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Rudmer
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I am an undergraduate computer science student and have been invited to apply for membership in the country's oldest engineering honors society, Tau Beta Pi. I think that joining could be beneficial for me, because such a membership adds considerable weight to a resume and significant networking possibilities. However, Tau Beta Pi holds "unselfish activity" as a desired character trait of its members -- something to which I am obviously opposed.

Would it be a breach of moral integrity to pursue becoming a member? In all other areas that I can find, the ideals of Tau Beta Pi are admirable -- productivity, excellence, etc. -- with only the one exception. By joining, am I sanctioning the one immoral "ideal?" (I've made it blatantly obvious in my life that I hold selfishness as a virtue.)

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I usually ignore stuff like that. If you avoided every organization, company, school, country, etc., that had that kind o statement attached to it, you could never go anywhere, buy anything, or work anywhere. I know folks who've tried not to buy anything from China, for instance, but to no avail. It's simply too much of a hassle. Keep in mind that the Oist virtues are there to guide you in building a happy, productive life, not to frustrate your needs. Good luck in school!

--Dan Edge

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After more thinking, I've come to a realization.

It all comes down to the question: is a person defined by what collective(s) he is a part of? Obviously, the answer is a resounding "no!" The individual is sovereign, and membership in a group does not define that individual's identity. I think that the many good parts of Tau Beta Pi far outweigh the one bad part, and as long as I make it clear that I do not sanction that bad part, I now see nothing wrong with joining.

I am still interested in everyone's thoughts on the issue, though. Is my thinking, as I've expressed it, rational? Do you see this as a form of moral compromise or pragmatism?

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After more thinking, I've come to a realization.

It all comes down to the question: is a person defined by what collective(s) he is a part of? Obviously, the answer is a resounding "no!" The individual is sovereign, and membership in a group does not define that individual's identity. I think that the many good parts of Tau Beta Pi far outweigh the one bad part, and as long as I make it clear that I do not sanction that bad part, I now see nothing wrong with joining.

I am still interested in everyone's thoughts on the issue, though. Is my thinking, as I've expressed it, rational? Do you see this as a form of moral compromise or pragmatism?

I agree with your conclusion--and I think that passing up such an opportunity would be foolish and "unselfish" of you. It would be different if they required members to go to a third-world country to work for a year without pay.

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Seems like the correct call to me. I personally joined well before I took Objectivism seriously. I'm in no way active or anything like that, but don't regret it. (With one minor qualification: In my case, it's possible I would have been better served by joining Eta Kappa Nu (the EE society), but my circumstances were such that I had to choose one or the other, and I chose Tau Beta Pi. Obviously it would have been best if I could have done both.) Unfortunately I cannot really prove it had much positive impact on me either--the GPA spoke for itself.

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One of the issues at hand is "what do they mean by selfish/selfless?" Most people use selfishness in a different sense than Objectivism does. For TBP, they probably mean simply that you should not be myopic and "greedy" and consider what impacts your actions have on your surroundings. It also means you should be doing more than just work professionally. Some of my co-workers did things like judge science fairs and help high schoolers get started with science research. That would be considered "selfless" by most, although Rand herself commented on the desirability of giving deserving young folks a leg up when one could afford it. You can bet if Rand thought it was okay, it wasn't selfless!

And yes, Tau Beta Pi does have a purpose, which is at least partially to identify and recognize top talent at Universities. I was eligible last year but did not appreciate the benefits, so I didn't apply. I think that was a mistake on my part. But TBP adds to a resume more than a GPA does, if only because it shows that you have been identified as someone who will "go places". Scholarships and awards breed scholarships and awards (one of the reasons why academics consider citing yourself plagiarism nowadays...people use it to fluff up their resume by printing the same stuff over and over).

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I am an undergraduate computer science student and have been invited to apply for membership in the country's oldest engineering honors society, Tau Beta Pi. I think that joining could be beneficial for me, because such a membership adds considerable weight to a resume and significant networking possibilities. However, Tau Beta Pi holds "unselfish activity" as a desired character trait of its members -- something to which I am obviously opposed.

Would it be a breach of moral integrity to pursue becoming a member? In all other areas that I can find, the ideals of Tau Beta Pi are admirable -- productivity, excellence, etc. -- with only the one exception. By joining, am I sanctioning the one immoral "ideal?" (I've made it blatantly obvious in my life that I hold selfishness as a virtue.)

I would say, will your membership (or the process of getting in there) require you to pretend to approve of altruism? If so, you would have to surrender your integrity and pretend to be someone you are not. If however you can be an active member and still not have to pretend to support altruism for that, then I think it's fine, since just by joining you are not sanctioning every single value the fraternity holds.

If by joining the fraternity you could fight for your ideas better (by spreading them), then you should do it, but I doubt any benefit you can get out of your membership could outweigh the self-defeat of having to pretend to support ideas opposite of your own, all this, keep in mind, if you actually ARE required to actively pretend.

In one of his podcasts Peikoff said that if it were something like an interview to a profession in which the government is highly involved, like becoming a doctor, then Lying is OK for the same reason it is OK to lie to a robber - they initiate the use of force against you - in this case - imposing their beliefs on you to allow you to be a doctor.

But in your case I don't see any initiation of force. If it were a government scholarship it would be, and lying would be justified, but a fraternity has nothing to do with the government.

IMO, if you live in a society where it is hopeless to try to spread the right ideas, or if spreading them poses a threat to your life (like in Communist Russia) then be quiet and pretend - that's your best option. But so long as one sees the option of spreading one's ideas successfully one should not take actions that go against the achievement of one's values.

For instance, if I had to go to demonstrations about socialism or other anti-freedom cause, and to write articles about the justice of socialism, in order to get, say, a scholarship, putting aside the psychological damage - I would be acting toward my own destruction. And the more I use my mind (like write articles vs. just holding up a sign) the worse it will be. What will my scholarship be worth after my freedom is taken away?

So practically, one should stay loyal to one's values by finding the most efficient way to achieve them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am not familiar with that institution but if they mean unselfish in the normal vein of thinking, meaning dont be greedy (desire the unearned), then I would completly agree with them and join. I breifly looked at the website, and I would have to say its complete bs that people join that place unselfishly. "Yeah I want to join one of the best engineering groups in the states, but not for my own sake, for the good of the people." Beyond that, it seems that you have evaluted your own interests and goals enough to know that this will be a valuable career move for you. DO IT! If their altruistic tendencies directly affect you and your paycheck, paraphrasing Jesus, knock the dust from their honor society off your heels and keep moving. Otherwise man, I'd take the biggest bite of that cake I could.

My humble opinion :D

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I agree that you really need to know how they are defining selflessness, and the context. A lot of organizations use "selfless" when they really mean being a team player or engaging in work that benefits people. Any actual requirements for action made of you would be important as well. Equally important, to me, would be the organization's attitude toward discussion and possible dissent. Would you be allowed to live your principles without being railroaded?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Our President is telling us we are "Our Brother's keeper" and trying to force us to act as such.

Public schools are forcing our kids to do community service in order to earn a decent grade.

Etc., etc., etc...

I'm sure we can all come up with many more examples like these. Very scary...

I would not be part of any group that supports or mimics any such examples.

However, if the group does not endorse or support such things, or require you to, it's probably no big deal, especially considering the benifits...

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