Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
Maggie Flash

Government response to Covid is the best case against altruism.

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Hello there! New here, and though I don't have much time, I'd love to pop in from time to time. I find the discussions - what I've read of them thus far - very good, knowledgeable and in-depth. Forgive me if this first effort of mine is a bit "been there, discussed that" but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, even if y'all have written them down before. 

I'd like to discuss altruism, within the framework of debate with those who would subscribe to a non-objectivist form of it, and its offshoot, the solidarity demanded as a consequence of the ideology of altruism. My specific questions come toward the end of this wall of text.

Background is the Coronavirus, with a death rate in the low single digits, in excess of 90% of severe cases being the very old and already very sick. In the name of solidarity with said groups (commonly known as "high risk") we have, through authoritarian intervention, already created; Joblessness and destitution in millions of people (young, able bodied, in their prime, and yes, I know this doesn't matter in an objectivist philosophy sense, it matters to me, though) around the world, and it is estimated that, by the end of this, over 1/3 of children will end up with symptoms of PTSD. (Austrian projections, valid only for Austria here.) Hundreds of thousands of able bodied people who would likely not have noticed even catching the virus are now destitute, all in the name of imposed solidarity foisted upon them by a government, without so much as a referendum or a single say in the subject.Yet nobody questions the fairness of it. The moral destitution that comes with the demand to run millions of capable people into the ground in a forced show of solidarity with those who, statistically, have but a few more years of life. 

It made Objectivism ring all the truer to me, for I cannot possibly conceive of anything more evil, more profoundly unfair than sending millions of young and able marching into the knife for strangers, losing their jobs and sacrificing their own children's mental health, all the while being expected to "eat sh*t and smile." Without a single say of their own. Hate the government for taking away from people their rights to assess the risks for themselves, and act in accordance to what they feel is right. (Be that voluntary self-isolation and organisation of provision if you are a high risk group who will not take the risk, or simply carrying on as ever, if you wish to take the risk.) 

There is, in my mind, no recent example of how wicked, authoritarian, and absolutely mental the ideology of Altruism truly is, in recent history / to my memory. I seriously cannot get over this. I'm constantly amazed at people's blind eyes and deaf ears to this, too. It seems like everyone's discussing the color of the furniture in their jail cell, as opposed to wanting out of it. Also, how do you guys cope with the unfairness of all of this in your day-to-day lives? And how have your argued this with people who are not objectivists? What has their reaction been? Looking forward to your input! Also, why do you think the governments of the world have chosen this insane path over the more rational, at least vaguely objectivist, one? (Thusfar, no statements have been given on this matter, save for a golden nugget from our President (Austria), which went as follows "Those who would suffer feel better knowing everyone's in the same boat." No, I shit you not, it was a live speech he gave, which was on our evening news.)
I seriously don't even.

Edited by Maggie Flash

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Maggie. Yes, Governments all over fell to the same sacrificial altruism, your comprehension of which is exactly right. A few like my own, delight in the power it gives them and are reluctant to end our imprisonment. Those free-er are trying to get going sooner. What gets me is the self-sacrificial compliance shown around the world - and any dissidents have their objections stifled. ("Have you no compassion? What if it were YOUR mother/etc. who was infected?!": Answer: I look after my own and you do likewise! ). It was from the start until now the sight of small businesses closing, many of which I knew could not reopen, that deeply affected me, expanding to the millions more in every country. Then many of the large corps which looked invincible we see now are also filing for bankruptcy. Then millions out of work, and the central purpose of their lives gone, not to mention going short of money and in this place, pleading for food. The Motor of the World was allowed to stop and hardly anyone objected, all apparently presuming that man's mind is endless, always going to come to the rescue in constant self-sacrifice. "Not a bang but a whimper", comes to mind. Great post, and welcome!

Edited by whYNOT

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Maggie,

If the right ethic gives rise to the right politic, or conversely, if the wrong ethic leads to a wrong politic, the concern of altruism and the authoritarian mentality it gives rise to has been provided ample evidence in the political responses of late. 

The cause of this is not the government, per se. If the motor of the world stopped without a whimper, was it turned off, or has it broken down due to neglect? Examine the underlying philosophy for any provided clues.

Those seeking such answers find them if they are relentless enough in their pursuit. Others buy into suggestions that such answers are not to be found, or are simply idealistic in nature, i.e.; wishful thinking.

