Imagining a World Without Altruism - Why the American Thinker Has It All wrongâŠ
Ayn Randâs legacy, that she gave a rational argument to the ideas of self-interest, is, at the heart, highly ironic. Her own lifelong pursuit of her own self-interest (wealth, power, success, and popularity) left her in her later years bereft of those same holy grails she so stubbornly sought: she died alone, lonely, unloved, and in such a state of poverty she had to finance her basic needs with government handouts.
In her pursuit of self-interest, she had an affair with an acolyte, Nathaniel Branden,
It went like this:
Branden married Barbara Weidman in 1953, with Rand and Randâs husband Frank OâConnor in attendance. Branden would later state the marriage was unwise, and troubled from the beginning. In the context of these troubles, and Randâs reported frustrations in her own marriage, Branden and Randâwho had a passionate philosophic bondâdeveloped amorous feelings for each other, and, with the reluctant permission of their spouses, began a love affair in 1954. The affair lasted until the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, after which, according to Branden, Rand became depressed, and the affair, practically speaking, ended.
Branden reports that Rand remained psychologically dependent on him after this period, and eventually began pushing for a resumption of their affair; his own marriage, meanwhile, was deteriorating, although he and Barbara were becoming closer as friends. Branden then met and fell in love with a student at NBI, Patrecia Scott (nĂ©e Gullison). The two began an affair in 1964, shortly after which Nathaniel separated from Barbara and informed her of the affair. He and Barbara kept the affair secret, fearing Randâs explosive anger. In 1968, Rand learned of the affair, and, in response, violently condemned both Brandens, dissociated herself from them, and denounced them publicly
In subsequent years, Rand and several more of her closest associates parted company
Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974 after decades of heavy smoking. In 1976, she retired from writing her newsletter and, despite her initial objections, was persuaded to allow Evva Pryor, a consultant from her attorneyâs office, to sign her up for Social Security and Medicare
(sourced: âThe passion of Ayn Randâ - amazon.com)
If one were to condense this part of Randâs life, it would go something like this:
Finds philosophy of self-interest and selfishness. Uses said philosophy to justify her disloyalty and adultery, to justify her smoking, to justify her many quarrels with her acolytes over power, to which, left her without those acolytes, without the power, sick and poor, and requiring the altruism of others to live out her final years, whether it be kindness or governmental mandates for nationalized personal care.
Now, In a rational world with self interest on the mind, this fantasy that the world is a better place when one pursues their immediate self-interest over the interest of the entire group (in this case humanity) would have died with Randâs proof that the philosophy is flawed.
Except it did not die, it survived. It survived among those still reaching for a justification for their own behaviors when those behaviors detract from needs of the group at large. It survived in men like my grandfather, who gave me âthe fountainheadâ and âAtlas shruggedâ for my seventh birthday, and told me âthese are my biblesâ.
It survived in men like Donald Trump, to justify not just his greed, but also his self initiated destruction of his own personal legacy, and that of his family name.
It survived in teens, burgeoning onto the hustle and bustle of life, but lost in the sea of impersonal morality and ethics, searching for a cause, be it âthyselfâ:
Obdicut describes how envy led him to âglibertarianismâ
I was annoyed by my classmates who were given cars, nice clothing, etc. by their parents when I had to work, and work hard, for a modest amount of spending money. I didnât mind that hard work, eitherâ I liked it, and I despised my classmates who I felt lacked work ethics.
It survives among business people, who understanding that a life spent in search of the impersonal selfish quest for business profits does not necessarily lead to personal fulfillment.
And it survives as the last tool of logical relevance afforded to the non-religious, apathy oriented right, who do not so easily glue with the social conservatism of the religious right, but share their desire for national self-interest - or as we know it today - war, power, and imperialism. Randian self interest is less an âexit rampâ off the highway of right wing politics, and more a âU-turnâ, to get you at least heading in the same direction.
The American Thinker is of the latter group. And by the latter I mean âthe fundamentalist social religious conservativesâ - among its contributors are: Ann Coulter, Robert Spencer, Christopher Monckton. Noel Sheppard, Pamela Gellar, Michael Savage, etc.
It is more NewsMax , than, it is say, a publisher of leading edge libertarian thought, such as Reason. However, this week, they are trying to push the tired Randian philosophy that âaltruism is bad for humanityâ.
Altruism tells us that we are being good if we give up something of value to us in exchange for selflessly serving those in need. For instance, give up a comfortable life and a fulfilling career for a while in exchange for a mud hut and menial work in a developing country. And the higher the value we are willing to give up â the more weâre willing to sacrifice â the more cool it is. After all, what is cool about an unemployed PhD in Bosnian Literature joining the Peace Corps with nothing on the line? No, way more cool is selflessly risking a successful career in order to serve people in need for a couple of years.
