On Ethics and Politics

Is man not capable of love if he embraced the morality of self-interest? Only the man who loves himself and who knows his values is capable of loving others, albeit not indiscriminately.

A blog commenter named Pecier Decierdo asked me the following: “Kindly define “altruism”. Because as far as my knowledge of Ayn Rand’s philosophy goes, I find her definition of altruism unfair. For example, in one interview, Ayn Rand says that she if she can prove that heaven exists, then she is willing to die just to defend and speak in behalf of her dead husband in front of St. Peter. And quite expectedly, Rand does not consider such an act altruistic. However for most people committing suicide in order to be able to tell St. Peter how good person your loved one is is an act of altruism. Another example. Ayn Rand clearly believes that a parent’s devotion to her offspring is not a act of altruism. To Rand, when a mother is willing to defend her child to the death, she is defending what is for her a thing of great value, and so, in effect, she is not an altruist when she lays down her life for her child.”

And defended his ethics founded on “humanity, love, ambition, honesty, the courageous search for truth and a healthy skepticism.” He added: “No, these are not Judeo-Christian values, these are classical pagan values. My ethics is way closer to Socrates than to Christ. Notice that I included skepticism. That’s not a Christian value, it’s anti-Christian. Also note my inclusion of ambition, another anti-Christian value. Another virtue I adhere to that I forgot to include is pride. Again, pride is anti-Christian. In fact, it is one of Christianity’s “mortal sins”.

Here’s my response:

It is important to read Ayn Rand’s books to understand what she meant by altruism and when she said she was willing to die just to defend her husband and speak in behalf of him before St. Peter. Did you watch the entire interview? Altruism means you have to sacrifice your life to other people regardless of their value. The keyword here is sacrifice. But when you give your life to the one you love- to someone you really value- that’s not sacrifice. That’s not altruism, which means sacrificing your life to a non-value.

That’s why Ayn Rand said the following:

“There are two moral questions which altruism lumps together into one “package-deal”: (1) What are values? (2) Who should be the beneficiary of values? Altruism substitutes the second for the first; it evades the task of defining a code of moral values, thus leaving man, in fact, without moral guidance. Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.”

Altruism is simply defined as a selfless concern for the welfare of others. The keyword here is “selfless.” Here’s the Wikipedia definition of altruism. “Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self interest. Auguste Comte’s version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an ‘altruist.’”

Ayn Rand strictly followed the standard definition of altruism. She wrote the following:

“What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

“Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

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

I really find it hard to believe that you still don’t understand the meaning and concept of altruism. I’d like to know the reason why you regard Ayn Rand’s treatment and definition of altruism as “unfair.”

Allow me to evaluate your understanding of morality. Ethics is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions. The primary question that needs to be addressed is this: why does man need a code of values?

Where do we derive our code of morality? The answer is from reality and its relation to man’s nature. This process establishes the primacy of existence over consciousness. If you want to live on earth as a human being, you need to have a code of morality that must not contradict reality, your nature and rights. So what I’m saying now is that Ethics comes after these two branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. Man’s code of morality should not contradict his metaphysics and epistemology.

What comes after ethics? The answer is politics, which determines the relationship among men and defines a proper social system for man. This branch of philosophy is founded on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. This symbiotic relationship between these three branches is based on the theory of man’s nature and of man’s relationship to existence.

Ethics is very important because it determines the survival of man on earth. I repeat, if one wants to live as a rational human being he had to consciously define his philosophy  and establish a set of code of values that should not contradict metaphysical reality and his own existence.

Now let me discuss here why altruism is evil that must be rejected, and why rational self-interest is the only proper morality or code of ethics for man. Again, altruism is a specific word with specific meaning. It means the sacrifice of one’s self to others, to God, to the state, or to any group of savages. In politics, the morality of altruism is only possible in a tribe, state, or territory that regards man as the “means to the ends of others.” Consider the slave pens of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, and other collectivist territories on earth.

Ayn Rand explicitly explained the virtue of selfishness or the morality of rational self-interest: She wrote:

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rationalinterests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value. (The Objectivist Ethics, The Virtue of Selfishness, p.31).

According to her there are three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics, and these are Reason, Purpose, and Self-esteem, which have the following corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, and Pride.

If man wants to live a decent life, he must embark on “productive work”; he ought to make it the central objective of his life. Productive work, Ayn Rand said, is the most important value that determines and integrates “the hierarchy of all his other values.” On the other hand, the source of man’s productive work is “reason”, while the corollary is man’s “pride.” (The Objectivist Ethics,The Virtue of Selfishness, p.25).

Throughout man’s history the political slogans of altruism were the following: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”- “service of the greatest good for the greatest number”- “national interest before individual interest”- “country above self”, among many others. Every dictator on earth regarded man’s life as a mortgage on the good of the state or others. But why is it good to serve the interests and welfare of others and it is evil if you try to serve your own. Under a self-sacrificing code of morality, personal interest is evil, while collective interest is the standard of the good.

Is it hard to understand the evil of altruism? This self-sacrificing morality can be viewed from both social and political perspectives. It condemns the individual before he is born. It is based on the concept that wealth or value is either intrinsic or subjective. The first (intrinsic theory of value) defines the good as inherent in certain actions or goods, regardless of their results and conditions, regardless of any injury or benefit they may cause to subjects or actors involved. Intrinsic theory removes the concept of good from beneficiaries, and the concept of value from purpose and the valuer, asserting that the good is good in, by, and of itself. On the other hand, subjective theory states that the good is innate in man’s consciousness, independent of reality.

