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Can a little 'altruism' be a value, like Charity?

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F*ckCommunism
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so my mom is a mormon, as i usedto be... and she is a wonderful person and all that, but is hung up on serving god thru service to others...

She gets the warm and fuzzies whenever she 'serves her fellow man', and tells me that she enjoys the volunteer work and time she spends. she says its wonderful, and makes her feel good about herself, lets her grow,usually cause whatever probs she has seems like a cludy day in contrast to the hurricanes that blow thru others lives. So its not 'altrusim' in the dictionary sense.

But heres the thing. In my experience, nobody is truly 'altruistic'. no one i know will give up theirlast doillar or crumb of food to feed someone elses family... yet they still give of their time and resources to others, either by volunteering or donating to different charities. they know they get something out of it, whether the previous warm and fuzzies or a tax break come february. yet they aredescribed as altruistic.

Soooo (here's the question, i promise) if themeaning of words change thru general use, why can't weaccept the altruism to be more like charity. (Which to me is just enjoying your success my spreading the wealth...) or am i still too much of a former hippie/stoner to understand things?

and i apologize for my typos and horrible grammar... i know i know, mind my psand qs....

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Soooo (here's the question, i promise) if themeaning of words change thru general use, why can't weaccept the altruism to be more like charity. (Which to me is just enjoying your success my spreading the wealth...) or am i still too much of a former hippie/stoner to understand things?

What your mum engages in is voluntary private charity, and there is absoluitely nothing wrong with that. We can't call this altruism, because altruism has a very specific definition - to sacrifice your needs/wants for others. It doesn't sound like your mum is doing that.

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That depends on if the good feeling she gets out of it comes out of the fact that she enjoys doing it for it's own sake completely or if she gets a good feeling out of it because she thinks she's serving some higher cause- because she thinks it's right to do so and that it is what "god" would want.

In that case anything she gets out of it stems from a false and particularily dangerous premise.

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But heres the thing. In my experience, nobody is truly 'altruistic'. no one i know will give up theirlast doillar or crumb of food to feed someone elses family... yet they still give of their time and resources to others, either by volunteering or donating to different charities. they know they get something out of it, whether the previous warm and fuzzies or a tax break come february. yet they aredescribed as altruistic.

The most important thing is WHY someone helps others. If they VALUE the other person or LOVE helping them, that's OK. If they don't but are only doing it out of GUILT or in an attempt to give meaning to their otherwise WORTHLESS LIFE, then it IS sacrificial and altruistic in the worst sense.

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If they don't but are only doing it out of GUILT or in an attempt to give meaning to their otherwise WORTHLESS LIFE, then it IS sacrificial and altruistic in the worst sense.

And if they help a person out of general charity, in recognition of the fact that sometimes people -- including onesself -- can have overwhelming problems, it is a form of investment.

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But heres the thing. In my experience, nobody is truly 'altruistic'. no one i know will give up theirlast doillar or crumb of food to feed someone elses family... yet they still give of their time and resources to others, either by volunteering or donating to different charities. they know they get something out of it, whether the previous warm and fuzzies or a tax break come february. yet they aredescribed as altruistic.

Right. The point of promoting altruism as a moral ideal is not to make you give up your last dollar but to make you feel obligated to give up some of your dollars and to feel guilty for wanting to keep them for yourself.

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... if themeaning of words change thru general use, why can't weaccept the altruism to be more like charity....

I recommend you read the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, and see why Rand uses the word selfishness.

The trouble is that using altruism in this sense makes it a package-deal, and smuggles in the meanings that actually make benevolence or charity impossible.

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Or, another way to look at it, the point of altruism is to deny values to the self. Suffer.

The serving others point is not the important part of the equation, as far as altruists are concerned.

Afterall, you can egoistically serve others. I do that all of the time. It's called value for value trading. :confused:

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F*ckCommunism, wrote:

so my mom is a mormon, as i usedto be... and she is a wonderful person and all that, but is hung up on serving god thru service to others...

She gets the warm and fuzzies whenever she 'serves her fellow man', and tells me that she enjoys the volunteer work and time she spends. she says its wonderful, and makes her feel good about herself, lets her grow,usually cause whatever probs she has seems like a cludy day in contrast to the hurricanes that blow thru others lives. So its not 'altrusim' in the dictionary sense.

