Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2293490-Altruistic-Considerations
Printer Friendly Page Tell A Friend
No ratings.
Rated: E · Essay · Philosophy · #2293490
An exercise in the saving of a life? Or the intrigue of sacrificing oneself? For what?

Altruistic Considerations


An Irrational Foray Into Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda


Sacrificial Emergencies


For the record, I am not a big fan of these exercises encapsulated in what has come to be known as the ‘trolley’ paradigm where a series of thought experiments in ethics and psychology, involving stylized ethical dilemmas of whether or not we should sacrifice one human being to save another specific individual or a larger number of people is presented to random (or specific) participants that are asked to solve the problem or at least theorize the concept.

I find it distasteful, and of little relevance or practicality since it leads to nothing usable, actionable, or of any real consequence. But so many seem to enjoy the possible insight into the human psyche that it becomes compelling. I do agree that they often present intriguing circumstances but I find them more to be avenues of derision and judgment than actual means of discovering anything of legitimate value. This is, of course, my opinion only. Feel free to engage in the whimsy and idealism, even if irrational in nature. And yet many scenarios have been brought up over the years and I find it relevant to try and connect them to the study of objectivism in relation to altruism and self-sacrifice.

I would like to be very clear. My comments do not represent objectivism in any way. They are simply an interpretation by an individual that self-identifies as an objectivist while acknowledging that he does not embrace the philosophy as a panacea for all that ails you. It can be, at times, a fallible set of beliefs and positions that someone named Ayn Rand compiled during the course of her own lifetime, and I have found many facets of her perspectives to be of value to me in my own search for clarity and understanding. I am neither a follower nor a leader, and I take her insights and opinions with the proverbial ‘grain of salt’. I think it safe to say that we would probably be in perpetual conflict if we could have a relationship today, although perhaps without the animosity and condescension that many may experience with their own relationships.

I should make the point that when I say I am not a leader it is for no other reason than the fact that I am not attracted to ‘leading’ anyone other than myself. I don’t have a particularly good memory, but my earliest musings were longing for a time when I could remove myself from the paradigm of having to do what others demanded of me, whether parents, siblings, friends, teachers and so many other examples of authority. All I ever wanted was to make my own decisions without the need to argue against preconceptions that I found ignorant and inconsistent. For the most part, I have been able to do this, and objectivism has played an integral part in that development. Ayn Rand, and by extension objectivism itself, does not represent an absolute in my world. They are not the answer to my issues and my weaknesses, albeit they, at times, suggest avenues of investigation that have resulted in relevant and complimentary observations and conclusions, so I could not ask for more.

Ayn Rand is not a guru, or a cult leader as many uninformed individuals have commented, although perhaps a mentor in the most loosely constructed definition of someone that acts as an inspiration for further exploration and discovery. I have never felt oppressed or pressured by anything she has said, even when she has exhibited behaviour that one could interpret as forceful or even hubristic. It is the price that people with exceptional vision and insight have to endure, both the good and the bad.

When I disclose or conclude that I am an objectivist, it is only to present a perspective that can allow others to at least begin to understand some of the positions that I may (or may not) hold as legitimate and credible, so as not to have to start once again from the beginning to again explain my positions and philosophy. We can always clarify the differences and exceptions as we speak, but as opposed to communists or socialists, liberal democrats or libertarians, I am comfortable characterizing myself as an objectivist, always recognizing, as everyone should, that this is only a superficial façade, no matter the degree of belief or acceptance that I might hold for any particular aspect of the philosophy.

Having said that, my perspective, my own opinion of the following exigent demands when confronted by morally dire and immediate circumstances, are only a reflection of who I am at the confusing age of 70. I think it important to note that I do not wish to speak for Rand or objectivism with my comments, but the fact remains that objectivism has played, and continues to play, an important role in the way I perceive the world around me.

My philosophy is my own, and once considered and incorporated into my own ideology, what once ‘was’ objectivism is irrevocably mine alone as I continue along my path. I have adopted what I found relevant and legitimate and rejected and reserved many aspects that are yet to be definitively concluded. Objectivism for me, and I would suggest the same for anyone else, is nothing more than a stepping stone in the evolution of an individual, the same as the comments of so many others, be they philosophers, authors, and artists of so many disciplines, as well as friends and enemies alike. They do not tell me what ‘is’ or what to ‘do’, they can only offer insights and information that may ultimately be of value and if so, the determination as to what extent, and how and where to include these bits of information in my own ideology.

There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of these moral challenges that we may never have the opportunity to act upon, but it is in our best interests at times to discuss and contemplate the ‘what-ifs’ that life invariably presents us. Some are quite simple and many are so complex that they seem incomprehensible. We can only make an attempt at perception and comprehension.

One instance, with many variations, is the scenario where someone is drowning and the question is what attempts should be made to save an individual, often someone that is known and loved, but just as often a stranger, or even worse, an enemy. The basic premise is that they are drowning in a calm lake, but at times they are being swept away in a flood or river, or are trapped in a car in the water through an accident or mechanical malfunction. For the most part, it is a simple ‘do you jump in and save the person, and does your relationship with that person impact the decision?

The parameters are somewhat simplistic and vague, and immature as well. There are a multitude of questions that need to be asked and answered, but I have a feeling that the answer should be a split-second decision to help someone in need without thought or consideration. Pretty much the same thought process that goes into self-sacrifice and altruism. Don’t think, just act, because it is the right thing to do. Of course, that is not the case, but I am skeptical that there are certain expectations and a bias towards what the end result ‘should’ be, as opposed to an actual scientific desire for empirical results.

