Altruism as Mental Kill-Switch

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The following exchange illustrates the destructive power of the unchallenged premises of altruism so many people hold today:

During an interview with NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday," [Adrian] Smith [(R-NE)] discussed farm subsidies and cutting food stamps with host Scott Simon.

"Well, let me ask you this bluntly -- is every American entitled to eat?" Simon asked.

"Well, they -- nutrition, obviously, we know is very important. And I would hope that we can look to," Smith responded.

"Well, not just important, it's essential for life. Is every American entitled to eat?" Simon asked again.

Smith answered the question by saying "it is essential. It is essential."

Simon asked a third time, also asking whether food stamps should be an "ultimate guarantor."

"I think that we know that, given the necessity of nutrition, there could be a number of ways that we could address that," Smith responded.
It is stunning how easily Simon got away with smuggling in the immoral assumption that one man's need entitles him to another's property, not to mention another: that it is the government's role to relieve him of the need to steal it himself. Had Smith not shared the same underlying moral belief with Simon, that self-sacrifice is man's highest virtue, he could have come up with many on-the-spot retorts, such as, "Do you think that hunger entitles some people to steal from others?", or "What are you doing to alleviate hunger, and do you think its okay to force others to do so?", or even, "I hear that a lot. Perhaps you can tell me why it follows that one man's hunger becomes another man's debt?" Instead, the lawmaker came off like he was caught at something, and searching for excuses.

This reminds me of the following point, among many other perceptive ones from Peter Schwartz's In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice is Unjust and Destructive:
While claiming to support moral principles, the altruist in fact holds that they too must be sacrificed on the altar of need. If you ask whether you should be honest, the altruist will answer: not if it hurts others, not if lying spares someone's feelings, not if your dishonesty satisfies another's needs. (p.50)
And you shouldn't steal, or threaten someone else -- unless another's needs would go unmet. Elsewhere in the book, Schwartz further argues that altruism calls for the sacrifice of one's convictions, but the above is an eloquent example. Anyone who holds that entire moral code to be as self-evident and unquestionable as the need for human beings to eat will fold like a cheap lawn chair the instant he is challenged. Whether Smith favors more limited government or simply wants to balance the books, he freezes when called upon to defend a mere spending cut. Worse, such encounters give thieves and little dictators a moral and intellectual credibility they don't deserve.

-- CAV

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