The morality of life offers what altruism does not. One is deeply entrenched, while the other has only recently been given a clear articulate voice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, whYNOT said:

Hi Maggie. Yes, Governments all over fell to the same sacrificial altruism, your comprehension of which is exactly right. A few like my own, delight in the power it gives them and are reluctant to end our imprisonment. Those free-er are trying to get going sooner. What gets me is the self-sacrificial compliance shown around the world - and any dissidents have their objections stifled. ("Have you no compassion? What if it were YOUR mother/etc. who was infected?!": Answer: I look after my own and you do likewise! ). It was from the start until now the sight of small businesses closing, many of which I knew could not reopen, that deeply affected me, expanding to the millions more in every country. Then many of the large corps which looked invincible we see now are also filing for bankruptcy. Then millions out of work, and the central purpose of their lives gone, not to mention going short of money and in this place, pleading for food. The Motor of the World was allowed to stop and hardly anyone objected, all apparently presuming that man's mind is endless, always going to come to the rescue in constant self-sacrifice. "Not a bang but a whimper", comes to mind. Great post, and welcome!

Hello and thank you for the welcome!

And oh yes, the old "Your mother" chestnut. Not worth an answer because it's completely beside the point and purposefully circumvents the underlying philosophical principle at play in the question, the exact thing someone should be >answering< to.

As for compassion argument,  it sure is more compassionate to generate 20 times the damage than was necessary, in trauma and lost jobs, in deprived freedom and life chances, than it is to even so much as suggest high risk groups at least be herded into some kind of quarantine away from everyone else to minimise the amount of people who must suffer. (Obviously not my favoured approach, but hell, even that makes more sense.) Can you smell the compassion! Compassion for some clearly means taking the horsewhip to one's own back and believing that if you flay hard enough, the god of Altruism will empty his cornucopia of blessings upon the world.

The general hypocrisy on display these days needs some trumping, too. All of a sudden, any degree of self-inflicted suffering and loss is alright "if only one life could be saved by it". Give me a break. If that were so, would we not all have worn masks before, to "protect" the immunocompromised and elderly from the flu, say? I see nothing much in that kind of talk, save for hypocritical and half-baked justifications for the status quo, comfortable, an internalised acceptance in the face of something most people don't see in their power to change.

And your point about the firm belief that self-sacrifice will somehow fix things, even where the evidence is all around us that it breaks more than it tapes together, is good! Then again, humans aren't rational often enough, and when whipped into fear, lose what residual clarity they might have had before. 

Cheers!

Edited by Maggie Flash

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

Hi Maggie,

If the right ethic gives rise to the right politic, or conversely, if the wrong ethic leads to a wrong politic, the concern of altruism and the authoritarian mentality it gives rise to has been provided ample evidence in the political responses of late. 

The cause of this is not the government, per se. If the motor of the world stopped without a whimper, was it turned off, or has it broken down due to neglect? Examine the underlying philosophy for any provided clues.

Those seeking such answers find them if they are relentless enough in their pursuit. Others buy into suggestions that such answers are not to be found, or are simply idealistic in nature, i.e.; wishful thinking.

The morality of life offers what altruism does not. One is deeply entrenched, while the other has only recently been given a clear articulate voice.

Hello Greg!

Yes, definitely. One does not build a stable house on a shaky foundation, that much is for sure. I must admit I've been naive though, I figured that governments and the people at large were more flexible in their approach to challenges, and would not, in pig-headed manner, stick by one broken concept until the car finally speeds off the cliff. Does the dog really only know one trick?

Here's an interesting thought: Wars have been started, the deaths of hundreds of thousands taken into account for much less financial gain than the money lost by a single country due to its virus response, and all purportedly to save a couple thousand thousand old fogies & already very ill. This is so perfectly logic-free that I can't help wonder if I'm just too stupid not to see the real reason for the governments of the world acting this way. I mean, since when do countries who freely genocide around the clock give two sh*ts about saving human life? Why the pretence? What's their motive?

(And yes of course it's not just the governments. If everyone was Objectivist, the government would a.) be drastically shrunken and b.) could demand all the measures it liked in this regard, it would have no power to implement them, and they would be faced with a society of individuals making up their own minds about what response is suitable for themselves.)

ps. It's funny, even for those sold on a certain degree of authoritarianism "because it's necessary for >insert reason<", surely, this phony and forced one-way solidarity couldn't really impress people into thinking it was true solidarity, even if one believed in the necessity and importance of solidarity. 

