The Randian Argument Revisited
The Coupling of Rational Altruism and Selfishness
Rational or ethical egoism is an idea which can be philosophically defended with some rigor. My view on human ethics are stated in Atheism Scepticism and Philosophy, and is referred to there as Moral Reciprocity. It has much to do with universal Human Rights. However, a great deal of the theory is social morality and isn’t an ethic that young radical individualists can sink their teeth into. I can’t say that I disagree with Bertrand Russell when he said that egocentricity can’t be the complete foundation of any worthwhile ethic. However, I would like to weigh in on The Randian Argument, the Anarchy, State and Utopia versus Uyl/Rasmussen one. Unlike Rand, I believe that ultimately everyone is selfish and that altruism is a form of selfishness; however, to Frans de Waal's point, all acts of human kindness and charity should be accorded appreciation and respect: they often bring about happiness to the provider. Being nice to people gives you great social, cultural and biologoical feedback and interacting with strangers can enrich (and even save) your life. I mean to say, we are unselfish for entirely selfish reasons, such as recognition, status, reciprocity, a sense of worth, duty to our code, our instinct for justice, personal pleasure in the giving of love and so forth. The ideal of rational altruism and/or selfishness, is what is at issue here. Which concept should a human being choose? I prefer the ‘and/or’ part. If you’ve achieved currency with only one of these ideals, be it Mother Theresa’s version or Ayn Rand’s, you’ve in all likelihood short-changed yourself.
Altruism and selfishness in their best lights aren’t equal ideals (i.e., rational egoism should be the base of any philosophical ethics system); however, achieving a balance between the two is exceedingly important. It may be difficult, but both self-empowerment and charity towards strangers, can and must be the goal of the modern rational individual. A limit on your moral obligation to yourself doesn’t exist in any strict sense, (except to never breach anybody else's borders), while limits on helping strangers does. You’d go broke if you tried to help everyone; plus you don’t have the time to decide who is deserving of your help and who is the charlatan. Empathy and love of others must guide you, yet you must have the wealth, judgement and time to help before you decide to improve the condition of others. Most who preach altruism as a final goal for individuals suffer from some form of ideology of forlonged futile Platonic ideals.
A champion first, a saint second
The moral base of liberty is reason. Our ability to create ideas gives us actual freedom to choose. Since our voluntary focused awareness is needed in this process, state, church, family and cultural coercion is forbidden except in emergencies. I refer here to Robert Nozick’s ideas of individual human borders. The rational self-managed individual should certainly be granted the protection for everything we mean by personality, character and self, (including ego, mind, soul, nous, I, etc.). Self-independence, especially economic independence, should be stressed, as well as what we now call, getting a life, a work-ethic, finding love and laughter, obtaining property, having good friends, practicing charity to strangers, standing by family (if at all possible), developing an honest disposition to the world at large, acting with compassion, acquiring an education . . . in a word, morality. These days, a life of goodness is most importantly, self-management, (i.e., creating a personal brand): the No’s in life are far more important than the Yes’s. Self-denial, then, is one important tool to build character. Responsibilty to yourself includes your future selves, friends, family and communities. This self you are building today must also be built for your future and everybody important to you as well. An individualistic ethics therefore demands a particular instrument: reason; a method of inquiry/focusing which will serve you and all your future purposes, treasures and loves, even for all of humanity. No happiness without responsibilty; values bring about purpose, and motivation to acheive your goals, helps build on your moral center.
So brand becomes an ethical requirment for self-created individuals. For instance, Ayn Rand’s brand was hurt by her own affiliation to her cult. She permitted herself to be divined. This from a rational individualist is a fatal flaw. Mother Theresa’s brand was ruined by accepting dirty money and supporting oppressive right-wing regimes. Her ignorance of economic philosophy allowed her a Robin Hood Morality. “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ . . . I think the world is much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”
Youthful mindless selfishness is not surprising, but hedonism is morality’s worst enemy, not either rational altruism or selfishness per se. Being charitable towards others, like self-empowerment, is a learned habit. Both are not only gratifying but essential to a well-round human being. Everyone is self-seeking only in the sense of compliance with their hold on reality, their perception of self and their own wisdom, which in youth is often neither deep nor entirely rational. One awefully valid operating precedure for being as good as you'd wished to be, is: "Act like someone is always watching you," and if Edward Snowden is right, and he seems to be, now there always is. Today it's like returning to the days of yore where God saw everything.
