Sunday, November 01, 2009

The obsession with helping others

OK, you've got a busy, rational life: career, health, family, friends, hobbies, vacations, parties, chores, bills.

But there's a bum in the ghetto or a starving kid in Ethiopia or a tsunami-ravaged village in Indonesia or a hundred homeless in a nearby shelter or 26 million without health insurance or a million families under the "poverty line" or children with crippling diseases ... or ... or ... or.

Why should you care? No, honestly, why should you CARE?

You've got a life to live. You've got a full, rich, fruitful life to live. You've got things to do ALL THE TIME. There's hardly a second not filled with your pursuits. You've spent enormous amounts of time educating yourself, building your careers, finding your hobbies, cultivating friendships, nurturing your loved ones, maintaining your health, etc. Yet you are bombarded with begging, pleading, demands and protestations to "give back" -- and when these entreaties don't work, the people doing the pleading form groups that vote for people to coerce you into "giving back."

You may feel some sympathy for some of these people (especially children) who, through no honest fault of their own, live with dire circumstances, but why should you spend any portion (even one minute) of your life or penny of your wealth to help these strangers?

The answer, of course, is that you don't HAVE to. You could easily go through your life not spending one moment of time or one dime of money on such people and, instead, trying to fully enrich you life and the lives of those you care most about. To spend time and money on strangers is to NOT spend time and money on those you care most deeply for. It is (in almost all cases, which I'll explain in a moment) an affront to yourself and your intimate acquaintances to give to those you don't know and have no way of knowing the FULL circumstances of their situation. And even if you did know, you have no moral obligation to them.

The morality of "giving back" (altruism) has already been easily refuted by Ayn Rand. She called it the abysmal principle of sacrificing a greater value for a lesser value. It is the obsession with filling a personal void with an allegedly good deed. It is the hallmark of low self-esteem and selflessness. It is the obsession with OTHERS so that the irrational mind may avoid personal and rational reflection and get allegedly momentary relief from the angst and anxiety of its lack of rational integration. It is the statement: "I know I am not good, but maybe I can feel good about being "good" to others."

It is also the irrational person's moment of condescension and schadenfreude (feeling good about others' misery). The do-gooder's do-gooding allegedly allows him to feel superior to the ones he "helps." It is the statement: "I may not be good, but look how good I can be by helping that poor miserable wretch over there who is even worse off than me." It is an immersing in and obsession with the misery of others and getting a subconscious kick out of it (though this is never admitted, but you can see it on their unctuous faces).

The only time charity is morally proper is when one has fully taken care of one's own fruitful values and has a few moments or dollars to spend -- and when the one receiving the charity is living honorably and wishes to continue living honorably and is a moral reflection of your great self. In other words, when the person receiving the charity could use some help but doesn't beg for it and knows that the charity will merely expedite his lifelong goals that he is already attempting to achieve.

Even in such honorable circumstances, the charity giver has every moral right to say, "I don't think I wish to give you any money, but good luck with your life."

The current "giving back" culture of America exemplifies the wretched philosophical and psychological state to which most Americans have succumbed. Only Ayn Rand's philosophy of rational egoism can correct it. I'm seeing that philosophy's adherents grow almost exponentially -- and that, my friends, is very good news for us rational beings, and for those who may truly deserve our rational charity in the future when we are no longer robbed of our wealth.

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