I don't know your mother and cannot pass judgement on her, but she seems to have done a good job on her son, so she can't be that bad, eh? :) Seriously though, be cautious about judging her as an advocate of an evil idea. For one she probably does not know the idea of sacrifice as a moral principle (very few do), any lip service she pays it probably is just that. Is she very intellectual? Does she condem you for looking after your own rational interests? If not, she is not a moral crusader for sacrifice. And have you thought about what rational interests she might have in her charity work? Maybe it puts her in contact with interesting people? she would never meet otherwise? Maybe it gives her a sense of efficacy? Maybe she just delights in "making things right"? or being together with friends. There could be a hundred reasons she might enjoy her "work" here that is not so easy to detect. Don't fall for the urge to judge her out of your loyalty to Ayn Rand. You don't seem to have that urge, but the seeming paradox of your mother does seem to bother you (she is good and yet an "altruist"). I write this because I recongize myself in your relationship with your mother, you, so to speak, hit close to home.

But heres the thing. In my experience, nobody is truly 'altruistic'. no one i know will give up theirlast doillar or crumb of food to feed someone elses family... yet they still give of their time and resources to others, either by volunteering or donating to different charities. they know they get something out of it, whether the previous warm and fuzzies or a tax break come february. yet they aredescribed as altruistic.

Altruism – that one has a duty to sacrifice ones values to others - is a contradictory idea (which your first hand observations illustrate). Consistently practiced altruism would kill you of in a very short time. Altruism forbids selfish action if that action could serve as a sacrifice to others. Altruism is not the same as “being kind” or “helping others”. You can be kind and help others for perfectly rational selfish reasons.

Soooo (here's the question, i promise) if themeaning of words change thru general use, why can't weaccept the altruism to be more like charity. (Which to me is just enjoying your success my spreading the wealth...) or am i still too much of a former hippie/stoner to understand things?

The “meaning of words” do not “change through general use”, not if the words and concepts are properly made and refer to objective facts in reality (see Ayn Rand theory of concept formation in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). But that aside; OK. Let’s grant you your wish! "Altruism" is now "charity"; the original and true meaning of altruism (as defined above) is also altruism. The concept is now “wider” because it includes “charity” and “helping others” in the same concept as “sacrificing to others”. Now, since rational egoists – for instance me writing to you in order to practice writing and to defend an important moral principle - also can be “kind” and “helping”, and give to charity (ARI), we have to also include rational egoism in some variants in the concept of “altruism”. After all, helping or being kind is being altruistic. Right? Now, do you see any problems with widening the definition of altruism? :) (BTW, this package-dealing of the “altruism” concept will spread confusion as to the meaning of its exact nature, to the benefit of those who want to push this poison on others).

We need to be able to isolate the moral idea that man has a duty to sacrifice his values to others from the non-fundamental of “being kind” or “helping is good”, or “you can help for selfish reasons”. The “being kind” and “helping others” ideas are used as guise for a much more profound and fundamental idea that says individual man has no right to ANY of his values. And this idea is no trivia bit of information or rule to be passed by lightly. Ayn Rand is not out to attack the charity housewife, her kindness or charity; she is out to identify a momentous moral idea which has monopolized the science of ethics for 2000 years with disastrous results. Hence her insistence on defining and understanding the idea of sacrifice (and altruism, the social variant of sacrifice) precisely. By identifying the idea precisely one can see its true nature and judge whether the idea is good or bad. The idea of sacrifice has a poisonous effect on mans life, so the advocates of altruism need to conceal its true nature, and this is why they employ the smokescreen of defining altruism by “helping others” or “charity”. As with poison concealed in water, this makes it more difficult to identify its true nature and effects (before it’s to late).

