Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Lawyers and doctors both save lives, though in different ways. What do people expect? That young people should put themselves through the hell of law school and the bar exam, incur in excess of $100,000 in student loan debt, work tirelessly in a field that is constantly changing and frequently extremely stressful, and receive nothing, or merely enough on which to survive, in exchange? That's certainly what Congress intends to do to doctors. Clearly, this is the work of pervasive altruism. But here is something I do not understand -- Why has it attacked the professions so disproportionately? [bold added]I won't claim to have the answer here, but I will put forward a few thoughts this question provoked, and would be interested in hearing yours.
I think that the primary reason that professionals in particular are under attack by altruists is that altruism holds that the proper beneficiary of one's actions should be other people. The observation that someone enjoys material success thus becomes, to an altruist, an indication of moral turpitude: The wealthy man has plainly not been looking out enough for his fellows, or he wouldn't be wealthy, would he? (Granted, many professionals are not wealthy, but many people do not realize this.)
So far, that covers anyone with money who hasn't staved off such opprobrium by acquiring a reputation for philanthropy, but it still doesn't explain why doctors and lawyers dwell in their own special circle of altruist hell, even apart from ordinary businessmen.
To answer that part of the question, we have to ask what it is that sets such professionals apart from other businessmen. One moment's thought will tell you that it's their rare, highly specialized expertise. Qwertz alludes to this in the above passage, and many less educated people also know that lawyers and physicians must undergo additional training. As Qwertz plainly does, one would expect some degree of sympathy for this hard work. And yet, the sympathy plainly isn't there. Why?
It's because the specialized knowledge possessed by professionals makes them more able than most people to be effective in situations that would overwhelm most of us. This means, to the altruist, not only that they are supposed to give more away than most other people, but that they are in a better position to take advantage of other people. (And if mere possession of something someone else doesn't have is viewed as taking advantage of him, many professionals do, by such a standard, take advantage of others.)
Altruism corrodes genuine benevolence towards others. Ayn Rand concretized how this works regarding those we might be inclined to help in the following passage of Atlas Shrugged:
Love of our brothers? That's when we learned to hate our brothers for the first time in our lives. We began to hate them for every meal they swallowed, for every small pleasure they enjoyed, for one man's new shirt, for another's wife's hat, for an outing with their family, for a paint job on their house--it was taken from us, it was paid for by our privations, our denials, our hunger. We began to spy on one another, each hoping to catch the others lying about their needs, so as to cut their "allowance" at the next meeting. We began to have stool pigeons who informed on people, who reported that somebody had bootlegged a turkey to his family on some Sunday--which he'd paid for by gambling, most likely. We began to meddle into one another's lives. We provoked family quarrels, to get somebody's relatives thrown out. Any time we saw a man starting to go steady with a girl, we made life miserable for him. We broke up many engagements. We didn't want anyone to marry, we didn't want any more dependents to feed.Now turn this around and imagine feeling entitled (thanks, again, to altruism) to some kind of help and having it arbitrarily withheld. (The idea that people should be paid for their services is treated as arbitrary when "trumped" by dire need.) Such a sentiment is wrong, but if you perform such a thought exercise, you can see how altruism corrodes good will not just towards those one might be able to help, but towards those who might be able to offer oneself assistance. The more able someone is, the more spite altruism will sling in his direction.
In the old days, we used to celebrate if somebody had a baby, we used to chip in and help him out with the hospital bills, if he happened to be hard-pressed for the moment. Now, if a baby was born, we didn't speak to the parents for weeks. Babies, to us, had become what locusts were to farmers. In the old days, we used to help a man if he had a bad illness in the family. ... (614)
One final thing would be simple fear of the unknown. I regard myself as a layman on medical and legal matters, but know from experience that I am far more comfortable talking about them than most other people. Many people become suspicious and defensive when on turf so unfamiliar.
This is perhaps another manifestation of how altruism affects the culture, this time at the level of individual psychology. How one deals with the fact that one lacks knowledge about an area is perhaps also being affected by altruism. Does one educate himself or does one stew in ignorance and resentment at the need to exert even the effort to understand on some level what is going on? Will one look at a professional as valuable help who earns your money, or as as a stubborn slave to be goaded in whatever way expedient to just carry the load? Throw in simple prejudice and ignorance (such as Qwertz exposes when he discusses legal forms) and you have a recipe for ill will.