Live for Yourself

“… [A] charitable action is one in which the initiator possesses some sort of benevolent desire to take part in a given form of charity without compulsion and will ultimately benefit from those actions in some way. Quite oppositely, altruism is ‘the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.’ An even more accurate definition is provided in more biological terms: ‘behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.’ When acting altruistically, an individual is, in effect and in metaphysical reality, sacrificing himself and his well-being to the good and benefit of others. The consistent practicers altruism receive no remuneration of any kind from the actions that they initiate.” Quite simply, charity and altruism are incompatible concepts.

Some find it hard to believe that such people as altruists who hate charity even exist. Are there really people who would actually censure others for giving to charity? Yes, and they are more common than one would like to believe.

As it is, I encountered an excellent example just over a two months ago following a Model UN tournament at the University of Virginia. I will briefly digress to note that though it may seem ironic that I am a team member of such an organization, especially considering my staunch opposition to the actual United Nations, college Model UN teams are primarily competitive organizations that attend conferences where their members are judged on speaking ability, leadership qualities, creative problem-solving, and how accurately/consistently they portray their characters – all things that I find valuable skills to facilitate. The fact that collegiate conferences rarely even have committees that even relate to the UN is just icing on the cake (for example, I represented Unionist William Custis in a simulation of the 1861 Virginia Convention).

Regardless, this issue did not come up at the conference itself, but on the drive home from Charlottesville, VA to Athens, GA. Though I fail to remember what prompted the conversation, at some point my teammates and I began discussing possible philanthropic endeavors in which our team could participate next year. One of the suggestions was Relay for Life, a fundraising event that supports the American Cancer Society which then utilizes received donations for cancer research, the development of cures, cancer prevention, cancer detection programs, and other support programs. Unhappy with the suggestion, one of the teammates said, in essence:

“But everyone does Relay. I mean yeah, I get it – it goes toward cancer stuff. Fine, whatever, but it just annoys me. I mean, there are so many poor people in Athens, but everyone wants to do Relay instead. I think that’s so stupid.”

Her analysis of the facts is not terribly far off the mark. The Athens Banner-Herald reports that the 2009 estimated poverty rate in Athens was about 39%, making Athens-Clarke County the poorest metropolitan county in the United States. Despite statements by a UGA demographer in the same article, middle and upper class college students certainly skew that statistic upward, as many are financially independent and impoverished as far as the government is concerned (as based on tax returns) though they are still supported by their parents. But even excluding college students who are considered independent, Athens is still a considerably poorer community by national standards. At the same, Relay for Life at UGA is the biggest, or one of the biggest, student organizations on campus. UGA consistently ranks as one of the most successful campuses for Relay for Life nationwide in terms of fundraising, earning itself a spot on Relay’s National Collegiate Advisory Team along with just 10 other schools based on 2010 and 2011 fundraising levels.

Go to www.relayforlife.org for more information on Relay for Life.

But why should my teammate be “annoyed” by the high level of participation in Relay for Life at the University of Georgia? What about students raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for cancer research and related functions out of their own good will does she find “stupid?” For a girl who supports generally socialistic governmental policies to the point that she is convinced that “socialism and communism are complete opposites” (that, unfortunately, is a direct quote),  one would think she would be thrilled that individuals are exhibiting concern for one another and giving charitably out of that concern. But altruism rejects such things, even if it cloaks itself in them as protection from criticism.

No, the goal of altruism and its adherents is not giving or good will – those things are mere window dressing. Instead, altruism is a doctrine which is anti-man and a rejection of all things valuable to man. It is not “good” to give because one wants to give. It is not “good” to give to a cause that is worthy. It is not “good” to give to something or someone that is personally valuable. Giving is not what altruism finds valuable. The only true moral action under altruism is sacrifice – the self-immolation of man.

In modern philosophy, there are two philosophers who deserve equal credit for being the root of this notion: Immanuel Kant and Auguste Comte. Comte is the philosopher credited with first verbalizing the term “altruism,” and Kant outlined the tenets of altruism (even without a word to encapsulate them) by arguing that man receives no moral credit for completing moral actions because he wants to or out of general self-interest. Rather, man is only being truly moral when he’s doing the “right” thing to the point that it hurts, i.e. when it becomes sacrificial to do so.

If man is moral because he wants to be moral, then man is merely being moral because he possesses some selfish value in doing so. As such, he is not truly “obeying” the dictates of a given moral system – he is moral because he benefits from doing so, not because he must. As it applies to the above situation, those participating in Relay for Life are not actually being “good” – they are simply giving their money to a cause that they thinks deserves it anyway. Only if one donates to a cause undeserving of one’s time, effort, and resources does the giving become “moral.”