It is not a prerequisite, but the contemplations on what one would do in these situations are events that should be analyzed, when possible, beforehand, at least in a general way, so when something actually happens, the need for prolonged and time-consuming decision-making does not impede the response. This means thinking about what the ‘right thing to do’ actually is, for what reasons, and what one is willing to perform in the event that such a situation occurs.

The problem is that whatever is envisioned, the actual circumstances can be and probably will be, vastly different and more complicated when the event occurs, and the time and effort invested may be worthless to the donor or the recipient. It is important to know the abilities of both parties involved, and the probability of success of the attempt, when that is often impossible to determine. It is so easy for the theoretical participant to respond with the expected answer so as not to invite judgment, condemnation, and vilification for allowing some innocent person to die, but what of the innocence of the altruist agents themselves? I find the whole experiment quite disingenuous to begin with, and not fair to the person being asked to respond.

This whole idea of the morality of such actions is highly suspect since morality is unique and fluid, being based on an intimate and personal interpretation of experience, philosophy, and education. The same is true for obligation, which plays a specific role in this rather contrived experiment. In its own way, it is inarguably coercive in essence since it is a tool to shape and manipulate the responses towards a particular objective. At least that is the way that I interpret it. You may think my position to be a bit paranoid, but I have been watching the machinations of various public and private interests and industries over a lifetime, and I find it difficult if not impossible to ‘chalk-it-up’ to serendipity or incompetence.

There is a strategy in much of what is being presented, in the same way that August Comte had a specific design in mind when he created and developed his sociology and his 'positivism', not to mention his Religion of Humanity. His end game was to ‘reorganize’ and revamp the very morality of humanity itself, and he was blinded by his own ‘vision’ of a perfect Utopian future, notwithstanding the complete loss of self-determination and the extinction of any and all freedoms predicated on the concept of the individual or ‘self’. I really don’t think there is any question with either of these ‘movements’. I simply cannot accept or comprehend how anyone, much less an entire species, can be so incompetent and clueless, so, if we listen to what Sherlock Holmes would say:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains,
no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

I have therefore come to the improbable truth that the game is afoot, and we are the worse for it. Ayn Rand’s own version of this statement invariably comes to mind:

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction,
check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

Words that are both compelling and profound. You can believe whatever it is you desire, but reality plays its own part in the dance. You can simply be wrong, or perhaps delusional. It can be a matter of incompetence or even a matter of comprehension. The worst scenario is that you may also be right, and the coercion you experience can be both real and a threat to freedom and your own future. The question will always remain, specifically ‘what are you going to do about it?’ We will all have to decide at some point.

Speaking of decisions, if someone is drowning, and I am the ‘only’ person that has a chance of being able to help that person, ‘I’ will be the one to determine, through my own abilities and efforts, exactly what should be done, if it should be done, and then I will do what is deemed appropriate. There will be no negotiation from an outside influence, and there will be no compromise to my philosophy and my morality. I will be a hero or a coward, or something in between. It will be my decision, my responsibility, and my obligation. I am not really interested in an outside ‘consultant’. If someone else is there, and has a strong opinion, perhaps I will defer to them and let them decide the fate of another human being.

It is a highly complex set of circumstances we are talking about here, and it will always be a matter of understanding the context of the situation. The reality is that there will probably not be time for a cost/benefit analysis and because of time constraints it is imperative that the process be automatic. The only person that can make such a decision is the individual that is there. No one else has any authority or control over what the individual does or why unless it is a matter of indoctrination or undue psychological influence. Is that what this is about? How can anyone else pass judgment on their eventual actions when they know nothing about either individual involved in the event? People can live for a cause as well as another individual IF THEY SO CHOOSE. Is there some imperative that they make the same decisions that you or I might conclude? There is a high probability that they will not. Your perspective is simply that, ‘your’ own perspective.

The parameters of the event are nothing significantly different than trying to protect one’s family from danger, or the well-used example of the soldier jumping on a hand grenade to shield others from harm. It is not for you to decide. Whether it is a cost analysis, the biggest mistake one can make in their lifetime, or self-sacrifice, many of us think long and hard, before the fact, as to what we may or may not do, so as to not waste time when the circumstance is directly in front of us. Whether the soldier is trying to save the life of his best friend in the military, or he is a bit more philosophical and thinks in some macro context about saving 'country' or 'humanity', we have no insight into their thinking process or abilities and cannot dictate or judge what their actions might be, or their motivation.


The next example is a bit more nuanced, with a complexity that did not exist within the water example. In this scenario, there are not only individuals (any number will do) but the ‘altruist’ as well, basically stranded on a plane without a pilot (for whatever reason) and of course, there are not enough parachutes for everyone, and the plane seems to be going down. This is without question a more immediate disaster and it seems that it will be impossible for everyone to be rescued, possibly including the altruist as well. The option of ‘having’ to make a decision is now not ‘if’ since you cannot remove yourself from the event and walk away which I assume was one of the options in the water episode.

As with all of these experiments, it is not good to think too long or too deeply about the circumstances or you may get lost in the multitude of alternatives as well as the degree to which you get to decide. Most would jump to the conclusion that, like on a sinking ocean liner with a limited number of lifeboats, it’s ‘women and children first!’ or something like that, but our feminist social agenda tells us that there exists an undeniable equality between the sexes so there may remain a consideration for the children but otherwise, everyone else has the same intrinsic value and therefore the same reasons to remain alive. We won’t go into all the reasons why a male may be of more ‘altruistic’ value than a woman, depending on dependents and responsibilities, not to mention abilities and obligations. In any case, we have some decisions that need to be made, or we crash and the ultimate decision is moot.

