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My girlfriend is a social worker

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She counsels male prisoners who are not all there psychologically and teaches substance abuse classes. I understand/believe that altruism is a crux to society, but I have a hard time finding what she does to be immoral, especially if she loves doing it and is happy with her compensation. I guess I'm wondering what opinions objectivists would have on this subject?

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What about this strikes you as being altruistic?

Bearing in mind that "value" is not something limited to money, is she giving up something of greater value in order to help these men, or is she deriving value from knowing that she's helping these men?

And presumably she's getting paid for this work, yes?

Rand said, "The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness."

She's gaining money, presumably she's taking little or no risk since she's working in a controlled environment, and if she reaches some of them, her efforts are rewarded, no?

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I'm asking for opinions mainly to help me talk to her about objectivism. We do our own little book club and I picked The Fountainhead to read. So far it is my least favorite of Rand's fiction (I really enjoyed Anthem, We the Living, and Atlas Shrugged). But my girlfriend hated it and even broke down in tears a couple times discussing it because she felt that Rand hated all social workers, and by association, I hated all social workers. I tried explaining to her that if she feels that she benefits from her work and is happy with her compensation that it is not immoral, but she was skeptical. I also tried explaining to her that rational selfishness is a good thing, but I think the left leaning education she received made her shut me off as soon as the word selfish left my mouth.

Edited by CCTV
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I am a licensed social worker. I came to Objectivism in my mid-20s, which was after I had already completed my degree and was working for some time. Had I been exposed to Objectivism at a younger age, I can't say I would have made the same decision. Up until recently, this contradiction I'm living with bothered me. How can someone as pro-capitalist as I am be in one of the most altruistic fields imaginable?!

I have come to decide that what I do does not conflict with Objectivism in the slightest. I'm one the "direct service" end of social work, which means I provide straight counseling. (As opposed to advocating for "welfare rights" and the like.) I work with people to understand the link between thoughts and feelings; a lot of cognitive-behavioral stuff. I'm adding rationality to the world (at least I try to!), not fighthing against it. But most importantly, I do what I do because *I* like it, not because I'm "giving back to society," as most people assume. *I* enjoy what I do and find it a challenge. I don't belong to my professional organization (which seeks to expand government), nor do I give them any money.

Yes, Objectivist social workers are rare... but possible. Don't lose hope just yet. Also, consider that in graduate school, she was likely spoonfed TONS of altruistic propoganda. For myself, it took a few years and a great amount of exposure to writers like Rand and Peikoff undo all this.

ETA: It is true that Rand did not hold a high opinion of social workers. However, consider that in Rand's time, social work = government expansion. Today, the two are not necessarily related (as I just described).

Edited by Tabitha
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She counsels male prisoners who are not all there psychologically and teaches substance abuse classes. I understand/believe that altruism is a crux to society, but I have a hard time finding what she does to be immoral, especially if she loves doing it and is happy with her compensation. I guess I'm wondering what opinions objectivists would have on this subject?

A lot of social workers choose their profession out of a desire to be altruistic. That doesn't make the profession immoral (you can indeed be a social worker for selfish reasons), but it does make those who practice it out of altruism immoral (to the extent their motives are indeed altruistic). There's no way around that fact, altruism isn't moral.

You should try to get to the bottom of what her driving motivation is for pursuing this career. Obviously, she does buy into the false notion that so called non-selfish professions are better than the professions which are unmistakably selfish (like being a businessman), but that doesn't mean she is driven by that notion.

Most people who consider professions like social worker and doctor "better" (because they don't have a strong enough philosophical foundation to explicitly reject the Ethics of the altruist driven culture around them) do nonetheless hold on to their individuality, and are in fact quite selfish. That is how professed altruists become rich and successful, even though their choice of career was supposedly made out of a desire to help others: they may profess that, but in reality they are self centered and career oriented.

So you should figure out (if you haven't already), whether your girlfriend values herself, her career, her happiness, etc., from her actions and past decisions rather than her words. If she does, then she most certainly isn't an altruist, she is a good person who is wrong about her theoretical moral beliefs. If she doesn't, if she actually puts others ahead of those things, in practice, then she is on a path to self destruction, and you should remove yourself from her way.

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Yeah, you are looking at this way too concretely. Rand isn't "anti social worker". What is more important is her character and attitude toward her job. What are her reasons for doing the job she does? If she finds being a social worker interesting and it's something she's good at then what's altruistic about it?

Granted that in an ideal world there wouldn't be government supplemented jobs beyond the minimum necessary. But the reality today is that there are, and frankly it's admirable she has a job at all in this disaster of an economy.

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Obviously, she does buy into the false notion that so called non-selfish professions are better than the professions which are unmistakably selfish (like being a businessman), but that doesn't mean she is driven by that notion.

That is not the case at all. I've known her for over two years and she's always made me feel that she believes her job is no better or no worse than any other profession. She just personally enjoys counseling prisoners over being an accountant or machinist or anything else. She doesn't see any profession as being 'selfish', only people that are unethical, etc.