Edited by Maggie Flash

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Maggie Flash said:

All of a sudden, any degree of self-inflicted suffering and loss is alright "if only one life could be saved by it". Give me a break. If that were so, would we not all have worn masks before, to "protect" the immunocompromised and elderly from the flu, say?

I'm not sure that this would be hypocrisy actually. This might sound like a nitpick, but bear with me and you'll see where I'm going. It isn't hypocritical to hold beliefs now that are inconsistent with prior beliefs. If someone underestimated the danger of viruses before, it makes sense that they wouldn't even have suggested wearing masks during the flu season. It would simply take a virus like covid to realize the dangers of illnesses for them to realize they were underestimating. Unfortunately, I think people often over correct so they may take the realization to an extreme and start seeing everything is more dangerous than before. Or they over correct the other direction, thinking that if covid isn't the end of the world, it must mean that the increased "danger" just reflects that viruses are actually less dangerous than previously believed. "We're all gonna die anyway, and you can dive so many things, so what difference does it make?" 

What I'm getting at is that hypocrisy isn't the issue here. To be sure, I've seen altruist arguments about different kinds of responses to covid, in either direction. The simple kind of altruism were you just say that there is a context-less duty to protect people. What I see is more a hazy obedience to some authority, and going along with it despite any hesitations and personal disagreement. That might be obedience to a vague authority that says if there is a problem in the world, governments must tackle it. Obedience to statism. It might be obedience to the idea that losing the status quo is equivalent to losing one's community, a kind of obedience to tradition. In either case, obedience is a hidden altruism because you can't see it on the surface. To resolve any conflict obedience produces (and when the stakes are high like with covid, I would be surprised if no one felt any conflict whatsoever), the easiest thing to do would be over correct in the way that I mentioned before. A more difficult thing to do is break away from any authority that tries to prescribe how to think and evaluate things individually. 

12 hours ago, Maggie Flash said:

Also, how do you guys cope with the unfairness of all of this in your day-to-day lives?

It probably isn't helpful to say, but the fact is I just move on. At least in the US, my freedom of movement is pretty good, but on the other hand, some businesses have closed that I will really miss and I think would have been okay if there were no mandates on how to run food businesses. It's unfair, but there is enough I still can do in life and in my community that I don't feel completely trapped.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Maggie Flash said:

I must admit I've been naive though, I figured that governments and the people at large were more flexible in their approach to challenges, and would not, in pig-headed manner, stick by one broken concept until the car finally speeds off the cliff.

What is the extent of your familiarity with Miss Rand's writings? This seems to be the crux in what you have articulated. The notion of a broken concept could serve as a bridge to concept formation and the relationship it bears to the problem of universals. As one of the legs that serve as a precursor to ethics, flexibility in this capacity is delimited to those expecting a clear cognitive connection between their percepts and their concepts. Such an approach, while objective, need not be Objectivist.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Maggie Flash said:

Hello Greg!

Yes, definitely. One does not build a stable house on a shaky foundation, that much is for sure. I must admit I've been naive though, I figured that governments and the people at large were more flexible in their approach to challenges, and would not, in pig-headed manner, stick by one broken concept until the car finally speeds off the cliff. Does the dog really only know one trick?

Here's an interesting thought: Wars have been started, the deaths of hundreds of thousands taken into account for much less financial gain than the money lost by a single country due to its virus response, and all purportedly to save a couple thousand thousand old fogies & already very ill. This is so perfectly logic-free that I can't help wonder if I'm just too stupid not to see the real reason for the governments of the world acting this way. I mean, since when do countries who freely genocide around the clock give two sh*ts about saving human life? Why the pretence? What's their motive?

(And yes of course it's not just the governments. If everyone was Objectivist, the government would a.) be drastically shrunken and b.) could demand all the measures it liked in this regard, it would have no power to implement them, and they would be faced with a society of individuals making up their own minds about what response is suitable for themselves.)

ps. It's funny, even for those sold on a certain degree of authoritarianism "because it's necessary for >insert reason<", surely, this phony and forced one-way solidarity couldn't really impress people into thinking it was true solidarity, even if one believed in the necessity and importance of solidarity. 

