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A Nice Distinction

December 1st, 2008 by Myrhaf · 8 Comments · Culture

I was talking to a woman who is a liberal public educator the other day. She asked me about my politics. I briefly explained that I supported laissez-faire capitalism, the complete separation of state and economics. Her reaction? "But you’re such a nice guy!"

While I am gratified that she thinks I’m nice, I must judge her reaction not nicely at all. First, this liberal obsession with "nice" and "mean" annoys me. It reduces complicated political and philosophical concepts to the language of a playground. Liberals are nice, right-wingers are mean; this renders politics as idiocy. These childish concepts are a badge of ignorance in a political discussion.

Second, the premises underlying her statement are entirely wrong. The only social system that treats all people fairly and justly is one that protects and defends individual rights. Once you replace individual rights with the individual’s duty to serve the collective — as both Democrats and Republicans have done — then the state can trample over individual rights in the name of a "greater good." This puts a nation on the road to serfdom. And if you want mean, totalitarianism is mean.

Benevolence — people being nice to one another — is possible only in a free country. When people must trade values with one another, it is in their self-interest to treat the other fairly, as one would want others to treat him. Good humor and hospitality thrive in such a society.

In a free country wealth is created, not taken from other people. The great wealth created by entrepreneurs ends up raising the standard of living of everyone. The poorest people in America today have riches that kings and queens did not have a century ago, from technological wonders, digital technology and improvements in food and health care. These riches did not come about through charity, but from greedy "robber barons" striving to make as much money as possible.

In a socialist country everyone is fighting for a piece of a static pie. If Peter gets a bigger slice than Paul, it comes from what Paul should have gotten. Could one devise a better system to set Peter and Paul against one another?

There have been studies showing that charitable giving is highest in "red" states and lowest in "blue" states. Why is this? Because Democrats have been taught to look to the government for handouts. This mentality makes them less likely to give to charity. Collectivists are less likely to take the initiative to help other individuals. Why should they when the state is supposed to take care of all that? (Charity is a minor issue, and it’s fine if one wants to give, but it is not an issue of morality as altruists think it is.)

Collectivism destroys moral behavior. In a totalitarian state the individual is expected to follow the orders of the state — without subjecting those orders to the examination of his conscience. There is no place for individual conscience in such a society; that is why it is called totalitarian.

America is not yet a totalitarian state; it is a mixed economy, or welfare state with a growing aspect of fascism. But America has already taken the fundamental step of replacing individual rights with the premise that the individual must sacrifice to the collective. Both Obama and McCain made statements upholding the collectivist morality in the last election.

Altruism, the notion that one must sacrifice value to a non-value, is a prescription for a society in which everyone is a threat to everyone else. Instead of regarding others benevolently, hatred and suspicion grow in an altruist-collectivist society in which all look to the state for favors at the expense of everyone else.

If one seriously wants a "nice" society, one should fight for laissez-faire capitalism. Only a free people are motivated to be nice to one another. All other societies put chains on individuals to some extent. That sounds mean to me.

8 Comments so far ↓

  • Two--Four

    […] the complete separation of state and economics. Her reaction? ‘But you’re such a nice guy!'”Myrhaf posts on the Eloi among us and the corrosions of their insipid little toy ethics. He’s right. Read […]

  • jon

    i live in a blue state, and i’d say that red states are more charitable simply because the blue states take all that money away from you with oppressive taxes, and don’t leave you with any to give away. “progressive taxation” raises prices as well as cutting into your paycheck. that those taxes are partially supporting welfare programs — the involuntary charity oxymoron — is in a complete blind spot.

    which actually makes social interaction between “classes” even worse. the rich don’t have a clue where that money is going, and the poor have no idea where it comes from.

  • Uninvited Guest

    “There have been studies showing that charitable giving is highest in “red” states and lowest in “blue” states. Why is this? ”

    I see you answered this question, but was your answer based on anything but pure speculation?

    There is some data to be found on charitable giving, and the most interesting is that people with lower incomes donate more than people with higher incomes, in fact, as a portion of income, poor people give 30% more than rich people, even in blue states.

    Now, has it occurred to you that blue states are richer than red states?

  • RWW

    …this renders politics as idiocy.

    But politics is idiocy.

  • Ryan Mulkerin

    “Uninvited Guest”: Your statement was no less speculative. You just took two correlations and stuck them together without proof.

    Myrhaf explanation makes more sense to me because it goes along with basic economics. Your suggested explanation might indeed be a factor, but the cause-effect relationship is not obvious to me.

  • Beth

    I understand the primacy of the virtue of selfishness, but I think that by focusing so heavily on this, Objectivists have allowed others to claim the title of benevolence. As you cleanly point out, the root of true benevolence is selfishness, and altruism is the root of human sacrifice. It’s time to reclaim the title. Thanks for elaborating on the connection.

  • Fat Charlie the Archangel

    Two points:

    1) It’s entirely possible that the teacher was joking – in just the same way, whenever I meet an Ohio State fan, I say “Oh, but you seem like such a nice person!” – which is merely my taking the opportunity to make a jab at Ohio-Statism, not any real reflection of what I think about folks from Columbus.

    That being said, I was right with you up until your paragraph against altruism…

    2) It’s not “altrusim” if the gummint is making you do it. I strongly believe in altruism, but for me to impose that belief on somebody else isn’t altruistic in any sense – for me, or for them.

  • Jim May

    Fat Charlie: you are confusing altruism with charity.

    Altruism is not about helping others; it is about serving others **at one’s own expense**. Have you ever heard it said that “it should hurt when you give”?

    Have you ever read the story of the widow’s mite in the Bible, which is the clearest pre-Kantian illustration of what altruism really means: that the pain to the giver is the measure of morality, more so than the benefit to the recipient?

    Are you familiar with Auguste Comte, the man who coined the term? He wrote: “[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries.” (from his “Catechisme Positiviste”, via Wikipedia)

    The idea that you “have to do it” is known as duty, and duty to others is the essence and meaning of altruism. It is a very short step from there to “the gummint making you do it” — as Comte notes, altruism is in opposition to “the notion of rights” that originates in individualism.

    So I suggest you revisit your idea of what you mean by “altruism”.