tin-pot dictators and tribal lords, propping up their power instead of eliminating it. No one has enough extra wealth or time to make THAT valuable.

ummm....read what i wrote.

I said i would offer moral africans scolarships to get into universities in the west, and that it would be valuable to you that these people were living in THE WEST, instead of the hellholes in africa. I wasnt talking about making africa free, but of bringing moral africans to live in the west.

Edited by JJJJ
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I said i would offer moral africans scolarships to get into universities in the west, and that it would be valuable to you that these people were living in THE WEST, instead of the hellholes in africa. I wasnt talking about making africa free, but of bringing moral africans to live in the west.

You could do what you want with you money but why "africans"? Why not Eskimoes or Indians or people from some tribe in the middle of the Pacific? What's so special about strangers from Africa versus anywhere else?

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I may give of what I deem to be my excess, when I acquire it. And I will give it to a cause I consider worthy, such as medical research. Not throw it in a dump dominated by suffering and death.

Africa should recieve help when it is deserving of such, and then only voluntarily. Right now it's pearls to swine. Or, if you will, pearls to people held hostage by swine, who will take their pearls.

Edited by L-C
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You could do what you want with you money but why "africans"? Why not Eskimoes or Indians or people from some tribe in the middle of the Pacific? What's so special about strangers from Africa versus anywhere else?
Some problems actually cannot be blamed on the victims. A child born into the dictatorship of North Korea cannot blamed for the accident of his birth, and he does not acquire moral blame for failing to escape his circumstances. The problems of Eskimos and Indians are sufficiently of their choosing, and the problems of Africans are sufficiently not of their choosing, that you can apply ordinary moral reasoning to see that the African is more worthy of your charity. Whether that would apply to tribes in "the middle of the Pacific" depends on who you think they are. Certainly not Hawaiians, or any other outposts of western civilization. Which Pacific nations have governments that are even marginally comparable to the "governments" of Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Zimbabwe..?
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