For many years, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that I seemed to be more put together than some of my friends, and that I produced work of higher quality than many around me. I felt guilty that I made and had money, and that I didn’t give more of it away. I felt guilty that I desired…things, people, and reputation. This guilt continued and grew as I started to further earn my own way and strive for excellence in my life. Through my upbringing, my religion, and the culture, I was made to feel that the truly great were those who gave up everything for those around them. They gave up their lives, their fortunes, and their souls. They were the saints.
No matter what good I performed, no matter how well I did in my pursuits, I was not moral unless I sacrificed myself and my well-being for the sake of others. I needed to give more and be less selfish. Moreover, I was made to look at all those around me with want, with disease, and with misfortune, and feel guilty that I wasn’t helping them. How can I be happy when I am not doing enough? It was my duty to give to the masses, to the detriment of myself.
I don’t feel that way anymore. Not because I have given it all away, but because I see that this is a false morality. It is a morality that demands of those who produce to give to those who don’t. This morality assumes that what a person has (including what he creates) is not really his. It is a mindset that what you produce, defacto belongs to others. This is the morality of altruism, and it is evil. Altruism is different than benevolence. Benevolence is when I freely donate my time and energy to something or someone because I WANT to. Altruism goes much further, it assumes that what you have, or what you’ve created or produced belongs to others. Further, altruism holds that if you think you are entitled to your own stuff, than YOU are evil.
Many religions and cultures falsely hold that this attitude is a good one. It is an unenlightened view. You see, when it is expected that those who have (whether they have earned it or not) should give all of it at the expense of themselves, then there is the corollary that those without have the right to someone else’s labor, wealth, and stuff.
With respect to altruism, we have to examine the second and third order effects. What must be examined about altruism with respect to those with a human intellect is, “why aren’t others taking care of themselves?” and “when an altruistic person sacrifices himself for the sake of others, then how does this affect the others’ behavior and mindset in the long run?” The answer to both questions, is that others will begin not only to rely on the altruistic being, but will actually EXPECT that they perform this behavior. This is an expectation of entitlement that is evil through and through. And when you assume that nothing you produce belongs to you, and subsequently believe that what others have is yours because you are in greater need, then creation, hard work, and brilliance lose their value.
This type of thinking was epitomized recently when President Barack Obama said “You didn’t build that.” With these simple words, the President summarized a cultural attitude: that what you produce isn’t yours, and that without a force compelling others to help you, you won’t succeed. If what you produce is not yours and yours alone, then there is no value in it. This is different than the fact that when you accomplish something, you receive help and cooperation from others. Of course you do! However, those that help expect that their toil will benefit them; generally, they aren’t helping as a donation to you, but they voluntarily agree to help you to benefit themselves in some way. What is evil is thinking that anyone has a duty to help you (they don’t). Even more evil is the belief that someone (usually someone with the force to do so…like the government) can compel you to produce for others (the government does, but it shouldn’t). In short, we naturally use our self-interest and cooperation to mutually benefit each other.
Objectivism, the philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand, staunchly opposes altruism. Altruism produces many immoral beliefs, which in the end encourage those in power to forcibly take from those who produce value and give it to those who don’t.
Here at The Heroic Stoic, I propose that we should live as heroes. By a hero, I mean that I should live my life as a beacon to myself. As this type of hero, I strive for excellence in my field for the sake of excellence, with full knowledge that it is for my satisfaction and my benefit only. To give to another is my choice…period. Because it is my choice, that is what makes it good. This, in my opinion is a very Objectivist attitude. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand summarized this heroism best with this oath of life:
“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
I read a definition of altruism that states that the opposite of altruism is selfishness. This is not true at all. The opposite of altruism, in my opinion, is liberty. Liberty is the choice to produce, create, and work for the sake of myself. Every individual working for himself creates an environment of excellence and cooperation.
Liberty produces heroes, altruism creates villains.