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During the Q & A portion of Yaron Brook's September 9th talk The Morality of War, someone subtly accused Rand of being a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog egotist. The questioner suggested that we need to "balance" altruism with egoism. Dr. Onkar Ghate fielded this question, and pointed out some of the tricky things altruists tend to do to confuse the issue, including this:

Every altruist ideology uses self-interest as a smoke screen, so they say "in a sense we're for self-interest", "enlightened self-interest", so we have Christianity that advocates in this world complete annihilation of the self, you give up your pleasures, you give up your wealth, etc., but somehow in some mystical other world you'll go to heaven. Or Islam makes the same pitch to the suicide bombers. It's complete self-sacrifice, but somehow you'll be with virgins in some other dimension. Or Communism, the complete sacrifice of the individual, but in fifty years the dictatorship will wither away and we'll all be happy. Or environmentalism, it says give up all industry, give up technology, and then somehow fifty years from now we'll all be frolicking in nature. And so they always throw you that bone, but they don't mean it. I think it stands in a similar way in George Bush's mind. He doesn't believe in self-defense or self-interest.
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Well I would need to know more about your mother to judge her, but this:

makes her feel good about herself, lets her grow,usually cause whatever probs she has seems like a cludy day in contrast to the hurricanes that blow thru others lives.

is not a good sign. To "feel good about yourself" because of what you do to others, or to find satisfaction in the fact that other people have greater problems than you do, are attributes of second-handedness.

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Well I would need to know more about your mother to judge her, but this:

is not a good sign. To "feel good about yourself" because of what you do to others, or to find satisfaction in the fact that other people have greater problems than you do, are attributes of second-handedness.

And possibly of a particularly malevolent variety. Does she mean that if her charity work were to finally succeed, and no one had such big problems anymore, then she would feel terrible because no one else would be worse off by comparison? The way you put it, at least, makes it sound as though she is gratified by or takes pleasure in the fact that others suffer greatly. And isn't that exactly what altruism requires?

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I've been studying Objectivism for years, but I still find myself bumping into behaviors and unearned guilts that have their root in altruism. It seem like it permeates our culture like an infectious disease, and I can barely go outside or watch a TV show without it creaping in to my thinking. After hearing The Morality of War, I've became aware of how horribly dangerous this can get.

I'd like to root this out completely and build a stronger defense against it's future incursion.

I was thinking it would be great to go to something like an "egoist intensive" - a weekend retreat where participants bring to the table their personal experiences and attitudes, and we help each other identify areas in our lives where altruism is being maintained by misintegrations, rationalizations, neurotic "need"-fulfilliment, etc. Something along the lines of the many self-help and pop-psychology things going on these days, except focused on this one goal.

Has anybody heard of such a thing ?

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Here's the problem I have with charity. The old cliché "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for life" is really true. Charities hardly ever "teach" instead they feed and make other people dependent on them. It is immoral to make people dependent on you. If your mom is teaching people, it's a good thing.

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Here's the problem I have with charity. The old cliché "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for life" is really true. Charities hardly ever "teach" instead they feed and make other people dependent on them. It is immoral to make people dependent on you. If your mom is teaching people, it's a good thing.

Well, isn't taking the time to teach someone to fish an even bigger sacrifice than just a fish, and more altruistic ?

Or does the fact that the recipient is willing to take the time to learn tend to make his character more of a value worth maintaining ? (Like, maybe he can fish for you ?)

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First of all, I doubt that taking the time to teach someone to fish, which makes them less dependent on you and others, takes more time than catching enough fish for yourself and the other person. Secondly, if you are going to get pleasure from doing it, it is not a sacrifice. (If it is, you should not be doing any kind it).

And, yes, you are absolutely right. If a bum is willing to learn how to catch his own fish rather than mooch of society, I would be willing to teach him how. (I am not talking everyone, I'm talking specific cases)

Also, theoretically nobody should ever really have to teach anybody except their children for free because we have schools to do this. However, if you are going to teach someone how to do something for free, you should expect them to act on the knowledge you give them and give back to society. I do not mean charity at all- I mean with their mind or labor. If everybody worked as hard as they could we wouldn't have bums or moochers.

In any case, my point is: if you are going to volunteer x amount of hours, you shouldn't feed them; you should help them learn how to feed themselves.

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In any case, my point is: if you are going to volunteer x amount of hours, you shouldn't feed them; you should help them learn how to feed themselves.

Wouldn't a "true egoist" refuse to volunteer and just let them starve, and defend himself and his property if they tried to steal his fish ?

