Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Thoughts...

"We believe that the ability to perceive other people's actions as meaningful is critical for altruism"- Dharol Tankersley.

Michael Moore in his "Capitalism-A Love Story" movie - featured Jonas Salk as giving away his polio vaccine (not getting a patent). An awesome act of altruism. Yet Ayn Rand said altruism is evil. Either she is using a different definition from what is commonly in use - or she was completely wrong (about that).

Every now and then I feel led to attend the Quaker Meeting in Bloomington, IN. It's a good Meeting - lots of interesting people. So today I went.

What I like about the Meeting is that there is no preacher - there is silence for an hour except for when people feel moved to speak. It can be very interesting how the messages relate to each other.

Anyway - I had Libertarianism and Ayn Rand on my mind. So it struck me at the Meeting today how polar-ly opposite Ayn Rand's philosophy is from many Quaker concepts. Rand said that people can not be harsh enough of those who push(ed) altruism as a virtue. She said that the Nazis and Russian Communists pushed altruism among their people - that every dictator promoted altruism. And at the same time - she thinks that local and national defense are the only reasonable use of taxes.

Self-sacrifice in the promotion of Nationalism - is often how wars are encouraged by politicians upon citizens. That is not what most people think of as altruism. Yet that seems to be the argument she uses to argue against it. On the one hand she promotes a strong national defense - on the other she doesn't think anyone should sacrifice themselves to take part in it. If anything is sacrifice - it's war. If she was so against the use of self-sacrifice by Nazi Germany, etc. - why would she be for any army?

Quakers are known for their altruism. Quakers were the first to push for the abolition of slavery - and were very involved in the underground railroad. Quakers work for peace, justice and non-violence all over the world. They adopt simple living since ridiculous consumption has many negative consequences. Quakers are known for their pacifism and not only do not join the military but some will withhold that portion of their taxes that support the military - as a form of protest.

Janet Scott, A Quaker wrote, "We know ourselves as individuals but only because we live in community. Love, trust, fellowship, selflessness are all mediated to us through our interdependence."

Ayn Rand said that "being selfish increases self esteem".

Tania Lacomte studying self-esteem found that contributing factors included:
security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence (An intervention with these goals in mind was developed in Qu├ębec, Canada to help those with Schizophrenia). Most of those qualities have little to do with selfishness.

From Wikipedia: (Researchers have found that violence is often linked to high self-esteem.)

"The most hostile group was the one with high but unstable self-esteem. These people think well of themselves in general, but their self-esteem fluctuates. They are especially prone to react defensively to ego threats, and they are also more prone to hostility, anger, and aggression than other people. [...] The bully has a chip on his shoulder because he thinks you might want to deflate his favorable self-image." — Roy Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, 1997

"Violent criminals often describe themselves as superior to others - as special, elite persons who deserve preferential treatment. Many murders and assaults are committed in response to blows to self-esteem such as insults and humiliation." —Rajbir Singh, Psychology of Wellbeing, 2007

Interestingly - Ayn Rand got rather infatuated with the serial killer, William Edward Hickman. Jennifer Burns quoted Rand as writing, "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," and that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'" It were these types of values that Rand gave her hero characters. In her early notes for The Fountainhead: "One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one's way to get the best for oneself. Fine!"

My issue with Rand is not merely that she admired a serial killer - but that the type of self-esteem that serial killers have is the type she gives to her "Ideal" men. A self-esteem based on selfishness. Rand encourages psychpathic narcissism.

One thing I would have liked to have asked Ayn Rand is if selfishness is so wonderful - why should women (or men) sacrifice themselves raising children? While she has also said that Love is selfish - it seems to me if selfishness is the highest goal - there would be no marriages and definitely no children. The result of a country which adopted her ideas would be a country with no future. End of country and end of story.

Security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence are reasonable goals. People achieve them be being part of a family, a community, various groups, etc. People base their self-esteem on such.

The selfishness that Ayn Rand so much admires and promotes in the form of her anti-government, anti-tax ideas - is all part of the same thing. I'll write more about that on another day.

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