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Quark

Altruism

Posted on 2006.10.19 at 09:04
Current Location: 63134
Current Music: Battlstar Galactica Miniseries/Season1/Season2 Scores
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The 101st Ferengi Rule of Acquisition states, "Never do something you can make someone do for you."




I have always admired truly selfless people and been disappointed in myself that I could not better emulate them. I sincerely admire that trait in people when I come across it. I had a friend once tell me that I was the most selfish person they knew. That comment stung, until they qualified it by saying that I was also the most generous person they ever known. Her logic was that by making sure I was taking care of myself first, I was in more of a position to give to others. But that's not true selflessness. I have known people who have had nothing, give more than I, who have everything, have ever given. It's very humbling.

During my Air Force years, each and every time I was to be given an award, I always chose to pick it up from the administrative office ahead of time to avoid the fanfare of a public display. This is not to say that I shun crowds - I can perform impromptu public speaking without a second thought; those types of things do not bother me. It's the personal attention I don't care for. I wouldn't say it makes me uncomfortable as I really don't have any adverse reactions to it, I just prefer to do without it.

During the meeting I supported this past week in D.C. I was part of a small support staff to assist 600 people. I felt personally responsible for every one of them, and made myself available to ensure their well-being. I don't know why. One person alone cannot do it, but I tried. For five full days I worked myself ragged attending to the needs of people I did not know - and I never let them see anything except a smile on my face. It was tiring, but wholly rewarding. I felt drawn to serve these people the best I could.

In researching altruism on wikipedia, I came across this snippet:

In common parlance, altruism usually means helping another person without expecting material reward from that or other persons, although it may well entail the "internal" benefit of a "good feeling," sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, fulfillment of duty (whether imposed by a religion or ideology or simply one's conscience), or the like. In this way one need not speculate on the motives of the altruist in question.

This leads me to believe perhaps I'm not anywhere near skirting altruism, as I was there fulfilling a functional role as part of my job. As the IS Manager, my duties were limited to those issues which required interaction within the scope of things IT/IS related. But I didn't do just that. I did everything. Perhaps because it was my job, and I am who I am, I just refused to do anything except my best. Doing the best you can at a task you've been given isn't selflessness, and in fact could be I suppose, considered selfish. Knowing word would get back to my chain of command in hopes of retaining my position or gaining materialistically from it. But I don't think so. I found that I enjoyed giving more than was expected of me. It was fulfilling, and I feel that I've only gotten to where I am today by always having this attitude.

Comments:


galinda822 at 2006-10-19 16:17 (UTC) (Link)
I think it's just your nature to be helpful where you can! I don't believe in the back of your mind you're expecting anything in return. It probably isn't even a conscious thought for you to help but is rather something that is engrained in you as a person! It's just who you are! The thought of not helping would never even enter your mind. Others respect and admiration of this trait shouldn't make you uncomfortable...it should make you feel good about being who you are! You're truly a wonderful person!!!

drax0r
drax0r at 2006-10-19 20:07 (UTC) (Link)
Ayn Rand rejects altruism, the view that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. Since selfishness (as she understands it) is serious, rational, principled concern with one's own well-being, it turns out to be a prerequisite for the attainment of the ultimate moral value. For this reason, Rand believes that selfishness is a virtue.

In the introduction to her collection of essays on ethical philosophy, The Virtue of Selfishness (VOS), Rand writes that the "exact meaning" of selfishness is "concern with one's own interests" (VOS, vii). In that work, Rand argues that a virtue is an action by which one secures and protects one's rational values—ultimately, one's life and happiness. Since a concern with one's own interests is a character trait that, when translated into action, enables one to achieve and guard one's own well-being, it follows that selfishness is a virtue. One must manifest a serious concern for one's own interests if one is to lead a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life.

Rand understands, though, that the popular usage of the word, "selfish," is different from the meaning she ascribes to it. Many people use the adjective "selfish" to describe regard for one's own welfare to the disregard of the well-being of others. Moreover, many people would be willing to characterize any instance of desire-satisfaction in these circumstances as "selfish," no matter what its content. Thus, many people arrive at the following composite image: selfish people are brutish people who are oblivious to the negative consequences of their actions for their friends and loved ones and who abuse the patience, trust, and good will of all comers to satisfy their petty whims.
drax0r
drax0r at 2006-10-19 20:09 (UTC) (Link)
Rand certainly recognizes that there are people who fit this description, and she certainly does not believe that their behavior is in any sense virtuous. But she opposes labeling them "selfish." Rand believes that this application of the word blurs important philosophical distinctions and foreordains false philosophical doctrines. First, this understanding of selfishness construes both whim-fulfillment and the disregard of others' interests as genuinely self-interested behaviors, which they are not. Second, this understanding of selfishness suggests an altruist framework for thinking about ethics.