The consequences of one’s actions are totally irrelevant under this philosophy. Instead, the moral status of an act rests with the act itself and the manner in which it was completed. Such a philosophy attempts to separate cause from effect, as do the utilitarian philosophies which argue that only the consequences matter irrespective of how they were achieved. What consequences are the altruists failing to take into account? Examine the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, arguably the most consistent altruist regime currently in existence. Such a morality attempts to treat reality as it is not – a world of causes with mystic, unrelated, and irrelevant effects. Unsurprisingly, these are the exact metaphysics Kant supported – an unreal reality which is nothing more than a product of man’s subjective awareness. The subjective ethical codes that followed are merely the logical extensions of those premises.

Immanuel Kant

As the morality of altruism relates to this issue, examine the nature of the two alternatives: participating in Relay for Life or participating in some local charity to benefit the poor. The first option is a philanthropic organization with a clearly defined purpose: the prevention, treatment, and cure of cancer. In America today, it is not likely that man can live very long without being affected by cancer in some way, either directly or indirectly through family, friends, and other kinds of relationships. The son of my first cousin, for example, developed a rare kind of smooth muscle cancer in his throat when he was just a few years old (I believe it has been over a year since his last treatment and he is doing well), and I had a girlfriend whose grandfather died as a result of pancreatic cancer, grieving her greatly and me by extension. The risk of an individual contracting cancer personally is far from negligible, and government regulations have pushed the costs of cancer treatment skyward, magnifying the benefits of private charities like the American Cancer Society that work to mitigate some of those costs. In short, I am acting selfishly when I donate to the American Cancer Society and participate in Relay for Life, I receive selfish pleasure from alleviating the pain of cancer victims and their loved ones, and many other men and women who participate in Relay for Life are the exact same way. Moreover, I do not give beyond what I am comfortable giving – I give as much as makes me satisfied and no more.

As with all issues man faces throughout his life, man must solve the issue of cancer with production, and he must produce through the application of his mind. The point of Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society is not to throw capital at cancer patients (or researchers, for that matter) to temporarily treat the symptoms of the disease. Certainly, there are cases in which this is all that is possible, as there are those whose lives may be prolonged and made more comfortable by donations but simply cannot be cured of the disease that put them in that condition. But by and large, the purpose of donating to Relay for Life is to address the root of the problem – not the symptoms, but the cancer itself. One funds production and the productive forces within the minds of the researchers when one donates to such an organization. A Relay for Life donor gives under the expectation that the giving will not be perpetual and fruitless, but will one day fulfill its goal: cancer going the way of so many diseases before it and ceasing to be a serious medical condition.

But what about when one “gives to the poor?” My teammate did herself no favors by failing to identify a specific charity in her statements, so I will assume – based on what I know of her and her ideology – that her charity of choice would be one of general welfare, i.e. one that pays for general living expenses and services to the poor including food, shelter, healthcare, etc. Before expounding upon the nature of giving to such organizations, it is important to examine the nature of poverty itself, something that is probably understood much less by the layman than is the nature of cancer and cancer treatment.

All that which is valuable to man’s life – including man’s life itself – is created, obtained, or maintained through the use of man’s mind. Man’s physical capabilities avail him little in the world – even the swiftest of hunters would be hard-pressed capturing game without spears or nets, products of man’s inventive abilities. Even gathering wild grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables would be useless if man could not conceptually distinguish between foods that are poisonous and those that are not, let alone knowing where to look for them and at what time of the year. Man requires his mind in order to survive, and man’s mind requires the liberty to stand on its own judgment free from coercive force.

By extension, wealth is also the product of man’s mind. Man achieves wealth by employing his productive abilities to create something of value. In developed economies, man can trade that value with other men to his own benefit, thus increasing his wealth. Money serves as a unit of exchange for this purpose, representing produced yet unconsumed values. I.e., at my current job as a transcriptionist, I do not consume the service I produce, meaning I am paid in money as a representation of the value of the service I have already produced and can exchange that value, quid pro quo, later for some other produced value.

Poverty is a shortage in production. The poor do not produce value at a level which allows them to greatly exceed their level of consumption. As a result, most of what they produce is immediately consumed, disallowing the accumulation of produced value with deferred consumption. The purchase and consumption of goods and services most commonly considered “luxuries” (or even more basic goods and services) are largely impossible if that purchase requires more money than that which is received at the arrival of each paycheck.

There are only two possible solutions for this problem: either the poor can produce more or someone else can increase the buying power of what the poor already produces. The first option requires little explanation. If a poorer individual produces more value, he can use that additional value to trade with other producers to obtain the goods and services he desires. An individual can manage to do this through any number of ways: acquiring education and skills for more valuable jobs, finding a different line of employment where one’s existing set of skills is more valuable, making oneself additionally valuable to one’s employer through increasing one’s experience, efficiency, and productivity on the job, by creating a good or service to sell to others as one’s own personal business, etc.