But why is it cool to give up something to go to a remote corner of the earth? After all, staying in a job that you love at a company that is relentlessly looking for new ways to make money by offering products and services that people want is much more likely to produce results. You are far more likely to have a positive impact on people around the globe by being part of an organization that develops, manufactures and sells a higher yield crop, a cheaper car, a new pharmaceutical drug, a more durable fabric for clothing, satellite TV service, online shopping solutions, and the like. But no, that is not cool, at least not compared to selflessly serving in the Peace Corps or some similar organization.
In our culture, it is not cool to be selfish. But it is cool to be altruistic, to give up something of value, to be selfless.
Yet altruism is debilitating. Instead of contributing to living a cool life, altruism does the opposite. Accepting altruism is like accepting a blackmailerâs demands. It does not matter how much you pay up â how much you sacrifice â by selflessly giving up your true values. Like the blackmailer, altruism always finds something more of value to extort from you:
Altruism: âYou plan to join the Peace Corps for two years? Why not three?â
You: âI think two years will give me the appreciation for the plights of the people of Farawayland. And it will help me become an advocate for them at home.â
Altruism: âGive you the appreciation! Help you become an advocate! Is this all about you? Donât be selfish! You should seriously consider extending your service.â
Aside from the obvious, and desperate straw man âAltruism: âYou plan to join the Peace Corps for two years? Why not three?ââ, this actually highlights the disparity between what altruism actually is, and what AT thinks it is.
Altruism is a form of self-sacrifice to benefit a group or groups as a whole. It is the idea that personal empathy and actions that benefit more than oneself, for the purpose of spreading said benefits across wider samples, and therefore is the opposite of egoism.
Altruism is also evolutionary:
Altruism in animals describes a range of behaviors performed by animals that may be to their own disadvantage but which benefit others. Other definitions place emphasis on the genetic consequences of altruism, e.g. altruism is âInstinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individualâs genes, as by benefiting its relatives.â or the biological fitness of the animals, e.g. âAltruism refers to behavior by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor. Altruism appears most obviously in kin relationships but may also be evident among wider social groups.
In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce. This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called âaltruisticâ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement. Indeed, some of the most interesting examples of biological altruism are found among creatures that are (presumably) not capable of conscious thought at all, e.g. insects. For the biologist, it is the consequences of an action for reproductive fitness that determine whether the action counts as altruistic, not the intentions, if any, with which the action is performed.
Altruistic behaviour is common throughout the animal kingdom, particularly in species with complex social structures. For example, vampire bats regularly regurgitate blood and donate it to other members of their group who have failed to feed that night, ensuring they do not starve. In numerous bird species, a breeding pair receives help in raising its young from other âhelperâ birds, who protect the nest from predators and help to feed the fledglings. Vervet monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though in doing so they attract attention to themselves, increasing their personal chance of being attacked. In social insect colonies (ants, wasps, bees and termites), sterile workers devote their whole lives to caring for the queen, constructing and protecting the nest, foraging for food, and tending the larvae. Such behaviour is maximally altruistic: sterile workers obviously do not leave any offspring of their ownâso have personal fitness of zeroâbut their actions greatly assist the reproductive efforts of the queen.
The key to understanding why an entire swath of the American right today, and indeed the global right, appear to be advocating principles at odds with the biological and evolutionary truth of Darwinian Evolution, is choice.
This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called âaltruisticâ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement.
Altruism is an evolutionary benefit, adapted over millions of years of biological advancement, from selfishness. It is the evolution of selfish interest into selfless interest. For most animals. it is instinctual, for humans, it is a choice.
The choice works something like this : âI want to eat the entire chocolate bar. My classmates are too poor to buy a candy bar. I could share my candy bar, and we will all benefit, socially and emotionally. I could also eat the entire candy bar, and I will benefit personally because I kept the bar to myselfâ
The problem with this line of thinking on Altruism is that it has an inherent logical paradox. Rational Self Interest is irrational, in that it ignores the long term logical conclusions, for the shorter term personal gains. If one shared the candy bar, one may have immediately less candy for oneself, in the short term, but as Evolutionary biology and sociology have already shown us, in the long term, the logic dictates the gains are far superior.
Altruism is not, however, a âWhite Elephantâ, requiring more and more sacrifice until you have nothing left to feed the beast. It does not require, as AT posits, a continual dismissal of ones personal interests until there is no personal interest left to sacrifice. Altruism is not a credit card, the more you spend, the more interest you accrue, forcing a cycle to spend more. Instead, it is more akin to a savings account, where you deny yourself the immediate benefit of spending your hard earned money, for the longer term benefit of saving and accruing interest paid to you.