To elaborate on the first point: Rand believes that the elements of human self-interest are objective. All human beings have objective biological and psychological needs, and one's actual interests are identified by reference to these needs. Mere whim-fulfillment is therefore not constitutive of human well-being because one's whims might be at odds with one's actual needs. Moreover, the character traits of the "selfish" brute are not compatible with any human being's actual, rational interests. Humans live in a social world; in order to maximize the value of their interactions with others, they should cultivate a firm commitment to the virtues of rationality, justice, productiveness, and benevolence. A commitment to these virtues naturally precludes such brutish behavior. (For the Objectivist view of benevolence and its component virtues—civility, sensitivity, and generosity.

To elaborate on the second point: Rand argues that the conventional understanding of selfishness implies an altruistic framework for thinking about ethics. Within this framework, the question, "Who is the beneficiary of this act?" is the most important moral question: right acts are acts undertaken for the "benefit" of others and wrong acts are acts undertaken for one's own "benefit." Rand believes that this approach passes over the crucial ethical questions: "What are values?" and "What is the nature of the right and the good?" In addition, the altruist framework suggests a dichotomy between actions that promote the interests of others to one's own detriment and actions that promote ones own interests to the detriment of others. Rand rejects this dichotomy and affirms the harmony of human interests.
drax0r
drax0r at 2006-10-19 20:10 (UTC) (Link)
Rand writes, "[A]ltruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his own life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others … it permits no concept of benevolent co-existence among men … it permits no concept of justice".

For her, the truly selfish person is a self-respecting, self-supporting human being who neither sacrifices others to himself nor sacrifices himself to others. This value-orientation is brilliantly dramatized in the character of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. The further elements of selfishness - the character traits that, when translated into action, implement a concern for one's own real interests - are discussed and illustrated in that work, in Atlas Shrugged, and throughout Rand's non-fiction.

Finally, one might ask why Rand chose to use the term, "selfish," to designate the virtuous trait of character described above rather than to coin some new term for this purpose. This is an interesting question. Probably, Rand wished to challenge us to think through the substantial moral assumptions that have infected our ethical vocabulary. Her language also suggests that she believes that any other understanding of selfishness would amount to an invalid concept, i.e., one that is not appropriate to the facts and/or to man's mode of cognition (see VOS vii-xii, and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, esp. Ch. 7). In addition, one might interpret Rand as asserting that her definition captures the historical and etymological meaning of the word. But certainly, her praise of selfishness communicates instantaneously and provocatively the practical, this-worldly, egoistic, and profoundly Greek orientation of her ethical thought.
ehowton
ehowton at 2006-10-20 17:41 (UTC) (Link)
My begging you to NOT quote Ayn Rand notwithstanding, she makes good points both in her choice of vocabulary and interpretation of selfish as I've come to know it.

The point of my post, however, was not to argue her points, rather the expression of my self-realization. It's one thing to debate motivations on a purely philosophical level, and entirely another to actually put these things into practice to witness firsthand the outcome.

You can chin-wag all day about value-orientation, and succumb to scenarios of possible conclusions - and they have their place. But to act on these in place of theoretical fancifications; that's what I've done, and was awed by it. Tangible evidence dude.
(Anonymous) at 2006-10-20 15:10 (UTC) (Link)
It is always good and right to live your life by positive attitudes and principles; no harm to others, they benefit. Regardless of what book or person says, we are who we are and we live by balancing our conscience and personal needs. We don't always get it right. It's called being human. No harm in feeling good about doing right things. The GREAT person in my life told me on several occasions, "Don't over think it." And I say to you go back and read the Doer of Deeds. In our lives today, deeds come in small packages, deeds of our conscience to keep us FROM BECOMING "cold and timid souls".
Just M
ehowton
ehowton at 2007-11-27 22:44 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you.
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