Maggie, You are touching on many facets that this pandemic-lockdown has exposed, and one of them is the powers vested in governments. I put it that way because I don't see government per se, as the causal heart of the problem of our overbearing nanny statism. Yes, bureaucrats are always and have been only too happy to extend their powers, but it's the people who - ultimately - give it to them. The cause is the many citizens who clearly can't handle any amount of freedom and the selfish necessity to think for oneself, and therefore need the state to make their decisions and carry out the necessary actions. In short, the nanny to care for them is necessitated/caused by the (adult) children who depend on her. 

What freedom for an individualist amounts to : whose life is this, anyway? Stay out of mine.

For an altruist-child: "you must look after me! I don't want to die!"

The paradox raised is that altruism, always dominant is increasing in this time of infantilism and morbid terror of mortality. The greater majority of people in societies would have been lost without the often dictatorial, bureaucratic controls. The levels of panic (exacerbated by a media which deliberately boosts altruism-collectivism) by them, left alone without 'a nanny' - to think and choose, rationally and self-responsibly - have been bad enough. So up to a point I blame most of the governments less (except my own one, btw) and a majority of the people (and WHO's 'recommended' policies and models) more. 

What this ends up with, as you know - no one is allowed to be an individual, nor free, in this time more than ever. By pressure from "the other" and from govts. Others lives depend on you ...y'know. How can you be so selfishly callous?

Right, the common refrain: "We are all in this together!". (Um, no, it seems "we" are all in this - apart - actually).

And this one, heard regularly and the most disgusting: "Is it not wonderfully moral that the whole world could give up the economy and their livelihoods to save lives?!"

Those are sentimental skeptics who have no idea of the standard of value "man's life", and see and measure only concrete "lives". And anti-capitalists, anyway, usually with safely tenured or guaranteed state employment.

But in optimistic counter, reality bites eventually, and gradually there've been many more people emerging, who know from their own devastating losses and look around at others' suffering and trauma, and suicides, who are seeing the evils of sacrifice, plainly and for the first time. That returns to your "the best case against altruism".

Edited by whYNOT

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It may be that the political rhetoric in Austria is more overtly based on the appeal “we must sacrifice ourselves for that group”, but that is not the rhetoric used in the US. Appeal to “the greatest common good” underlies the government’s response, but “sacrifice” in US political rhetoric refers to “something necessary for an end, but not an immediately desirable end itself”. When soldiers, police and firemen die in the line of duty, or doctors work long hours at personal risk to save lives, it is termed a “sacrifice”, because the immediate outcome is certainly not desirable (taking a risk, working long hours), but the end towards which these people are working is certainly a value. Instead, the covid-related government actions have been justified as being necessary: although “justified” is really a strong term, since the myriad executive declarations simply assert “it is necessary, and I have the power”.

It is crucial for the covid-facists that issues of scientific fact be kept out of the discussion. Ignorance has been politically weaponized to a stunning level, instead we must trust our elected executive official (unless he’s a Republican), who we assume has sound scientific and economic reasons to believe that these actions are necessary and sufficient for reaching that end. The public perception of “what is necessary” with the further provision that it should be sufficient is totally divorced from science. The science of the problem is, very simply, we don’t know, there are a lot of plausible stories that can be told. It is also vital that we not delve deeply into the question of what that end is – it changes frequently. For a while it was “flattening the curve”. Now it is “masks stop covid”. If you closely watch the media, you can detect the next wave of restrictions, which will result in greater rigidity about the kind of masks and how they are worn. (This is a concern for me because I can’t breathe, and businesses are now prohibited from serving unmasked customers).

My response to covid-facists is to criticize them for hypocrisy. They demand that I must sacrifice myself for their personal benefit – they are being selfish (we know that is not so, but we’re dealing with rhetorical contradictions). They have no right to restrict my life so that they can continue to enjoy theirs. This is an easy argument to make, because when you ask “Why do you support such-and-such governmental restriction”, 99 times out of 100 it reduces to the emotional assertion “I don’t want X” – I don’t care what you want, what about what I want? Or when the assertion is collectivist “We don’t want X”, I point out that there has been no determination of what “we” want.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Maggie Flash, for the stimulating perspective. I noticed in your remarks and in many of the ensuing remarks how highly the considerations of overall social utility compose the moral outlook. I think you are the only one so far to mention the concept of rights expressly in the moral assessment of what was done and should have been done. In basic political philosophy, I once saw a philosopher argue for the correctness of analysis by rights because that is a reliable way to ensure correct social utility assessments. Be that as it may, it surely does seem natural to think in both frames for the present fix.