Reciprocity in evolutionary biology refers to mechanisms whereby the evolution of cooperative or altruistic behavior may be favored by the probability of future mutual interactions. A corollary is how a desire for revenge can harm the collective and therefore be naturally deselected.
There are two types of reciprocal altruism:
Direct reciprocity was proposed by Robert Trivers as a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation. If there are repeated encounters between the same two players in an evolutionary game in which each of them can choose either to âcooperateâ or âdefectâ, then a strategy of mutual cooperation may be favoured even if it pays each player, in the short term, to defect when the other cooperates. Direct reciprocity can lead to the evolution of cooperation only if the probability, w, of another encounter between the same two individuals exceeds the cost-to-benefit ratio of the altruistic act:
w > c / b
there are randomly chosen pairwise encounters between members of a population: the same two individuals need not meet again. One individual acts as donor, the other as recipient. The donor can decide whether or not to cooperate. The interaction is observed by a subset of the population who might inform others. Reputation allows evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity. Natural selection favors strategies that base the decision to help on the reputation of the recipient: studies show that people who are more helpful are more likely to receive help. In many situations coperation is favoured and it even benefits an individual to forgive an occasional defection but cooperative societies are always unstable because mutants inclined to defect can upset any balance. 
The calculations of indirect reciprocity are complicated and only a tiny fraction of this universe has been uncovered, but again a simple rule has emerged. Indirect reciprocity can only promote cooperation if the probability, q, of knowing someoneâs reputation exceeds the cost-to-benefit ratio of the altruistic act:
q > c / b
This has been shown to work not only in evolutionary biology, but in basic logical daily interactions. We know this because religions have adapted forms of it, without being able to explain, in a scientific sense, what is going on. This is where we get âkarmaâ and âdo unto othersâ. It is also known as the âgolden ruleâ.
So, not only is altruism a biological necessity for the evolution and progress of the species, it is also a logical system, that works well with or without its scientific and biological underpinnings.
We enforce altruism during wars, whether it be rationing, or sending money and care packages to the troops. Both are forms of self-sacrifice, and both have reciprocal long term gains.
We request altruism in sports, that one teammate sacrifice his personal glory for the framework of the team communal interests. We call this âteamworkâ. Corporations, the largest proponents of personal capital self-interest, spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in team building courses for employees. They spend the money, rational thought dictates, because it has a long term ramifications - which benefit the companyâs interest as a whole.
Or as Obdicut so eloquently put it :
In the end, I realized that the only hope for humanity really was rational self-interest, but it lay not in using the crude selfishness of Randism as the barometer of that self-interest, but the true extended phenotype of sympathy; weâre all in this together, and what helps others helps me.
This brings us back to the AT article :
No, ditch altruism and instead celebrate whatâs truly cool â pursuing your own values with a passion. Seek inspiration in the entrepreneur inventing a new amazing product. Be mesmerized by the CEO who turns around a company believed to be lost. Find a role model in the immigrant starting out with nothing, through hard work building a small business that is the pride of his life. Send a thought to the corporate cog-in-the-wheel that you will never hear of whose passion for her job is improving the products and services you buy every day. In fact, draw strength from the example set by every person you meet who, guided by rational selfishness, pursues the dream of the best possible life.
Are you a recent college grad? Reject the false moral superiority of the Peace Corps recruiter and set your sight on Silicon Valley or the North Dakota oilfields. Have you been in the workforce for a few decades and are losing interest in what you are doing? Do not give in to the unearned guilt produced by your mistaken moral code. Instead find a new job in a different industry to reignite your passion.
Altruism is way not cool. Turn your back on moral principles demanding sacrifice and selflessness and embrace those that celebrate rational selfishness. Join corporate America, not the Peace Corps, and your chances of living a cool life increase exponentially.
Yeah, only if you ignore science, logic, and basic moral imperative, and value short term gain over long term reciprocal benefits. Judging by the fact AT thinks giving Robert Spencer, Pamela Gellar, and Ann Coulter space is in their short term benefit and are ignoring the long term harm of having bigots irreversibly connected to your brand.
It is this lack of foresight, this ignorance of the logical conclusions, that feeds Randian thought. It is exactly why, in her short term interest, she had an affair, which in the long term left her lonely, poor, unhappy, and a hypocrite.
I recommend reading Obdicutâs original on Rand, and Altruism, not only well written - but personal and honest, it is well worth the time..