Everyone on board has to make the decision if they are to ‘sacrifice’ themselves to ensure the parachutes are used to save as many as possible. It is possible that fully half the people might not have parachutes, and yet they could jump in tandem, and although tandem parachutes are of a different design, and certainly larger to distribute the weight, my research tells me that it is possible, even with a normal-sized parachute, for an adult with a child or two smaller adults to conceivably be successful. Considering the alternatives, I would think this a valid option and might be preferable to leaving some to die an unnecessary death. The reality is that this is probably not an option but then again, I would have to know each individual, their weight, their age, and their predisposition to the altruistic concept of self-sacrifice.

This is irrespective of the ability of the other passengers to rationally make decisions, which is not something I see on a regular basis in my daily existence. What if the situation deteriorates into a hysterical free for all? The possibilities are endless. What does this experiment hope to resolve? I find it a hopeless and illegitimate attempt to discover credible and useful information devoid of any reasonable fundamental parameters. The variables are so intense and numerous to make the whole episode ludicrous and irrational.

Do we have an in-depth discussion on criminal records or health histories? Are there any credible metrics that will be acceptable in making decisions? I am wary of the political and ideological ramifications of even participating in such an exercise.


For those seeking an ‘objectivist’ position on sacrifice, I am not sure that there is one. Rand talks of sacrifice in the macro, and while I do not have any first-hand knowledge, I believe that she would frown on the speculation with nothing of significance being offered as the basis for any theorizing. She was quite vocal on the issue of sacrifice within the concept of altruism, and I am confident that she would enjoy speaking in those terms, but certainly not in the context of the ones that are surreptitiously trying to elicit information under what I could only call ‘false pretenses’.

Death is most definitely a possibility in any sacrifice. There is no Objective definition. Dying has very little to do with the scenario or the decision to be made. I would assume, if the decision were mine alone, that I would save my own family without question, and then decide on the others, and by decide, that would entail if I would give them the parachutes, save only the children and possibly the women under specific circumstances. As already stated, I may try to save my own child by trying a tandem jump (which may be successful or not, and yet still my decision to make) and thus give the others the opportunity to do the same.

Just to make it perfectly clear, I owe nothing to anyone besides my family until, and only if I so decide, irrespective if anyone else agrees with me. I would attempt to make a rational decision, by my own morality and philosophical abilities, but if push came to shove, I would fight to the death to implement my own rational perspective as appropriate. We can argue for days about the reasoning behind my actions, and the time we have to discuss and decide would have a bearing on the outcome. I will not allow anyone to dictate my own actions, as I would strive to refrain from dictating to another, and yet the survival of my family, myself, and those ‘others’, in that order, would be my inevitable conclusions. Anything else ‘would’ be irrational.

I see many people often show a total lack of understanding about the Objectivist ideals of happiness and life. They are not defined by any particular individual and were not specifically defined by Ayn Rand. They are under the sole authority of the individuals themselves. With all of the abilities and information, as well as life experience and personal philosophy available to them, they will come to their own decisions and conclusions, and act accordingly. I find that vastly preferable to taking orders from others where I don’t have a clue as to their own motivations or incentives or self-interest.

Superficially, I would agree with the concept of discussing (quickly) with the other ‘participants’ involved but what needs to be understood is that the opinions of ‘other’ people would play little or no part in my own determination. The ‘only’ person who gets to decide ‘my’ happiness or good life would be me, alone, perhaps with input from my wife or child, or friend, or even with the other strangers involved if I am so inclined and we have the time, but ultimately it only generates some value if I agree. Otherwise, it is irrelevant. If I respect that other person, and believe that their perspective may be of some credible substance, I may listen to what they have to say and include their observations in my determinations, but again, it will be my final decision that is of relevance to me.


There is a point that is often made that when on an airplane, the passengers are instructed to secure their own masks in an emergency before assisting others on the plane, whether one’s own child or another adult, known or unknown. I find that to be an appropriate analogy within the argument presented between altruism and rational self-interest.

If we spend our time being altruistic, without any concern for self in any way, only the welfare of others, we will in all probability reduce our chances for survival to an inevitability. We take care of ourselves to ensure that we are able, both physically and psychologically, to be in a position in the future to have the opportunity to help others. That is one of the primary expectations with rational self-interest, that ability to be able to play another day and accomplish yet another positive action over and over again.

If one spends their time helping others without thinking or caring for self, then we sacrifice ourselves to the point of death and are then of no use whatsoever to those that may need us the most. When you are removed from the playing field, you are removing all of those good actions that you ‘could’ have achieved if you had taken care of yourself to extend your own life. That is the essence of objectivism and rational self-interest. Those that think otherwise are completely and ignorantly missing the point. It is a sad reality, that they are so consumed with an obsession to blame and hate others that they cease to learn, they cease to help others, and if they are truly able to negate their own ‘selves’, it would suggest that they possibly cease to exist at all.

I found this observation to be one of the best examples ‘against’ altruism that over the years rings prophetically true. If one does not help themselves first (selfishness certainly is a part of this but is that irrational selfishness or rational self-interest?) then you end up not being able to help anyone else, and we have to ask what does that then accomplish? Nothing, of course. The man who is an advocate of critical thinking and reason may not do what the altruist thinks is appropriate, but the altruist is certainly not an integral part of his decision-making process. Both may do whatever they so choose, I have no authority over either of them, but I do exercise control over myself and those I love, and I will do what makes the most sense, to me, in all cases.

About Auguste Comte

I think it important to revisit Comte on a regular basis as we work our way through the different elements of altruism and self-sacrifice. After all, he is the central figure in the argument since he is the genesis of the concept as it pertains to positivism and the collective paradigm. We will look at him in depth in a later essay, but we cannot forget the part he plays in the conversation.

One of the more intriguing aspects of altruism, and one that is all too often overlooked or dismissed is the idea of reciprocity. The study of ‘reciprocal altruism’ did not exist at the time of Comte, obviously, since he had just developed the concept, but it is inarguable that he would have been angered by the attempt to connect ‘his’ creation and any relation to such an attribute as reciprocity. He believed only in pure altruism, with no expectation or chance of any benefit to the donor of said altruism.