You mentioned people’s “rights to assess the risks for themselves, and act in accordance to what they feel is right. (Be that voluntary self-isolation and organisation [Brit!] of provision if you are a high risk group who will not take the risk, or simply carrying on as ever, if you wish to take the risk.)” There has been argued the further consideration from a rights standpoint of what rights others have to not have risks imposed on them by you. 

What the risks are has been unsettled and knowledge has been developing over these months concerning this virus previously unknown, at least as a human pathogen. I would not say that concern for the rights of others one may affect is best characterized as compassion or as an altruistic concern. Those are supererogotory moral principles farther from law in the present area than moral principles of rights and social utility (e.g.).

Even taking into consideration both faces of the rights issue, and considering what we know about the spread and effects of the virus so far, I think you are right on what should have been done, and I think it should be the inclination of State orders going forward. In 1957 there was a new virus, which experts knew would be coming to the US, and it did so in April. It was a flu virus, a US lab had quickly developed a vaccine for it, and Walter Reed Hospital proved its effectiveness and safety, as I recall from reading about this a few months ago. The contagion swept across the country so fast that they could not possibly produce enough of the vaccine to help very much against that first wave. Ike got funding from Congress and shifted some other funds to ramp up production for the fall. That virus affected children especially badly, so many schools closed by absenteeism and the DC schools officially closed because it was so bad there. The Covid parallel is with the especially crummy risk for the elderly, and nursing homes have been some catastrophes. (Not in my town—these homes locked down very early.) Anyway, in that 1957-58 pandemic known as Asian flu, there was no general shutdown, and the economy continued pretty normal.

Whereas in the current response (I really know mainly concerning the US), there was a major restriction of production together with massive extra-printing money for the firms and individuals forbidden to produce. I can see that some of this difference of response to 1957 stems from altruism and compassion, however, those are only part of the moral concern, as said above, and I think the really big factors differing the two responses are the following. Today people are a lot richer in the US and have much more news of things at their fingertips. In the archives of the New York Times, I’ve found very little 1957 reporting about the 1957 pandemic. We were deep in the Cold War (nukes on the ready ready), and it really seems there was more concern about the virus affecting our military personnel than about civilian impact. It just did not seem to be the big news item that it has been today, and I think that is from general greater affluence and the higher expectations that carries. That flu virus killed about 116,000 Americans in ’57-58, which scales up to about 200,000 for our present population. I wonder if the present pandemic is going to reach that 200,000 even after all the heavy precautions and horrifying economic sacrifice in ’20-21, only in a more throttled rate of flow to the cemetery. 

Edited by Boydstun

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/3/2020 at 10:49 PM, Maggie Flash said:


The general hypocrisy on display these days needs some trumping, too. All of a sudden, any degree of self-inflicted suffering and loss is alright "if only one life could be saved by it". Give me a break. If that were so, would we not all have worn masks before, to...

 

 

Certainly, there is hypocrisy and double standards in play. If not completely comparable to previous flu endemics, which were we hear not as contagious nor as fatal (although this remains to be seen, when more complete infection figures are known), but the fall out in human terms - and is that not the whole point of this? - had to be predictable from this pandemic's lockdown measures. It is a fact that for every one point loss of employment, the suicide rate goes up by a point. (Not anything I knew earlier, but the disease control bodies had to be aware of it or one must question their effectiveness). That 'one life at any cost' doctrine is essential altruism and an element of utilitarianism (but favoring the minority, I argue). At cost ... to whom? Has anyone stopped to consider, let alone halt one's own living, that another transmitted disease malaria, claims 400,000 lives a year, year on year in Africa? No, a mind isn't capable of taking in the large scale suffering and other -many- forms of painful deaths by disease and accident or mental suffering which afflict individual people whom one doesn't know, and the loss to their intimates. One is not, cannot and should be not, for the sake of one's rational sanity. Those whom one does personally know in pain and close to their end is more than enough place to dedicate one's caring. Making ~the general~ others' lives and lifes one's moral-emotional responsibility, that's clear altruism.

Edited by whYNOT

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...