(Please don't take offense; I'm not trying to suggest that this is your view. I'm just playing altruists' advocate)

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Wouldn't a "true egoist" refuse to volunteer and just let them starve, and defend himself and his property if they tried to steal his fish ?

(Please don't take offense; I'm not trying to suggest that this is your view. I'm just playing altruists' advocate)

they would defend their property, but unless you've started a fish farm or already caughtthe, who is to say who the fish belong to?

i would also like to know if a 'true egoist' would just not volunteer at all... im truly asking to find out...

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Yeah, but what about Dagny Taggart helping the bum and then giving him a job at the railroad company? She was a true egoist, right? Yet she helped a bum in her railroad car for her own rational self-interest. This is pure speculation it actually never says why, but I presume there was something about the bum that allowed her to let him stay, and if you see a bum who looks like that (I have no idea what that is :D ), wouldn't it make sense to help them if they could eventually help you? If I made a wrong presumption, please let me know.

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I thought talking about bums was a step in the right direction since fish-giving is pretty hypothetical these days, but maybe we should talk about the real bums we see today ( at least I see them around where I live ) instead of Rand's fictional bums?

In any event, Galt names the principle when he talks about smiles and pennies given to a zero being treason to one's values.

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Do you ask if it's ever proper to help another man? No—if he claims it as his right or as a moral duty that you owe him. Yes—if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle. Suffering as such is not a value; only man's fight against suffering, is. If you choose to help a man who suffers, do it only on the ground of his virtues, of his right to recover, of his rational record, or of the fact that he suffers unjustly; then your action is still a trade, and his virtue is the payment for your help. But to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the ground of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need, as a claim is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values. A man who has no virtues is a hater of existence who acts on the premise of death; to help him is to sanction his evil and to support his career of destruction. Be it only a penny you will not miss or a kindly smile he has not earned, a tribute to a zero is treason to life and to all those who struggle to maintain it. It is of such pennies and smiles that the desolation of your world was made.

This idea of trading material values as payment for another person's virtue comes up several times in Rand's writings. It seems odd. In what sense is this a trade ? What is the nature of the value you recieve in exchange ? His virtue doesn't "rub off" on you. How do the material values you offer "pay" for it ? How much is a "fair" amount ?

The best I've come up with is that you receive the joy that comes from the unique experience of living in a rational world, a world where values have a chance and where success is possible and to-be-expected. The "fair" amount is an entirely personal and contextual issue.

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I think we are in violent agreement. I had forgotten that quote and it explains the why in Dagny's case. It is a great quote and what I was trying to state all along.

This idea of trading material values as payment for another person's virtue comes up several times in Rand's writings.
What do you mean by material values? Do you mean material objects? I don't think this necessarily means material objects; a smile is not material.

The best I've come up with is that you receive the joy that comes from the unique experience of living in a rational world, a world where values have a chance and where success is possible and to-be-expected. The "fair" amount is an entirely personal and contextual issue..

I agree completely, but you also get pleasure from helping them. If you don't get pleasure, don't help them.

The problem with bums is they often do not deserve such gifts simply because they beg for them.

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The problem with bums is they often do not deserve such gifts simply because they beg for them.

The problem I have with bums is that I sometimes lack the "true egoist" focus that Prae describes. I do notice them, and then the question does come up in my mind. When you see a random bum, how can you tell whether his suffering is just ? Sometimes they walk up to you and ask for money "for bus fare" or something, so they're hard to ignore.

I once heard about a presentation given at an Objectivist seminar where the speaker asked the attendees to imagine somehow finding themselves in a similar situation to what these bums appear to be in. Say you wake up in a strange city with no wallet or purse and a certain kind of amnesia where you can't contact any friends or relatives. What would you do ? Would you just sit there, displaying your suffering, and hope for hand-outs ? Would you start walking up to random strangers and asking for money ?

Or would you try to find work - any work - to get back on your feet ?

It seems that the probablility that these bums are unjustly seeking the undeserved is much higher than the probablility that they suffer unjustly through ignorance or something. If they do suffer unjustly through ignorance, my proudly and happily refusing to give them money could be a good lesson to help them get over their ignorance.

(Oops sorry - they're supposed to be called "homeless", not "bums")

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