He is said to have remarked that his altruistic ethics, which he formally called Positivism, precluded any hope for reciprocity, feeling that the term, and the action, presented altruism as some kind of commercial transaction between individuals, which he would have rejected without exception.

We must remember that when Comte mentions positivism (aka altruism), he literally interprets these two terms as synonymous. He goes so far as to make the statement that:

“All honest and sensible men, of whatever party (which seems to insinuate
a strong ideological foundation), should agree, by a common consent,
to eliminate the doctrine of rights.
Positivism only recognizes duties, duties of all to all. Placing itself, as it does,
as the social point of view, it cannot tolerate the notion of rights,
for such notion rests on individualism.
We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors,
to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations
increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service.
Where then, in the case of man, is the foundation on which we are able to rest
the idea of rights? That idea, properly viewed, implies some previous efficiency.
However great our efforts, the longest life, well employed, will never be able
to pay back more than a scarcely perceptible part of what we received.
And yet only to our condition of complete payment
could we authorize reciprocity of services.
Rights, then, in the case of man, are as absurd as they are immoral”.

I must admit that I am rarely surprised when involved with an investigation of the collectivist psyche. Not so with August Comte. He never ceases to confound and challenge the reader. Try as I may, he continues to represent an incomprehensible and irrational perspective that we have to recognize was perhaps something of a novelty when first introduced, but quickly lost its luster upon inquiry and contemplation.

On numerous occasions, I have criticized his positions as extreme and, let us say, inappropriate, and with his own words, he irrevocably confirms my worst fears. He ‘presumes’, continually, that ‘all honest and sensible men’ will embrace his own positions without question and negate a ten thousand-year quest to establish rights for the individual, without discussion or debate, and without explanation or the use of reason.

Positivism ‘only recognizes duty’. There are no half-measures in the words of this man. Such an audacious statement from such an irrational perspective. Who defines ‘duty’? Is the concept not as nebulous and elusive as all the other concepts we have looked at? It is a deeply personal and intimate decision through the abilities and efforts of the individual, but he goes on to condemn and reject the notion of rights, for the sole reason that they derive from individualism itself. There is little doubt that he is a radical collectivist, socialist if you will. I applaud his honesty and integrity in admitting his positions openly and specifically, even if I think them to be without reason or legitimacy. It is difficult indeed to find a collectivist today that speaks with such confidence and passion, even if without the fundamentals of reason and credible evidence.

He immediately places a horrible burden and responsibility on each and every one of us, arbitrarily, that can never be reimbursed. It sounds ominously like the concept of original sin that Christianity places on innocence. We become indentured slaves as we slide out of the womb, only to endure a lifetime liability, for something indefinable and an obligation and responsibility that can never be repaid. If that is not a Utopian dream, I don’t know what is. I will ask Comte the same thing I asked of the Catholic Church as a child: ‘what did we do to deserve this’? I refuse to accept culpability for something I did not do, especially when that ‘something’ is never explained or defined. And I certainly will not accept in any guise or grant to Comte, or anyone else for that matter, the authority to dictate some mystical guilt without evidence.

My existence was not of my own making, and if there is an obligation that needs to be placed, I would suggest it was those that created life, and irrefutably are responsible for the results of that five minutes of pleasure. I certainly derived no pleasure, no one asked for my opinion, and I was given no choice, and I accept no responsibility for the actions of others, irrespective of who, and under any circumstances. I was ‘forced’ into existence, and coercion has been anathema to me ever since. Objectivism echoes that sentiment, and altruism only reinforces it and institutionalizes it into the existence of mankind. I do not accept this ‘regeneration of morality’ as it pertains to humanity, even as I agree it is something that is desirable and necessary for man to take the next step into the future. Altruism is not the answer. In fact, it will only ensure that the vision is never realized.

Comte made it quite clear with his comments in ‘A General View of Positivism’ that he was against anything remotely similar to a voluntary trade that could constitute ‘altruism’, whether reciprocal or even a one-sided decision. His point was that:

Morally, the contrast between the [proletarian] workman and the capitalist is
even more striking. Proud as most men are of worldly success, the degree
of moral or mental excellence implied in the acquisition of wealth or power,
even when the means used have been strictly legitimate, is hardly such as to
justify that pride. . . . The life of the [proletarian] workman, on the other hand,
is far more favourable to the development of the nobler instincts.
...it is in the exercise of the higher feelings that the moral superiority of the
working class is most observable. . . . It will hardly be disputed that there
are more remarkable instances of prompt and unostentatious self-sacrifice
at the call of a great public necessity in this class [the working class]
than any in any other.

The bigotry is troubling, to say the least, and very sad. But the honesty is refreshing, even if it reflects badly on the individual. Against rights, against the individual, and yet supportive of the working man, ‘even when’ the means used by the capitalist have been completely legitimate, moral and without exploitation. Amazing. The working class exhibits more nobility and moral superiority, albeit without the production of a single piece of credible evidence to that end. He points to the ‘remarkable instances’ of prompt and unostentatious self-sacrifice when required by great public necessity.

He proclaims that this activity is more evident in this class of people (the workers) than in any other class. It would be amusing if it were not so tragic. I saw no examples of this behaviour then, and it is all but invisible in our societies today, around the world. Nothing but empty rhetoric, the epitome of ignorance and bias. But then again, that is the playbook of the collectivist, and it always has been. Nothing demonstrable, only the vision of a future rich with the abilities and production of others. Sad.