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That is not the case at all. I've known her for over two years and she's always made me feel that she believes her job is no better or no worse than any other profession. She just personally enjoys counseling prisoners over being an accountant or machinist or anything else. She doesn't see any profession as being 'selfish', only people that are unethical, etc.

Part of the problem is she doesn't know what proper selfishness is. You might want to read "The Virtue of Selfishness" so that you can better understand what constitutes PROPER selfishness.

Because your g/f, in pursuing HER goals of helping others, because she WANTS to help others - she is being selfish. That is, she is acting upon her needs and wants.

Most people, and probably including your g/f, think that being selfish means you have to somehow be hurting someone else, and that isn't true.

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That is not the case at all. I've known her for over two years and she's always made me feel that she believes her job is no better or no worse than any other profession. She just personally enjoys counseling prisoners over being an accountant or machinist or anything else. She doesn't see any profession as being 'selfish', only people that are unethical, etc.

Then that's your starting point with her: is she getting any satisfaction of purpose from her career?

Selfish.

Pride of accomplishment?

Selfish.

Earning money? Learning, exercising her rationality, and developing her future? All selfish.

I'm not saying you haven't tried this before, but keep on affirming these values to her at every opportunity, and its pretty certain her take on rational selfishness will swing round.

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She counsels male prisoners who are not all there psychologically and teaches substance abuse classes. I understand/believe that altruism is a crux to society, but I have a hard time finding what she does to be immoral, especially if she loves doing it and is happy with her compensation. I guess I'm wondering what opinions objectivists would have on this subject?

Tell your girlfriend it could be worse. She could be an ecologist, like me. :)

Seriously, I feel that any productive career can be moral and Rand would probably agree. It really comes down to your motivations for doing what you do. If you have a genuine love for your work, and do it because it contributes to your own life, I don't see how the choice of career itself is damning so long as you exchange value for value.

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Oh darn. I wish I could remember exactly where, but I am quite certain some place before I've heard some audio thing about a Q & A where Rand was asked by somebody if she really thought social work as a whole profession was always bad with the question being asked after the negative portrayal of a number of social workers in The Fountainhead. Maybe it is some place among the stuff on the ARI website or maybe it is mentioned by Peikoff in one of his podcasts. Maybe somebody else will remember where it is? Anyway, I remember in the thing she says that no, she doesn't think all of social work is necessarily bad and I figured maybe if she could hear it coming from Rand herself, that would help calm her down and convince her that supporting Objectivism does not necessarily put you in opposition to her work just because what he does falls under the heading of "social work."

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There's a section in "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" where Rand discusses the play/movie "The Miracle Worker". She raves about the epistemological story and praises how Annie Sullivan brought Hellen Keller to understand language.

Annie Sullivan, her young teacher (superlatively portrayed by Anne Bancroft), is fiercely determined to transform this creature into a human being, and she knows the only means that can do it:
language
, i.e., the development of the conceptual faculty. But how does one communicate the nature and function of language to a blind-deaf-mute? The entire action of the play is concerned with this single central issue: Annie's struggle to make Helen's mind grasp a
word
-- not a signal, but a word.

I would think that Objectivist social workers might find similar valuable personal (selfish) challenges to expand their own knowledge while also being productive in their work.

Selfishly, I wish more social workers to be Objectivists. If they were successful in helping to properly rehabilitate men's minds, they'd be doing valuable work... to themselves, to me, and potentially to "society" too! ;-)

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There's a section in "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" where Rand discusses the play/movie "The Miracle Worker".

I have to second that mention. In fact, the earlier essays in the book are fantastic even for people who have never heard of Objectivism, that is, if they are open to the ideas. The essay mentioned here is particularly valuable to show how a person can be rationally selfish even with a job that is mainly about caring for another person even in the most extreme cases.

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Social Work is necessary in the case of Child-Protective Services, and, I suppose, just her niche, some prisoners.

I think you'll find that Rand's discrediting social workers relates to the idea that people are by nature overwhelmed by life, and require assistance of all sorts just to get by. It is social work as diminishing man that she wrote against.

And, that has been the major attitude of social work as an academic subject, and a profession for many decades.

The degree itself can't be immoral, but it might be light-weight for a psychotherapist.

Your friend's status depends entirely, IMO, on how she answers the question of whether man is fit to live on earth, or whether he requires help, in principle. If she's essentially a clinician working with individuals who need therapy, that's great.

Mindy

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is nothing necessarily wrong or wired about helping others. Though as you are, there are few certain fact you have to understand to set its (im)morality level:

A. Helping is not to make you more moral.

B. Helping is not a duty.

C. Every standard that presents your life as its value and pretends to dictate your goodness by prices of a goodness you are consciousness of is evil. It exchanges your ultimate value with another's. Even as you are worthwhile about that business, it requires building and being built of altruism, and your lies for an altruist.

D. Every sacrifice is immoral. What is a sacrifice? It is:

1. Acting against those laws (absolutely clear. Why do you think I've said that as assuming that you are basing on my definition to sacrifice i.e., on my comment.

2. Even while basing on facts of your life as your ultimate value, losing from a business always comes among with a contradiction of it. There is a whole complete philosophical world of positions to contradict the idea of "Rational Egoist Altruism". Though, I'll just remind the most basic one in context of that kind of moral laws: to earn =\= to 'unearn'.

