Thursday, August 21, 2008
Over at Instapundit is a long post (for Glenn Reynolds) that exemplifies what's wrong with our public debate and demonstrates why we will get a collectivist no matter who wins this election.
The post is ostensibly about a factual error on Barack Obama's part regarding American generosity. Fair enough, but before even reaching a colon in the first sentence, Reynolds -- like many other commentators would -- has already conceded vast swaths of moral territory to the presumptive Democratic messiah.
Reynolds links to a column by Jay Ambrose of the DC Examiner that allows us not only to fact check whether Obama was really talking about generosity, but also do do something that too few commentators appreciate: premise check Jay Ambrose's argument.
Ambrose writes in reaction to a claim by Barack Obama during an interview with Rick Warren (which he should have boycotted) that, "Americans' greatest moral failure in my lifetime has been that we still don’t abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me." Translation: America is too selfish.
Ambrose translates correctly, but then argues from exactly the same premise of human sacrifice as Obama! His "rebuttal" proceeds to take all American generosity as evidence of our country's altruistic impulses! I, who non-sacrificially donate money to charity, find it presumptuous on Ambrose's part to impute altruism to my actions and a huge leap for him to do so on behalf of millions of others.
I usually donate money for research into the disease that crippled and slowly killed my father or to fund the fight for the freedom that Obama, McCain, and everyone else who is a fan of human sacrifice wants to take away from me. In either case, I am being anything but selfless. I am fighting for my values, and therefore, for my life.
There can be many valid, non-sacrificial reasons to donate to a whole slew of charities. To have a personal, selfish interest in doing so would, I have a hunch, make one more inclined to give generously than if one merely felt an annoying obligation to do so. This is part of why some religions have to demand a ten percent cut of their followers' incomes: They took self-interest out of the equation long ago. (The rest of the story is that one cannot act consistently self-sacrificially and remain alive for more than a few minutes. That air you're breathing might, after all, be needed by somebody else!)
While some who also live in America are doubtlessly donating self-sacrificially -- be it from a sense of duty, contrary to their values, or beyond their means -- it is telling that it is the nation of individualism and the pursuit of (one's own) happiness that is the most generous in the world. If you equate generosity and benevolence with altruism, I would suggest that you check your premises.
Obama's damnation of America for not being selfless enough even as he hypocritically ignores his destitute half-brother in Africa and plots to undermine the freedom that makes such generosity possible should serve as a warning against altruism rather than as a clarion call to outdo him in racing to the sacrificial altar. Nor should it provoke an attempt, doomed by its nature at the outset, to "defend" American capitalism on the basis of its ability to make our legendary "selflessness" (i.e., generosity) possible.
America is moral because its political system comes closest to allowing all men the freedom to act on their own best judgement to further their own lives while harming nobody else. In other words, America is moral because she is fundamentally selfish.
To attempt to justify freedom on the basis that Ambrose eventually does is to subordinate freedom to self-sacrifice and thus to leave that freedom open to attack by the likes of Obama and his opponent for the post of Head Bloodletter, John McCain, who also wants the government to force people to serve others. The argument will go something like this: "You agree with me that self-sacrifice is good and you do it anyway. Why fight my attempts to force you to part with something you won't miss anyway?"
What our altruistic "defenders" of capitalism will have done is caused Americans to forget that they are losing their freedom in such a bargain -- and we will miss it sooner or later if they succeed -- and to never fully realize why freedom is so valuable. It is precisely because freedom permits us to engage in life-promoting, rationally selfish behavior that it is good.
To equate generosity with Barack Obama and John McCain's shared moral code is insulting, obscene, and, when carried into the political arena via collectivism, dangerous. I am selfish because I want to live, and I am proud of my choice.
Today: Changed, "capitalism for its ability" to "capitalism on the basis of its ability".