Besides his efforts in producing his voluminous works, he displays nothing of significance in the area of personal altruism. His only ‘gift’ of altruism is in his advice and his direction of the thoughts and actions of others. He believes that altruism needs to be performed unilaterally, meaning that you ‘must’ serve others without any expectation or yearning in any way whatsoever for the recipient of your largesse, your ‘altruism’, to act in any way to return compensation or restitution in any way. I find it fascinating that he believes that the individual owes an eternal debt to those that came before them, that can never be ‘repaid’ but the recipient of altruism should never feel any compulsion to do the same for those that did not cause their unfortunate existence, and actually tried to help them out of the goodness of their hearts.

I see nothing but contradiction in his perspective and his articulation of an impractical ideology of positivism, collectivism, and altruism. I see nothing but irrationalism and hypocrisy. For Comte, the concepts of ‘altruism’, ‘morality’, and ‘self-sacrifice’ are a single ideal, a symbiotic process with a single objective in mind. A superior future humanity through his own philosophy and an inevitable virtual enslavement of every single human being. I would say individuals, but he doesn’t even respect or acknowledge the idea of individualism.

All of these things only confirm that Ayn Rand was indeed correct to question and argue against Comte’s perspective on these issues. Rand understood ‘exactly’ what he was saying, and could clearly see the inevitable consequences and ramifications of his words and his ideology. Not only the failure of a new and regenerated morality for the masses but the extinction of the only one that exists, to the detriment of every single individual.

By Comte's standards, Ayn Rand is justified in her interpretation of his work and his concept of altruism. His writings only confirm that he associates the idea of self-sacrifice with the concept of altruism, and his perspective was that it was the ‘only’ moral ideal that was appropriate and practical. If anyone has the right and opportunity to define the term and the ideology based upon the idea, that would be the person who created and coined the usage of the term altruism, that being Auguste Comte.

Rational self-interest vs selfishness

We are going to cover some basics on the concepts of rational self-interest and selfishness (irrational self-interest) here to give some context to the narrative. This is a huge subject and will be investigated and discussed in another essay. Suffice it to say that altruism and self-sacrifice are a focus of what objectivism rejects without exception, while rational self-interest is the signature concept of what objectivism embraces and embodies with pretty much every aspect of the philosophy. Selfishness is simply a poor excuse and a foil for those that either do not understand what rational self-interest actually means, or comprehends it in depth, and lives in fear that enough individuals will someday embrace the concept, leaving them without any morality at all, with the distinction of experiencing what it means to realize that their life was built upon nothing but misinformation and ignorance, with nothing to replace it.

Ayn Rand struggles, as we all do, with trying to define things as we see them, and not as others want to characterize them, often making irreversible mistakes because they have not invested the time and effort to understand what the speaker has to say. This does not mean that one cannot disagree, and confront and address what they think has been concluded in error. The problem is that they need to also be open-minded and accept that they may be wrong as well, and that creates a much different imperative within the discussion itself. Objectivism is not dogma, but only belief, and we live in a nation that believes in the right and opportunity to practice our own beliefs without the interference by those that have a different perspective. If we can at least agree on that, we may be able to discuss and debate. If not, then it will be nothing more than an attempt at futility, and that rarely results in a positive conclusion.

The focus of our discussion is on Ayn Rand and Auguste Comte, at least in the matter of altruism and self-sacrifice. As we move into rational self-interest, Comte releases his immediacy and relevance, and we need to focus, not on personal perspectives, but on that of Rand herself, and investigate what she believes and why, not the reasons why one does not wish to, or cannot, understand her positions. There is more than enough time and space to criticize her philosophy and ideology. Let us do so in a reasonable and respectful manner, and maybe, just perhaps, we can share and teach and learn simultaneously. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

So we are going to focus our discussion on the insights and observations of Ayn Rand. It is about both what she said and what she meant. I am not particularly interested if someone disagrees with her positions, but more ‘why’ you disagree, and whatever evidence and reasoned argument you can provide. Otherwise, how can any of us determine if what was said is credible and legitimate, and give some valid response to answer the question of what she may have proposed in error in the minds of some?

Disagreement is by no means definitive as to something being right or wrong, only that two individuals do not have the same perspective. I think it important to note that things are rarely a matter of a black and white or a right or wrong issue, but that ‘both’ of the participants can be right or wrong to differing degrees. Perhaps they are both right and maybe they could both be wrong as well. If you do not reserve the right to investigate and possibly adjust your position, then you are not a critical thinker and not arguing the issues in good faith. That’s your bad. I am listening and willing to ‘evolve’ my position, but without the existence of any evidence or a strongly reasoned argument, that will simply never happen.

I am not in the habit of changing my mind for the simple reason that someone disagrees with me. I have found my perspective has changed many times, even years after the initial engagement with someone with whom I had a conflict. As data is received and held, it can eventually be the difference in the imperative to adjust that position. You have to realize that as you argue. You are not attempting to win an argument today, but to get that adversary only to actually think and consider it at some point in the future. It is part of a process that culminates in the acquisition of data that comes from our search for truth, or at least as much of it as we can ascertain. If what you say has value and substance, and the individual is of reasonable and willing personality, the chance always exists that you may influence them at some point tomorrow, or a day not yet here. If acting the fool, it may well be dismissed and discarded, never to play another day.

Rand was often characterized as somewhat extreme, and I would be the first to acknowledge her passion and her combativeness. I always wonder how many people could take the vitriol and relentless ad hominem attacks that she had to endure. I myself have experienced some of that opposition in my own life. I was prepared, for the most part, as I am sure that Rand was as well, and yet it can be debilitating and exhausting at times. I would suggest cutting her some slack and focusing on the words and concepts contained in her work, and questioning those things, instead of making it a personal vendetta, which is difficult to dismiss if you have watched the confrontations over the years.

It is true that these attacks rarely take place with a one-on-one interview or discussion, but I have read hundreds of books, articles, and countless chats and threads that were unforgiving in their positions, uninformed in their information, disrespectful in their observations and comments, and certainly without compassion, empathy or understanding in their contested encounters. Totally inappropriate and a terrible reflection, not on Rand but on themselves. If there is such a thing as ‘professional behaviour’ in the context of human beings, that rarely exists online, and surprisingly, in print as well, even in newspapers and periodicals.

Having said that, I would have to agree that Rand was often not as right as she perceived herself to be, and on quite a few issues, but she was more passionate than many give her credit for, which is easily misinterpreted as dogmatic or ‘black and white’. I don’t disagree completely but tend to give her the benefit of the doubt because I have read so much of what she wrote, and I think I have an insight into her perspective. I also would have to question where that black-and-white perception comes from. If it is from her fiction, then it is somewhat moot, since it ‘is’ in fact fiction. If it were from her non-fiction, I would welcome the opportunity to find out exactly what information was instrumental in bringing about those same conclusions.

It would also be beneficial to look more at the philosophy than the person when talking about objectivism. She was certainly human, and fallible, but complex and consistent, and comprehensive. A genius in her own right, and a force to be reckoned with. Fifty years after her death, her book sales are without equal, the debates on her issues continue, and the concept of objectivism leaves Auguste Comte and collectivism far behind as historical failures, in both philosophy and practicality.

In any case, her notion of ‘love’ is her own, as it is for all of us. There are those that accept abuse and S&M as perfectly normal when I would probably not agree. It would be an intensely interesting conversation to discuss her assumed foibles.

Those that interpret Ayn Rand's words and actions as viewing other people simply as tools for achieving personal happiness only demonstrate a disturbing ignorance and bias. Some have said that she should ‘celebrate’ altruism and try to be a good person as a source of happiness in and of itself. This, of course, is what she and other objectivists try to do every day, although probably not in the same way or for the same reasons. It is important to understand that not everyone has the same perspectives, motivations, or expectations when it comes to achieving ‘happiness’.

When they comment about Rand viewing others as tools, or as a ‘means’ to some indefensible ‘end’, I find it unfortunate and highly disrespectful to her as well as to me and to objectivists anywhere. That may be the intent, and if so, is only a reflection of an underdeveloped morality. How people that promote altruism can treat others so cavalierly is beyond me. It seems to be the epitome of contradiction.

If altruism and simply being a good person is a ‘source of happiness in and of itself’ then why is it wrong if the objectivist does the same exact thing with different motivations, different actions, and different expectations, with satisfaction, achievement, and happiness a possibility at every step of the way?

I was under the impression, at least according to Auguste Comte, that there was supposed to be no personal ‘happiness’ involved at any time in the whole process of altruism. Happiness is selfishness. I find an apparent inconsistency with the altruist perspective. They need to be more careful, as the more they speak the more evident the contradictions.

There is something of a misconception about rational self-interest. Some individuals think that the objectivist perspective believes that everything is ultimately done for the self when that is only partly true. The reality is that it is done ‘primarily’ for the ‘self’, with the caveat being that it is done with the hope and recognition that it will also, as a secondary attribute, be of some benefit to those around us. We improve ourselves, whether it be our health, our success, our education, or our experiences, and expect that this development or evolution brings positive results. The intent is to share and teach others as well as impact our own evolution, resulting in a benefit to all involved, even if not in a manner and manifestation expected or desired by some outside influence that has no relevance in the paradigm whatsoever.

Doing for yourself and doing for others is in fact equivalent, as long as the concept of value exists in that other person, as it does when you do things for yourself. If you don’t value yourself, then of course you may well sacrifice yourself for others since they all possess a value greater than your own. It makes sense in a perverted fashion, but not what the objectivist is actually looking for. Therefore, if there is no acknowledgment of value in ‘self’, then sacrificing to anyone and anything is completely (and insanely) appropriate. Otherwise, not so much.

In that vein, I remember a comment made which tried to make the point that ‘doing for others creates a multiplier effect that purely selfish behavior can never gain’. I found the statement to be quite narrow-minded on any number of levels. First of all, if the individual is ‘doing good’ without coercion, they are not being altruistic, only generous or charitable, but I think we have covered that enough for now, and if truly altruistic, it can return no degree of happiness, pleasure or satisfaction (as per Comte) and that would be difficult to argue the action is going to result in a repeatable activity that will continue to bring benefit to others or create that ‘multiplier effect’ so nonchalantly inserted into the narrative.

Generosity and the use of ‘vanilla’ altruism, through the use of objectivism, does, in fact, result in a feeling of accomplishment and actual assistance, and it is that feeling of pleasure and satisfaction that may well result in the individual ‘wanting’ (remember, 'wanting' is not allowed in altruism) to repeat the action to once again experience that pleasure, which releases, naturally, into the system, the chemicals of Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and even Oxytocin. If there are no positive outcomes or consequences, I fail to see why an individual would desire to repeat the activity. The whole idea of effort expended for no discernable reason whatsoever is irrational and impractical and does not suggest a beneficial change in behaviour.

Those same individuals that wish to criticize selfishness (although I would be arguing rational self-interest as a counterpoint) as probably the worst way to generate a return on one’s personal actions are completely missing the point. From my perspective, it is the ‘only’ way to generate a positive outcome.

If doing things for others is the ‘only’ choice, I would have to believe the perspective to be irrational to an extreme degree. If doing something because it makes you happy and satisfied is the incentive and the motivation, then you can do it all you want and accomplish both a benefit for yourself and a benefit for others. I truly find it incomprehensible why so many are so confrontational about such a choice. There is an opportunity to do something positive all day long, every day if you wish. There just needs to be a reason why you do so. If you are doing so for no definable reason, that sounds grossly irrational and inevitably self-destructive. If it eventually and inevitably means that you are not here to make those decisions, then who will do the good things that you want to do? If self is irrelevant, then it will at some point come to an end, and probably prematurely. It all seems so obvious. Does nothing of this make any sense?

