Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Interested in what Ayn Rand had to say about introspection a while back, I ended up re-reading her 1974 essay on "Philosophical Detection" and was floored, despite my long familiarity with her word economy, with how well Rand explained both how evil and how tempting altruism has been throughout history:
Observe that, in spite of their differences, altruism is the untouched, unchallenged common denominator in the ethics of all these philosophies. It is the single richest source of rationalizations. A morality that cannot be practiced is an unlimited cover for any practice. Altruism is the rationalization for the mass slaughter in Soviet Russia -- for the legalized looting in the welfare state -- for the power-lust of politicians seeking to serve the "common good" -- for the concept of a "common good" -- for envy, hatred, malice, brutality -- for the arson, robbery, hijacking, kidnapping, murder perpetrated by the selfless advocates of sundry collectivist causes -- for sacrifice and more sacrifice and an infinity of sacrificial victims. When a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet its advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction or an "ideal," but a rationalization. (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 20)Two cultural phenomena that most people would hold as completely unrelated are brought to my mind -- and are united -- by the identification above: (1) the rioting in Ferguson, Baltimore, and numerous other places over the past few years, which the criminals and domestic terrorists involved justified on altruistic grounds, frequently seconded by the leaders whose job it was to put a stop to them; and (2) the common, cowardly conservative practice of observing the failure of some "liberal" (i.e., leftist) policy or other without questioning the original excuse for said policy. The second is sometimes followed by a proposal to end the policy, more often by a proposal to implement basically the same policy (only more "competently"), and never by a challenge to the moral ideal behind said policy.
Given that it takes courage to stand up to everyone else (or anyone else), particularly when they claim (rightly or not) to hold the moral high ground, it is easy to see why many conservatives are afraid to examine too closely the moral code they share with leftists. And that very code -- the source of so many problems -- gives them the excuse to fail to do exactly that.