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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Altruism vs Self-Interest

In the minds of the masses, as it seems to me by observing what people say, self-interest is looked down upon and in some cases even vilified, altruism is treated differently, altruism is never vilified, altruism is praised. What is puzzling is that between the two extremes of people, a person who lives entirely for his self-interest and a person who lives entirely for the desires of other people, the selfish person is preferable over the altruistic one. Thus, we have an immediate question, why is self-interest vilified and altruism praised?

Any society which sacrifices some of its members for other members is condemnable for its actions. An individual who sacrifices other members for the sake of other members is also condemnable. This is not a progressive society and this individual is not enlightened. This is the kind of action we should expect from primitive animal or human sacrificing civilizations not from modern age nations or people. Almost everyone would agree with me regarding these points. But what is strange is when the human sacrificing individual chooses himself as the individual of sacrifice many of us praise him. If the sacrificing individual chooses another for sacrifice we condemn him. But if he chooses himself for sacrifice for another then we praise him. Why do we condemn him if he chooses someone other than himself but not when he chooses himself? Someone is nonetheless being sacrificed for another despite if he chooses himself or not.

It is appropriate to use the word "sacrifice" in regards to the altruist. Because we are deliberately considering the case between an extreme altruist and an extreme egoist. The altruist in our case can be said to be "sacrificing" because he goes out of his way to deny his own interests for the interests of others. Whether it be possessions or happiness or even his necessities. The word "sacrificing" is appropriate in his description, even if it does not mean actual sacrifice of life.

The economic reality of the altruist is another problem with him. When two people trade with one another, they both benefit. One person gives his possession for an exchange of something else because his possession is less valuable to him than what he wants, his trading partner feels likewise. Thus, both people benefit. This is why there is often a double "thank you" moment in such an exchange. We buy food from a store and say "thank you", the store receives our money and says "thank you". We double thank because we both benefit. Thus, trade is a positive sum game. Now we get to the altruist. The altruist does not gain anything, he only sacrifices at the expense of himself. In fact, from an economic point of view, there is no difference at all between an altruist and a person who sacrifices other people for the sake of others. In both cases a gain is attained at the loss of someone else, this is a zero sum game. Thus, the altruist does not add anything positive to the economy. Indeed, if every person was an altruist then there would not be no economic growth at all. Where would it come from? One altruist would sacrifice himself for another, the other, if an altruist, would sacrifice himself for another, and so forth. No one would have a long-term gain, only short-term gain, which they will sacrifice for someone else. In fact, what is even more likely, is that the altruist economy is a negative sum game. Because whenever a sacrifice takes place there is friction, something else loses within the sacrifice too. Thus, the benefit an altruist gives must be a little less than the benefit received from another. If the other altruist is to sacrifice his gain for someone else, then his benefit would be even less valuable now. This would continue until the benefit is entirely eliminated. Thus, the economic model is actually a negative sum game.

Now consider the egoist. The egoist is a man of no action rather than action with regard to altruism. The egoist does not do anything for someone else at the expense of himself. Thus, the egoist has no responsibility for another person. If another person is suffering, whether by his own errors or by his circumstance, there is nothing that the egoist has done that brought about his suffering. Therefore, if the egoist did not exist the suffering of this individual would still exist. Thus, the egoist is not responsible for the suffering of another. To condemn the egoist here would be the same as condemning a non-existent egoist whom we conjured in our minds, it would not make any sense. The egoist cannot be condemned for bringing suffering, but the altruist can, the altruist brings suffering, namely of himself.

Whereas the altruistic economy is unattainable, the egoist economy functions for a greater prosperity. Two egoists who trade with one another do not think about the other person but think of themselves. To satisfy their self-interest they need to satisfy the self-interest of others, thus, an economy is born, an economy with a positive sum game, where more wealth would be created. To quote Adam Smith, "But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages." An egoist is one who can satisfy millions of people indirectly all for his own self-love in an egoist economy, the same cannot be said with an altruistic economy.

Every ounce of my reason points to the egoist as being more preferable to have in any society over an altruist. But I cannot understand why the altruist is praised but the egoist is not. If anyone is to be praised it should be the egoist. But I do not think that anyone should be praised. What we considered was the case between an extreme egoist, who only acts for his own self-interest, and an extreme altruist, who only acts for the interest or others. These are not the only two possibilities. Most people fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Some people are mostly altruistic but do act for their own selfish desires. Some people are mostly egoistic but do act for others in benevolence. Wealth and a strong economy is a blessing but it is not the only thing which we should strive for, there are many other goals that we can have. Indeed, if wealth was our only goal then we should start working 120 hours every week, that would increase GDP, but we do not do so, because we realize that wealth is not the only goal. Wealth is one goal among many goals. Even though we cannot condemn the egoist for the suffering of others for it is not his responsibility, we can, perhaps, condemn him for something else. And that is the lack of compassion that he feels towards others. Human compassion is a beautiful thing, benevolence should be encouraged whenever we have more than enough. But the love of others, compassion, and benevolence cannot run an economy. It all comes down to our self-interest. Thus, my ideal human being, is not an egoist, and certainly not an altruist, but what I would call a "charitable capitalist". The charitable capitalist mostly acts for his self-interest, thereby creating more wealth indirectly, but once he gained, he never forgets his fellow man, and is willing for give away a small portion for the compassion of others. I give praise to the charitable capitalists, people such as, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. (It is interesting to note that three of these great men where atheists, whoever says that atheists cannot care for other people is being delusional).

What is the birth of the vilification of self-interest? For most of history the lower class either was part of a feudal system or a slave. Their position in life was fixated. The slave class lived under the master class. The slaves were unable to attain what their masters had. The masters were able to strive for their self-interest and more possessions. But the slaves were unable to. The will to power of the slaves was unable to will for their self-interest. The priest taught the slaves to resent the will to self-interest of the masters, for the will is so terrified of a horror of a vacuum that is rather will nothingness than not will at all. This is the meaning of ascetic ideals. The ascetic priest lead a slave rebellion against their masters, when the morals of the slaves triumphed over the masters, the human species was enslaved to slave morality. We, the slaves of the past generations, now continue on our tradition of resentment of self-interest, which the ascetic priests, by their own madness, preached to the slaves. It is time to put an end to this vilification and escape the morality of the weak!

1 comment:

  1. The reason being is that altruism benefits power, wheras egoism does not. (generally speaking). It is beneficial for leadership to make everyone think that they must sacrifice for cause A or cause B. When they have peoples attention with altruism, it is easier to boss them around.