This multiplier that is spoken of is exactly what the objectivist (or anyone else) can do if and when they so choose. But it always comes down to choice. They don’t have to, and no one should be coerced into doing anything they are not comfortable with. Is there really any disagreement on this? Should force be an acceptable answer to difficult alternatives? If you do it because you want to, that is a choice. If you do it because you are shamed or intimidated or directed to do so, perhaps indoctrinated, then it is irrational and criminal. You do not have to do things to get recognition or influence or wealth or rewards of any kind. You can be anonymous if you so choose, I just want it to be through one’s own choice and nothing else.

There is no conflict here, except for the one being fabricated by the opposition to Rand and objectivism. The objectivist will ‘never’ tell you ‘not’ to be altruistic, only that it should be by your own decision and conclusion. There will be no force, but so many of the comments that I have seen, seem to insinuate that I have to do what ‘they’ think is correct, irrespective if I agree or not. There is a degree of force and coercion in that position, without question or argument. If the intent is not coercion, then there is no argument, and the point is moot, but if there is intimidation or shaming, bullying or ‘cancellation’ with loss of job and career and possibly even family to the point of losing your life, then we have an irrefutable and truly fundamental problem with the differences we are talking about. If you think these things do not exist, then your position is more incomprehensible and irrational than I thought.

A point of confusion and frustration that I repeatedly have to address is the collectivist or altruist that claims that service to others is in one’s own rational self-interest, but that is the point. They say the objectivist is selfish and there is no consideration for ‘others’ when they have it all mixed up. The objectivist renounces ‘selfishness’ and ‘exploitation’ and the ‘taking of advantage’ of another, and promotes and supports service to others that indeed ‘is’ in their own self-interest, while from what I see, those that actively pursue those negative attributes just mentioned are not objectivists at all, and more likely to be their opposition, demanding activity from others (objectivists) that they are unwilling to do themselves. It is kind of crazy, but demonstrably so. There is no credible evidence that any real objectivist acts in such a way as so often depicted. None. Ever. It’s all been a great case of mistakes or misinformation, or a great big lie. Not cool.

Rand does not say and has never said that service to others is rejected or even ‘frowned’ upon, only that it is not a duty or an obligation unless the individual makes that decision, and that it should never be the reason for one’s existence. I have probably offered up this quote but I find it relevant and illustrative of what we are discussing;

"Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar.
That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist
without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life,
dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you.
The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life
and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man
is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal.
Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.”
Altruism says: “Yes.”"

Philosophy: Who Needs It
“Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” (61)

Such an excellent quote, and the actual words of Rand herself, instead of all of this paraphrasing and taking short clips out of context. So disingenuous. She is spot on, as she often is. If I gave that ‘dime’ to every beggar I see on the street, it would cost me thousands every year. If I gave $19 to every charity I see on television it would be tens of thousands every year. I am not a wealthy man, I would then be on the street asking for assistance, much the same as these other ‘unfortunates’. I would inevitably become a burden on the society that I would like to fix. Rand has some answers. The fact they do not work at this point in time is arguable. It worked for me. I know it works for others, I have seen it.

The answer to the issue is the removal of those same 'unfortunates' and helping them achieve ‘fortunate’ status. It can be done, perhaps not for every single one, but I would believe we could change the paradigm for a vast majority of them if we really wanted to. Do we? Perhaps there are those that are happy with the status quo? We need to determine and identify those individuals and do something about it. What? I am not sure, what would you suggest?

The problem with capitalism and those individuals, who are inappropriate players and not representative of objectivism, are neither believers in Rand's ideology nor her philosophy, are nothing but opportunists and the worst kind of human beings that rape our system and our lives. These businessmen and industrialists are obviously not represented by Rand’s heroes but are the antithesis of everything that morality and objectivism stand for. It is the politicians that ‘we’ hire that help those same inappropriate players with their selfish motives and actions, and I mean both business and our representation. Nothing that is wrong is accomplished without the complete support and knowledge of those same politicians, and the issues will never be resolved until that problem is addressed and confronted.

As Rand said, it is not about giving someone a dime, it is the initiation of force involved in that giving that is the issue. Freedom does not come from self-absorbed legislation. Ironically, it comes from within, from moral and ethical concepts adopted and practiced by everyone. If you cannot find a way to do that, your laments will be lost in the mists of time.

The issue of ‘psychological egoism’ has surfaced from time to time. An excellent subject to invest some time and effort into investigating and discussing, but more than we have to offer at this time. While it ‘is’ a precursor to Rand’s concept of rational self-interest, I believe that it is not as comprehensive as what she eventually was able to develop. The possibility that I may be wrong is never far from my mind. With that in mind, a comment was offered that motivation is not morality. The fact that an individual values ‘X’ does not necessarily turn that something into a survival trait by any rational standard. I must admit to some confusion and skepticism when I heard such a comment. For clarity and context, I looked to qcc.cuny.edu for some information:

First, psychological egoism is a theory about the nature of human motives.
Psychological egoism suggests that all behaviors are motivated by self-interest.
In other words, it suggests that every action or behavior or decision
of every person is motivated by self-interest.
It also suggests that every action must be motivated by self-interest.