Unconditional love is like investing in the future of the world
Self love is like investing in your own future
Nozick and the Randian Argument have no real impact on the issue. Rand maintained that man’s life was a metaphysical foundation to everything that flows from him; a person seeks to realize his self and is therefore inviolable. My criticism of Rand is not against this idea. What’s to disagree? Nozick argues against her on a technicality of human values, and since everything is of value to humans, "an ultimate value in reason" for humans can only approximate, which I believe Rand establishes to some satisfaction, at least for me.
It’s her constant tone of voice that’s objectionable. She took an intrinsic skeptical position to religious absolutism. She was generally inside the existentialist's camp but embarked on a path to Objectivism, itself a form of religious absolutism. Meanwhile she was crippled with self-indulgent subjectivity. Most importantly, her defense of Aristotle and capitalism were badly framed and eventual failures. Sometimes she sounded like a Platonist when she should have defended Democritus and libertarianism.
Capitalism, especially the American version, isn’t compatible with human rights in any broad sense. American society committed genocide against its first people. Capitalistic exploitation was a part of that. America has overthrown many democratically elected governments and behaved imperialistically, often motivated by their capitalists. They have exported terrorism in places like El Salvador, East Timor and so forth. They are today a real threat to liberty around the world, especially if they became a fascist regime in the future, a real possibility if they become insolvent.
Rand should have positioned herself on the side of Human Rights. She defended capitalism without hardly a remark on externality. Let’s not allow a corporation to pollute and call it progress. They, as all organizations and societies, must be respectful of the planet, this limited resource. Besides, Capitalism isn’t really an ism, it’s an adjunct to other isms. Her view had a codicil of laissez-faire. An individual’s right overtakes X Corporation’s right to manufacture X, if while doing it, it hurts people. Can the separation of economy and state ever be effectuated? (I believe it can.) If so, can the corporate tycoons and the politicians be kept away from one another in a bull market? That's a tough one.
No matter what the eminent Steven Pinker says about a libertarian society, there are many well-known reasons for it to be tried; the most important one is actually attempting to have government without human sacrifice. However, just as a democratic society is backed by law and police, so the capitalists need arbitrators and regulators. Similar to all segments of society, they require clear resolute enforced rules to reduce fraud and to allow the most meritorious entrepreneurs to succeed and come out on top, not the robber barons and criminals who’ve done so in the distant and more recent past.
"The free enterprise system tends to promote
a higher standard of morality
and a greater relation between values and actions
than almost any other." Milton Friedman
Utilitarian theorists are ignorant about human sacrifice and have justified the forfeit of the one for the many without ever realizing that there is an alternative in Classical Liberalism. These so-called social scientists never seriously searched for it, for shame, and I bet that even if J S Mills had committed suicide during his early twenties' mental-collapse, his overbearing utilitarian “radical” teachers would have probably thought their “experiment” with a living human being was just peachy-keen; this is the idiot class, I mean political class. Utilitarianism is evil, and given enough time inside a democracy, it leads to the sacrifice of all for all, i.e., totalitarianism.
This is moral philosophy 101:
Harming Other Humans is Wrong
Human Sacrifice Is the Greatest Harm.
Therefore, a Just Society Is Not Compatible with Utilitarianism.
This is not to put down anarchy in favor of government on principle as Rand did but if Hobbes is right, then no reasonable person can argue for anarchy, even if some do, making Hobbes's claims pretty important to refute. (You can make up own mind if David D Friedman seceeds or not.)
The trouble is that there are bad people out there who will use force for personal power. Is the argument about the state protecting the individual superior to the anarchists’ contention about personal liberty being diminished in any state no matter how democratic and “free”? Democratically minded people band together to stop the autocrats, religionists, robber barons and the Tony Sopranos of the world, etc. Do the bad people then move directly or indirectly into government for personal power? The probable answer to this is yes. We should try harder to separate the economy from the government before we give up on the idea. Human rights have been enhanced by the market democracies and I see no reason to challenge this except in this manner: that anarchy must be a democratic and human rights event from the bottom up, vis-à-vis a free-market libertarian ethic. That said, if we filled a protected territory with no one but rational anarchists, could we prevent a dissident violent individual and his followers from a Hitler-like coup d'état? I don’t have the answer to this, but Fascism is a case worth noting, especially the liberal versions of it. My own sense is that life without the state would be marvelous if it wasn’t horrendous. Given the violent history of humankind I’m suspicious of taking the plunge.
© 2022 - E. A. St. Amant