Sunday, September 5, 2010

Combating Altruism

In a previous blog posting I argued that it is important for the supporters of capitalism, freedom, and reason to know what capitalism is from the economics standpoint and to understand the economy in which they live. If we want people to support it, we must be able to explain it. That position is still a correct one. Many supporters of capitalism do not know the economics and certainly do not know what is happening in today’s economy.

Recently I reread Ayn Rand’s 1960 speech, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World” and had the opportunity to deeply examine chapters 2-5 of Andrew Bernstein’s The Capitalist Manifesto. These writings have again underscored to me the importance of the moral arguments. The central point in both works regarding the morality of the altruist is that altruism is independent of reality, of reason. Pointing out the necessarily disastrous consequences of the policies proposed by an altruist will not influence his commitment to the irrational.

In recognizing that position, we must realize that the altruist politician and policy maker and their supporters are somewhat immune to our direct, pointed statements about the consequences of those policies. That group of people includes many of their supporters in the electorate. We must recognize that that we need to attack their own closely held beliefs. I don’t think that they will be influenced by our arguments, but they will be harder for them to ignore, perhaps. They seem to be able to ignore nearly anything.

More useful will be making those attacks when arguing publicly, i.e., articles, editorials, and lte. I don’t think that a philosophical discussion of altruism is helpful. Generally there isn’t enough word count to do so and readers might not stay with you. I propose that instead we use the consequences, that is, we spell out the “human” cost of these policies in the context of morality: We talk of the suffering of countless Americans. We talk of the loss of the ability to acquire the items that make our lives better or even comfortable. We talk of the potential of depression and hardship. We talk of the recent dire recession we are living in. We talk of human sacrifice. We spell out how these policies are going to make life harder and worse. We talk of how the politicians do not care about the consequences of their policies, only that they fit with their morality of human suffering. We talk about the disconnect between reality and their policies. But these consequences must be discussed within a moral perspective. The discussion has to focus on specific consequences of the morality being used. It seemed to me that the accusation that ObamaCare included “Death Panels” was effective. It carried the idea and the real meaning of ObamaCare. This type of tactic needs to be carried further. We must not mince words or be “nice” or polite. Being nice and polite allows the evader wiggle room.

Clarity and the relation between the altruist’s policies and the welfare of the reader are what are important. We don’t talk about their rational self-interest, but the values that are rational that they have, for example, their families. We talk about how these anti-man policies are going to impact their families. How their hopes for their futures and the futures of their children are being destroyed by the specific, destructive policies being offered and made into law. We talk about how their children will not have their parents around as long as they expected. We talk about how their children are not going to have a better life. We talk about their children’s shorter life span. We talk about their children’s not receiving the inheritance either expected. We talk about the lower standard of living that their children will have. We talk about the fact that this will be the first American generation to leave their children worse off.

Offer real images to the reader contrary to their general morality, i.e., what are they going to say to their child when they complain about their illness and the government run health plan won’t help? Are they going to tell them that morally it is good for them to suffer? Are they going to give them stories about helping poor people when in fact they themselves are now poor and there is no help for them? Being too nebulous will not bring the point home. Talking about paying back the current debt will not be useful mainly because these predictions in the past have not had an impact on the current economy (at least that people have realized).

What we must keep in mind is that the explicit or implicit holder of the morality of altruism does not regard consequences of his actions as pertinent. That is why Congress rarely examines the consequences of the laws it passes. Consequences are not important. What is important is taking actions consistent with altruism, “helping others”, sacrificing for the good of others. We know that this cannot be practiced successfully. We know that individuals cannot and do not practice this morality personally. They just support their government’s actions. What can only break through this compartmentalization by concretizing the consequences they will connect to themselves. Using concretization in a directed manner, utilizing our reader’s own values will help bring the real meaning home.

It will help you to also keep clearly in focus the consequences of failing to stop the direction of the federal government. Too often we are seeing the future in terms of economic consequences, i.e., reduced standard of living and opportunity. We are thinking in terms of loss of being able to state our views. These images are too peaceful and mild. This is the most complex, interconnected economy in mankind’s history. It will not be able to maintain its cohesion if several parts come apart. In Atlas, the trains stopped. Food could not reach New York City. Food shipments stopped. In our world, oil deliveries will be imperiled and food deliveries will become undependable. What will happen in our cities if food is not readily available, not to mention other requirements of living? Digital systems will prove to be fragile. As the economy comes apart, so will the society. There is much more anger, fear, and resentment today than during the 1930’s, for example. We have riots today over court cases. Just think about food riots. Just think of a lack of food and starvation in American cities. This is what human sacrifice looks like in practice. That’s right, human sacrifice. Not ritual sacrifice, but the human sacrifice that results from the government’s practice of altruism.

I am not trying to be alarmist here. I am not projecting a crash within the next few months, or even the next couple of years. The election coming up will give us a good indication of what our immediate future holds. I am only saying that our arguments must keep in mind the fact that holders of the morality of altruism (or the god oriented version) do not consider consequences to be an issue. To be effective and meet the threat, we must shape our arguments accordingly. The moral context and the real consequences have to be pared and driven home.

If in the next election we have a Republican Congress, we will then talk about the Christian right and that they have the same mind frame. They are not interested in the welfare of individuals. They are interested in making their god happy. Human happiness doesn’t help. They require suffering, just as the progressives do.

To reduce the role of altruism as the dominant political philosophy and replace it with reason and capitalism, we need to make our arguments as effective as possible.


  1. print media is last century. do it in blogs. but briefer.

  2. Agreed. No quarter to the enemy.

  3. This is an interesting post. I think the key point is “What can only break through this compartmentalization by concretizing the consequences they will connect to themselves.

    ´When making this argument we have to be careful to maintain the argument within the experience of the person we are trying to convince and understand that their range is probably not nearly as broad as ours. So for example when you tell me that all trains will stop, I immediately make these connections and understand what you are saying although most people would stare blankly at you. For most people you want to start with consequences much closer to home. The more personal and immediate the consequences the more likely you are to make an impression.

    ” I don’t think that a philosophical discussion of altruism is helpful.”

    I do think though, that we should make our opposition clear even if we do not have the space to fully support this. A clear statement may be enough; perhaps it will jolt the person into broadening their perspective. At minimum it will force the person to confront the fact that your understanding of morality is different from his. For example an argument against the draft has to make the connection that this is involuntary servitude and unacceptable ethically.

    I also think understanding why so many people make the mistake of altruism will allow us to fight it more successfully.