February 16, 2016
Does altruism exist in today’s life? How does it exist? What triggers or motivate people to be altruistic? What are the factors or components behind altruistic thinking and practices? Is there any big difference that exists between altruism and kindness? How do they differ? What does it mean by altruism? Is altruism a philosophical concept or religious doctrine and dogma? Does altruism possess any given citizenship, color, race, ethnicity, religion or any given category or class which people who practice belong? Why do people prefer to become altruist? Is altruism connected to concept of socialism? What are the consequences of altruism?
Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions and secular worldviews, though the concept of “others” toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions.
Altruism can be distinguished from feelings of loyalty, in that whilst the latter is predicated upon social relationships, altruism does not consider relationships. Much debate exists as to whether “true” altruism is possible in human psychology. The theory of psychological egoism suggests that no act of sharing, helping or sacrificing can be described as truly altruistic, as the actor may receive an intrinsic reward in the form of personal gratification. The validity of this argument depends on whether intrinsic rewards qualify as “benefits”. The actor also may not be expecting a reward. The term altruism may also refer to an ethical doctrine that claims that individuals are morally obliged to benefit others. Used in this sense, it is usually contrasted with egoism, which is defined as acting to the benefit of one’s self.
Evolutionary scientists speculate that altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species. Indeed, Darwin himself argued that altruism, which he called “sympathy” or “benevolence,” is “an essential part of the social instincts.” Darwin’s claim is supported by recent neuroscience studies, which have shown that when people behave altruistically, their brains activate in regions that signal pleasure and reward, similar to when they eat chocolate (or have sex).
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. “It is selfish to pursue your own wishes, you must sacrifice them to the wishes of others”—end up by saying: “It is selfish to uphold your convictions, you must sacrifice them to the convictions of others.
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. 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.
Even though altruism declares that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” it does not work that way in practice. The givers are never blessed; the more they give, the more is demanded of them; complaints, reproaches and insults are the only response they get for practicing altruism’s virtues (or for their actual virtues). Altruism cannot permit a recognition of virtue; it cannot permit self-esteem or moral innocence. Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer—not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive. When no actual suffering can be found, the altruists are compelled to invent or manufacture it.
Some unphilosophical, eclectic altruists, invoking such concepts as “inalienable rights,” “personal freedom,” “private choice,” have claimed that service to others, though morally obligatory, should not be compulsory. The committed, philosophical altruists, however, are consistent: recognizing that such concepts represent an individualist approach to ethics and that this is incompatible with the altruist morality, they declare that there is nothing wrong with compulsion in a good cause—that the use of force to counteract selfishness is ethically justified—and more: that it is ethically mandatory.
The social system based on and consonant with the altruist morality—with the code of self-sacrifice—is socialism, in all or any of its variants: fascism, Nazism, communism. All of them treat man as a sacrificial animal to be immolated for the benefit of the group, the tribe, the society, the state. Soviet Russia is the ultimate result, the final product, the full, consistent embodiment of the altruist morality in practice; it represents the only way that that morality can ever be practiced. Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal.
If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, he suffers the following consequences (in proportion to the degree of his acceptance):
- Lack of self-esteem—since his first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.
- Lack of respect for others—since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone’s help.
- A nightmare view of existence—since he believes that men are trapped in a “malevolent universe” where disasters are the constant and primary concern of their lives.
- And, in fact, a lethargic indifference to ethics, a hopelessly cynical amorality—since his questions involve situations which he is not likely ever to encounter, which bear no relation to the actual problems of his own life and thus leave him to live without any moral principles whatever.
Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff.