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Reblogged:Altruism vs. Personal Reform

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Psychologist Stanton Samenow writes of a phenomenon he calls generalizing a point to an absurdity that is ubiquitous among criminals. An example:
"Everyone drinks. My dad has a scotch every night after work." This statement was made by a man who had defied a condition of probation that he abstain from alcohol. When his blood alcohol test results came back positive, he disputed with his probation officer the "no alcohol" condition.

Not only did he cite his father's daily drink, but he also launched into a diatribe about cocktail hour being part of society's culture and contended that alcohol helps people relax. Moreover, he declared that he was not a problem drinker, that he could drink without overdoing it. Like the burglar, this man was making a point, then generalizing to an absurd degree, equating people who have one drink with his pattern of binge drinking alcohol. [link omitted]
The criminal is attempting to rationalize his own behavior to himself in addition to the psychologist. That's obvious, and it reminds me a little of the following quotation by Ayn Rand:
If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: "How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?" -- you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization.
That's interesting, but it isn't the subject of my post. Criminals, after all, are generally not systematic thinkers and have no interest in morality. Indeed, most accept altruism as morality and regard it with scorn. More interesting to me is the concluding paragraph:
Image by Toa Heftiba, via Unsplash, license.
Generalizing a point to an absurdity is a tactic habitually used by criminals in an attempt to minimize conduct that has harmed other people. Professionals who work with criminals sometimes get taken in by this tactic. Generalizing a point to an absurdity can assume a subtle form and can be convincing. The absurdity is not always obvious to the recipient. A person who is an agent of change working with criminals must recognize this for what it is -- a tactic that must be addressed as one of many barriers to change.
And it is, but I see an even bigger barrier, namely the conventional conception of morality as exclusively a matter of how one treats other people.

To see this, one can consider that Ayn Rand's egoistic ethical philosophy is revolutionary in part because of how she got there.
The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all -- and why?
Her answer leads her to the realization that ethics -- and one of rational self-interest -- is necessary to one's survival and flourishing as a rational being. And yes, injuring others does violate that ethics. But the problem is much deeper than that.

Altruism, practically the only ethics system in our culture, causes every single ethical question to lose any real connection to the self. Even decent people speak of being unable to reconcile the moral and the practical: With moral questions divorced from the top priority of the criminal -- What's in it for me? -- why shouldn't a criminal fail to realize that his short-range, other-focused behavior is actually very detrimental to his own benefit? And what motivation will he really have to reform? Helping others one loves can, in an indirect fashion, overcome this problem, but it will only go so far, and it bypasses, curtails, or even prevents the hope of self-advancement from becoming the great asset to the reforming criminal that it should be.

And it also prevents criminals from realizing that, while they might be able to fool a therapist or two, they are really only fooling themselves in the short-term, if at all.

If anyone should appreciate the danger of being deceived, a criminal should.

-- CAV

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