stat counnnter

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Morality of Self-Sacrifice

I just finished reading Craig Biddle's "Introduction to the Objective Standard" at Capitalism Magazine which can be found here. I highly reccommend it. Mr. Biddle correctly points out that altruism cannot be practiced consistently because to try to do so would lead to death.

That got me to thinking, what would it be like for a person to attempt to live by the morality of self-sacrifice 24/7? According to altruism you must be completely selfless all the time. This in turn means that being concerned with one's own self is evil and a no-no.

So, lets imagine Mary who just got off of work and stops at a grocery store on the way home to pick up a few items. She stops in the produce section and examines the tomatoes. She would of course, pass over the ripest and freshest tomatoes sacrificing them for the benifit of those who may need the nutrition more than her.
She would also not select the cheapest priced tomatoes but would pick the more expensive ones sacrificing the cheaper ones for the benefit of people who have less money than she. Since there will always be someone who needs the nutrition and money more than her Mary understands that this sacrificial method of making purchases must be her permanent MOS (method of shopping).

She will use this MOS for every purchase, not just tomatoes but milk, bread, clothing, hair spray, everything. She can't even insist that her purchases are for her family because well, they are her family and that makes her actions selfish which means evil or at best not moral.

At work she will forego asking for a raise sacrificing the increase for the benefit of those who need it worse. She may accept a raise but only if it's plant or department wide and she has no choice in the matter. Still, she'll wonder if there isn't some way to sacrifice that away too.

It's not hard to see that such a sacrificial morality will eventually have Mary and her family in poor health and broke. But she and they will certainly be suffering. It is this suffering that will be viewed as virtuous by those who share her morality.

Mary can see what is happening to her family physically and begins to wonder about her moral code of sacrifice. She remembers watching the adults in her life cheat on that moral code sometimes and get the best for themselves. She vowed she would never become a hypocrit like them. But now she was beginning to have strange thoughts like "What's the point in being moral if it means the destruction of my family"? or "How come I'm sacrificing for everyone else but no one seems to be sacrificing for me?"

But those thoughts will be followed by guilt feelings. She will then shut those thoughts out of her mind thinking that it is selfish to entertain them and that she must try harder to be even more selfless. Her guilt of course, is an unearned guilt, the result of trying to practice the destructive morality of sacrifice.

Poor Mary. All she had to do was discover that the adults in her past were not actually cheating on a noble moral code when they took care of themselves. They were practicing an entirely different one called rational self-interest. They just didn't know it. There were no intellectuals to tell them of the existence of a non-sacrificial moral code. There are now.


Myrhaf said...

The problem in a welfare state is that the Marys conclude, "My poverty proves I'm moral. Now it's up to the government to take money from the selfish bastards and support me!"

mjneibel said...

Myrhaf, How very true.

Anonymous said...

Then there's the theory that an altruistic ethic is itself also ethical egoism...Kind of like getting the best of both worlds, or getting two birds stoned at once. Let me give you one of many, many, many examples. The Buddhists used to 'give themselves up' to systematically take apart their own egos. Partly because this was beneficial for the rest of the herd. But also because it was absolutely a necessary element to Nirvana (bliss.)

Mike N said...

I'm not familiar with the Buddhist rite you mention. It is true that people can twist the meaning of self interest (egoism) to include things that are not really in their interest like self sacrifice.

But we have to look to reality and define our terms exactly. When we consider the definitions of sacrifice by thinkers like August Comte, who coined the term altruism, Emmanuel Kant, Saint Ambrose and many others, we see that sacrifice means giving up values and getting nothing in return. And what kind of values are we supposed to give up? Any and all values that sustain human life qua human being i.e. a rational being.

If those Buddhists really practice a form of rational self interest they are contradicting their belief in sacrifice. Rational self interest--egoism--is not a subjective idea. It is objective. We cannot lie to ourselves by pretending that self flogging or drinking poison cool aid is in the interest of humans. If a person is acting is a self destructive way, he is not practicing rational egoism. You are right though that there are widespread notions of egoism that include destructive behavior, but they are false.