On the surface, it certainly is reminiscent of what Rand had to offer. We have to remember that this remains a ‘theory’ in essence, and exceptions abound, I am sure. But it is about motives, so the original comment about motivation is valid. The problem is that I found nothing to relate that motivation to morality. Morality is ethical reasoning, and self-interest does not insinuate the creation or development of any moral fundamentals, only in things that are perceived as in one’s own interest, and there is no direct connection to reason as well, that is a prerequisite in the formation of any legitimate philosophy or morality. The intent to be objective in the development of said morality is admirable, but constantly in conflict with the subjective essence of the individual. I find the implied relationship to be somewhat vague and at least at the moment, without any credibility. But, as always, I am listening.

Motivation may not be morality, but morality certainly directs motivation and action. While value X may not further your survival, if it is instrumental to your survival, it certainly will support the actions. Reason is a component. For those who act irrationally, it inevitably ends in failure and possible death, but of course perhaps not ‘always’. The same with reason. Invariably it will support success towards survival, but that is not an absolute either. A person can act rationally and still die from an accident or disease, as well as other faulty beliefs or actions. Absolutes are difficult to predict. I am not sure many even exist.

There are those that believe there exists an interdependence between people, including the other creatures that inhabit this earth and the ecosystems that create the environment where we attempt to exist and to even thrive. They say that this seems to indicate that this ‘self’ that we discuss may be a more comprehensive and expansive concept than simply the mere ‘human body’ that a person may possess, and in this, I find no real contradictions, although I must question what it is that they attempt to portray.

This ‘interdependence’ indeed exists, but only to the extent and importance that we decide for ourselves, and there is no objective or absolute imperative at play here. While it is true that if we make faulty determinations, we can cause complications to the point of extinction, but there is no one authority or intellect or philosophy that can say with any legitimacy that they know the implications of the necessary behaviour that ‘should’ be taken to ensure pretty much anything.

To talk of ‘self’ in the physical sense is a gross misunderstanding when it comes to self since it is actually in this sense of the psychological and spiritual self where the real comprehension of what self represents impacts our every thought and action, and ultimately, the determination of what form that this interdependence means. Self is the genesis of who and what we are, individually, and ultimately as a, dare I say, mutually agreed upon ‘collective’ of intent and expectation. We derive our very thoughts and actions, our philosophy and our morality, directly from what that ‘self’ eventually determines to be the ‘good’ and ‘the right thing to do’, inevitably resulting in our ethical behaviour, the essence of our character, and the ability to reflect all of these things in an impeccable integrity, or as close as we can achieve, that will direct us and allow us to live a life of value and substance.

These same individuals make the observation that this interdependence demands that we rely on one another, which is true in a sense, but it quickly devolves into yet another discussion on the obligations of one individual to another, with the issue of sacrifice to ensure that we all ‘flourish’ when that may be the expectation, but it is not a rational one. Reality demands we recognize that this is not always possible, and to place one individual in debt to another, or worse yet, to ‘all’ others, is destructive and irrational, and yet something that millions believe, without a reasoned argument or legitimate evidence of any kind.

The observation continues that at some point if it were in the best interests of the ‘whole’ to do so, there would be an imperative for the individual ‘me’ to once again sacrifice for the ‘greater’ me. The narrative seems to inevitably degenerate into the same conflict no matter the initial concept. There is an obsession with control and power of one individual or some small group over the entirety of the human experience for the implicit intention of having them act in accordance with whatever ideology exists, and ‘always’ for the same reason, and that would be some form of Utopian existence where there will be no want, no fear, no need, no suffering and, of course, no freedom, no choice, and no independent thinking. We have heard it all before, much too often, and it never works, and it never will.

It’s an interesting concept, this individual me and this greater me, but again, I have to think that this greater vs individual me is relatable to the ‘greater good’ that so many collectivists et al seem to talk about (but rarely exhibit in their own personal behaviour). The individual ‘good’ and the individual ‘me’, when multiplied by the millions of individuals, will inevitably produce what can be seen as the greater good since it is a ‘good’ for each individual, it is only reasonable that when multiplied by enough individuals it becomes the ‘good’ for a unique form of the collective, which in essence is a ‘greater good’ as an end, derived from the individual ‘good’, which in this case is a legitimate ‘means’. The greater ‘me’ is the collective of the individual ‘me’, and it derives from a multiplicity of individuals of moral character and ethical behaviour with impeccable integrity based on the individual paradigm. Without that impeccable individual, there can be no ‘collective’ of any value or substance anyway.

The collectivist wishes to start from the perspective of the actual 'collective' and fill it with valuable individuals but never speaks of where these individuals of value come from. My own view is that the imperative is that we start with the ‘individual’, working to create a legitimate, impeccable, and unique sub-segment of society, whose members, are then added to the initial existing ‘pool’ and we evolve 'up' to a substantial number of members which inevitably constitute the desired ‘collective’. One starts from the top and has no idea where the value comes from while the other works on one specific ‘known’ individual at a time and determines 'value' and builds from those fundamentals until they reach the desired levels. I think it is much more practical and rational than the collective vision.

In any case, if there was the sacrifice of one 'self' to the other, it would have to be consensual, personal and through individual choice and independent decision and conclusion, and it seems obvious that these are not concepts that are willingly accepted by the collective as valid.

The bottom line is that we are actually reluctant to do so for the ‘best interests’ or greater good as it is normally characterized, but for deeply unique and personal philosophical positions derived from reasonable assumptions based on personal experience, contemplation, and education. It is the strength of the individual independence and unique perspective, dare I say, the ‘diversity’ of individualism, that give substance and value and legitimacy to the final result, and it is not simply subservient obedience and an intellectual resignation that someone else is determining the future of all individuals, which will inevitably end in nothing more than additional pain and suffering.

. . . . . and she (Rand) would indeed have ‘none of it’. Nor will I.

© Copyright 2023 Lone Cypress Workshop (lonecypress at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2293490-Altruistic-Considerations