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Sinister Altruism

May 26th, 2009 by Amy Nasir · 5 Comments · Foreign Affairs

Brother-love need not get in the way of the “public interest” in China.  An angry passer-by pushed a would-be jumper off a bridge after he held up traffic for five hours.  The pusher’s reason – the jumper was “selfish” and his action “violate[d] a lot of public interests.”  Notice the initial false gesture of helping the jumper:

Retired soldier Lian Jiansheng, 66, broke through a police cordon and reached out to shake the hand of would-be jumper Chen Fuchao before shoving him off the bridge.

“I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish. Their action violates a lot of public interests,” Lai was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper.

This is just one small example where the morality of altruism – living for the sake of others, or the “collective” – gives the excuse to any thug to kill, pummel or push another’s life.  When a perpetrator loudly proclaims that the victim was “selfish,” he is projecting his own motivations of cynical egoism, or range-of-the-moment gratification, onto the victim.  This thug was eager to prove that his actions were moral and his victim’s weren’t.

Under altruism, brother-love does not apply to the individual – only to the greater good.  Individuals are expendable, and thugs are justifiable.

In contrast, a couple weeks ago on my side of town in Michigan, a would-be jumper on a pedestrian bridge closed a freeway for over eight hours.  It was reported that he had lost his job.  Dozens of people gathered around to offer encouragement and finally talked him down without incident.  Benevolence and compassion are based in the minds of people who understand that they, themselves, are individuals and that individuals are more important than the collective “good.”  Rational self-interest is the only moral code that keeps the thugs at bay, is conducive to compassion and allows for human beings to flourish.

5 Comments so far ↓

  • Harold

    All three of them are “thugs” as far as I’m concerned. The ex-soldier is guilty for obvious reasons, but you have these other two who go out of their way to inconvenience other individuals with these stunts.

    I don’t have compassion for such people.

  • Robert

    Harold: Your post has inconvenienced me. Please go jump off a bridge.

    Then again, I take it back – I don’t know what personal tragedy has brought you to the stage of writing such a horrid response to this topic.

    Certainly no one has a right to hold up traffic with such a public spectacle, but the motives behind such an action can range anywhere from publicity-seeking to great personal tragedy to mental illness or worse. In the absence of evidence, I can only say, too bad such a thing happened.

  • Amy Nasir

    Robert is right — can you imagine Dagny Taggart cutting Cheryl Brooks down for jumping into the river? Or perhaps Howard Roark sneering at Gail Wynand after Wynand decides to effectively end his life.

    Turns my stomach when such individuals are called thugs. It was reported that both would-be jumpers had heavy financial losses.

    We know why Cheryl and Wynand did what they did, and it was excruciatingly painful to see them willfully end their lives. But we know they had no choice in their context, as they psychologically and philosophically could not get out of their respective states of mind.

    It’s so easy to think the worst of these suicidal people — as Objectivists, we have the luxury of not only understanding the right philosophy and moral code, but it’s easy existentially as we live in the (still) freest county on earth.

    I would never come to the most negative conclusion about someone’s motivation for attempting suicide.

  • Jim May

    Yahoo Link got broken; I went ahead and fixed it.

    An altruism-steeped culture, which coddles people tends to encourage them to act like children to get attention, which can be quite aggravating to the adults.

    So while I certainly don’t applaud the pusher’s actions, it speaks to the dehumanizing effects of the coddling society that when faced with someone like this, the possibility that it’s just someone engaging in infantile, attention-seeking behaviour is sufficiently likely that someone would be frustrated enough to act on it, like this.

    Remember the jumper in the UK who was being goaded by the crowd to jump? They asked him “How far can you bounce?”

  • Harold

    “Then again, I take it back – I don’t know what personal tragedy has brought you to the stage of writing such a horrid response to this topic.”

    None, thanks 😐