If man’s understanding of value is either based on intrinsic or subjective theories of value, the only way to force goods or wealth is by sacrificing others to men. It’s no surprise that the engineer of the Nazi gas chambers, Adolf Eichman, was a Kantian. If a society believed that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness, the only logical social or political result of this kind of mentality are invasion and force. If a society held that the good resides in man’s consciousness, the result of this mentality is slavery.

In a political context, altruism can be used to produce goods and wealth by means of force and faith. Altruism as an ethical system can be used to establish slavery or some sort of social immolation by forcing people to sacrifice their lives to others or to the state (e.g., North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela). It can also be used to produce a society of lemmings- of people who have wholeheartedly accepted that it is their duty to sacrifice their lives to others or to their god (e.g., Iran, the radical Islamists, and suicide bombers).

Altruism is against reason and man’s nature and rights. It is incompatible with the politics of capitalism, which I consider the most moral and most practical political and economic system on earth. Any man or woman who embraced altruism as his/her code of ethics would not only act against his nature, but also against the rights of others and against reality. For example, an altruist businessman who believes in serving the interest of the poor by selling at a loss or hires incompetent people simply because they need jobs would go bankrupt in just a matter of days or months. Charity and altruism are opposites. In fact altruism makes charity or any act of voluntary kindness impossible. Altruism imposes duty, while charity involves a voluntary act.

Try to evaluate your code of ethics founded on humanity, love, ambition, honesty, the courageous search for truth and a healthy skepticism. Check your premise. The proper question here is: What is your standard of value? Is it the individual or the collective? It should be either/or. It’s either the INDIVIDUAL or OTHERS. There should be no compromise when it comes to a man’s ethical system. You cannot compromise the rights and nature of man by accepting contradicting premises and a package deal of nice-to-hear abstractions like love, humanity, ambition, etc. A code of ethics must be very specific. This is the reason why I reject Platonian code of ethics because of its mysticism and its rejection of reality.

A morality founded on “humanity, love, ambition, honesty, the courageous search for truth and a healthy skepticism” is a good example of the fallacy of package-dealing. Ayn Rand defined this fallacy as the failure to discriminate crucial differences, and it “consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or “package,” elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value.” (“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 24.)

When you say humane, the question is humane to whom?- by what standard or principles? Rational self-interest is the only moral and practical ethical system because it is consistent with man’s nature and his relation to reality. It is this kind of ethical system that can fulfill man’s pursuit of happiness. Do not confuse self-interest with self-defeating or self-destructive greed. Self interest means a man or an individual is an end in himself and not the means to the ends of others. If man wants to live properly as a human being, he had to embrace self-interest as his code of morality, reason as his only absolute, and the pursuit of happiness as his goal.

Why must we embrace rational self-interest as our code of morality? Because it enables man to live as a human being and not a sacrificial animal to be immolated for the sake of others or any political cause like common good, public welfare, greater good, etc. And because what is good to a single individual is good to everybody. A businessman who cheats his consumers in order to unjustly enrich himself is not working on his own interest, but on his own destruction. A looting or corrupt politician cannot exist in a just, rational society. This is the reason why we must all be interested in politics and careful about choosing the wrong political system. In a corrupt, self-sacrificing society, wicked and corrupt politicians are likely to escape punishment with impunity. In fact it even rewards incompetent, corrupt, and wicked individuals. Consider the case of Soviet Russia that mass-murdered the men of ability and of self-esteem for the fact that these kind of men could not be controlled.

What did you mean when you said love is part of your code of ethics– and what is your standard of love? Are we to love everybody regardless of his/her own flaws or imperfection?

Is man not capable of love if he embraced the morality of self-interest? Only the man who loves himself and who knows his values is capable of loving others, albeit not indiscriminately.

The standard of love is “self”. For if you ask a man to love everybody, then you’re trying to force him to love nobody at all, because you’re asking the impossible. A man who knows his values and who values himself is the only person who is capable of love, which cannot be given as a token of charity or good will.

How is altruism related to a mangled concept of love or humanitarianism? Did you not know that it is those who preach unconditional and indiscriminate love who try to pervert the meaning of this kind of personal, strong affection? Did you not know that the so-called prophet on the mount preached the gospel of “loving one another” as a standard of virtue? You cannot love everybody for this altruistic deed demands the impossible. Forcing oneself to love other people regardless of their virtues or values is tantamount to an act of treason to “self” or “ego”. It’s a self-sacrificing form of affection that cannot be practiced properly and morally. And it is these collectivist/altruist mantras that brought great destruction to the world: “Love of God” during the Dark Ages- “unconditional love of country” or nationalism, which was invented in Europe in the 19th century- “love of others”, which is the collectivist bromide in such statist slave pens as North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and China- and “love of Allah”, which is the sole motivation of the radical Islamists to rule the world as commanded by their nomadic prophet.

Consider the following videos on sacrifice and altruism created by Richard Gleaves, an admirer of Ayn Rand. Gleaves produced an amazing documentary of John Galt’s speech in Rand’s bestselling book Atlas Shrugged.



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