3. Basically, to act not for your own side and not precisely by your own will, but actually from it (e.g., when there's no force). I don't have to detail.

E. NO GOVERNMENTAL WORKING FOR SERVICES DO NOT DEFINE CORRECTLY HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOM PAYED BY TAXES. No physical force.

It seems that majority of social workers do not fact it. Though, you may consider with your girlfriend of that asking her not to use arbitrary crying emotions about the fact she arbitrarily thinks that someone is having arguments against her methods as an argument because it is an altruism.

T.R

Edited by Tomer Ravid
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Why are people saying she is selfish simply because she is advancing her career, gaining value from her interactions etc? Rand did not advocate selfishness in this form, but rational selfishness.

The responsibilities of government should not extend into the social or economic sphere. If the social worker is simply rehabilitating offenders, then that can be classified as security work which is a proper function of the State.

However, simply saying that someone is "selfish" because they gain is shallow and false. Being a looter or a moocher is "selfish" in this way - ie false selfishness. It is rational selfishness that Rand advocated, and I have difficulty believing that anyone who works as a social worker could truly possess rational selfishness. Interfering with the free will of others, and taking a payment from taxpayers who were parted from their money with force, is still a form of the altruist doctrine.

The only way this woman can ethically justify her actions is by restricting herself to security work [the proper function of the State] or else conducting her work in the free market or private charity sector, assisting individuals who contract voluntarily and who pay her with their own money.

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Why are people saying she is selfish simply because she is advancing her career, gaining value from her interactions etc? Rand did not advocate selfishness in this form, but rational selfishness.

There wasn't any indication of irrationality here, all we know is that the person in question is a social worker. Even if employed by the state, it does not mean she is condoning the use of force by the government, what would matter is if she participates in that use of force. There are many details that the OP would have to consider that they simply would not be able to write down in a short thread like this. What can be said is that a social worker as such can be entirely selfish and rational because they could pursue their values in a non-sacrificial way.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It is amazing how many of these exact question Ayn Rand answered directly over her lifetime. I came across this the other day and have been meaning to return to this thread.

From Ayn Rand Answers, page 122 -

Question:
I take it from reading
The Fountainhead
, that you have a low opinion of social workers. What is your opinion of doctors and nurses?

Ayn Rand:
I do not oppose all social workers. Both Howard Roark and Peter Keating are architects: there are good and bad men in every profession. What I am opposed to is the collectivist-altruist kind of social worker (like Katie from
The Fountainhead
). That sort is frequently encountered, but that doesn't mean all social workers are frustrated little tyrants.

But why ask me about doctors and nurses? My guess is that since I don't think human beings should be sacrificial animals, you think I'm opposed to any profession that helps others. Doctors and nurses are desperately needed, and a great deal of skill and knowledge goes into making both. (I would not place them in the same category as social workers.) But I do reject the collectivist-statist idea that doctors should be regulated and controlled (for example, under Medicare) because others need them. I don't insult doctors by assuming they are self-sacrificial animals. When they are good, they deserve all the money they make. No good doctor goes into medicine to help others altruistically. He goes into it to fight disease. He is a scientist. He is for life: not to help others, self-sacrificially, while hating his job. That type never helps anybody.

It would appear that the answers given in this thread communicated the correct, objective, position very well.

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My grandmother was a social worker, and my aunt ran Legal Aid in L.A. for awhile. My mother is a big altruist.

Being my mother, my sympathies end up being near hers in terms of desiring to help people be better people and have better situations then what they've got.

Unfortunately, in political debates, my mother is very skeptical of laissez-faire. After debate after debate, after really getting to the heart of what altruism is, I think I have convinced her to agree that people help other people because it is 'selfish' for them.

However, though unspoken, she still, I believe, is foundationally tied to the notion that people must be forced to help others. There is an angry violence in her worldview she would never admit. But she cannot accept the notion that people who 'have' be let alone while there are people who 'have not'. She might not like violence, but 'non-violent' force, civil disobedience, disruption, etc. she would support wholehearted. The issue is almost metaphysical to her.

Ask your girlfriend: "If there are people, who by merit or even luck, but not by injustice, have more than they 'need', and others in society have less than they 'need', should the 'haves' be forced to help the 'have nots'? Or do they have the right to be left alone?"

If she cannot accept their right to be left alone, and becomes emotional about it, you need to tell her that you may admire her for her enthusiasm about helping people who struggle extra in life, and love her, but that her attitude about forcing people to accept her morality is both vicious, violent, and that you cannot accept her because of it.

Otherwise, tell her that that's what ultimately matters, and that ideas like Rand's are complex, nuanced, and she shouldn't be offended by your pursuit of them because ultimately you have nothing against her job or lifestyle.

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  • 2 weeks later...

She is not altruistically sacrificing a higher value for a lower value. Objectivists project themselves onto other people and respect their rights as they want their own rights to be respected. Likewise, helping people with psychological/substance abuse problems can be fulfilling. Check out Mr. Chi City's "Make a Difference Monday" series and notice how happy he is:

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