The poor in the United States are fortunate in this respect, as even the poorest among them can generally improve their productivity in at least one of the described ways. Most of them, by far, are not on the fringe of starvation and are capable of saving enough money to afford forgoing a few days’ pay at their current job in order to look for a better one, even in the absence of government welfare.

Members of the Kingsbridge Amory Redevelopment Alliance hoist signs supporting a “living wage.”

Using myself as an example, even if I were totally isolated from anyone who might give me assistance, I could still pay for my $250 monthly rent, utilities (including cable and Internet), a basic cell plan, food and other necessities, and the cost of gasoline for a small truck on minimum wage pay for just 25 hours a week – after taxes. Adding just another hour to my schedule per day (now a total of 30 per week) would allow me to make a monthly car payment should I not own my current vehicle (based on the average value of my current model and the average national interest rate for car payments) along with earning me hundreds of extra dollars each month, again after taxes. I could do all of the same for less pay and/or less hours if I was allowed to keep all of what I earn, and even less if the government removed the regulations currently restricting my standard of living. The murmurings from leftists in Congress and the shouts from Occupiers in favor of a “living wage” have absolutely no legitimacy, nor does a minimum wage in general.

The point of examining my current financial situation was to explain that even those working at the lowest possible levels of income in the United States can defer the consumption of the value they produce in spite of government regulations, not because of them. Moreover, they would do even better were all governmental restrictions on the economy removed, but despite this not being the case, the poor can still afford at least some manner of self-improvement that can allow them to produce more value and make their situation more comfortable. E.g,. I can work a few extra hours a week, earn an increase in pay by transcribing at a faster rate than I currently do, or simply look for a better job.

The second possible solution requires understanding the same basic premises of the first though applying them to another situation: an increase in production on the part of others. This has nothing to do with other individuals creating more and then simply giving it to the poor – that will be discussed soon enough. Instead, the increased levels of production take place within the regular economic sphere, meaning that the men who increase their production sell their goods or services on the market for a profit in the same manner as the poor would, should they increase their own levels of production.

The men who achieve this increased production are businessmen, individuals whose occupation it is to integrate a wide variety of disconnected raw materials, intermediary goods and services, and other productive forces in order to produce something of value as profitably as possible. They do not work for the good of mankind but for their own self-interests, though no one can reasonably argue after the Industrial Revolution (or even now) that their pursuits do not benefit mankind immensely.  In seeking their own self-interests, these individuals seek to maximize their profits by reducing input costs as much as possible and selling to the largest possible consumer base. They achieve the first by increasing the efficiency of the process to produce a given good or service while maintaining (or increasing) the quality such that it costs them and their business less to create each unit; the second, by reducing the sales price of each unit such that as many consumers as would want to buy it can do so while retaining a healthy profit margin for themselves.

If competitors exist, businessmen will attempt to earn more profits by gaining the consumers of his competitors through either improving the quality of their own product or by reducing the cost to consumers (though often both for maximum effectiveness). Where no competitors exist, businessmen will attempt to keep it that way through the same processes. Why? Because if ever another entrepreneur thinks he can do better, he will, and the established businessmen will lose customers and profits as a result. Whether the competing products are similar (i.e. a wooden pencil business competing with another wooden pencil business) or alternative (i.e. a wooden pencil business competing with a mechanical pencil business) is irrelevant – businessman must constantly work to maintain their profits, or else they will lose them.

How does this assist the poor? By improving their standard of living. Every time a businessman produces a good or service, new or old, at a cost affordable to the poor, the poor are able to improve their standard of living through the purchase of this good or service, provided that said good or service is in accordance with their long-term, rational self-interests (e.g. purchasing a cheaper, more alcoholic kind of liquor is more likely to lead to self-destructive practices than self-interested ones). Even if the poor are not able to purchase the product, someone is. Other individuals can then use the new product (or the resources saved to purchase it, as opposed to an old product) to continue the cycle of productive innovation. The poor may have no use for steel or some other metal produced more cheaply than before, but a manufacturer of industrial equipment might. They may not have any need to buy cheaper industrial parts, but a corporation producing mass amounts of bread might. The poor may not have benefitted directly from a businessman improving the production of steel, but they received derivative benefits from subsequent businessmen who used the product of the first to improve their own products. This is but one hypothetical example – examples of this same pattern occurring in real life are innumerable.

With the two productive solutions outlined above, examine the proposed solution of general welfare agencies: the reallocation of one man’s produced value to finance the life of another. In this situation, there is no path out of poverty as the standard of living achieved from one set of charitable donations is not permanent and will require a second set of donations as soon as the funds from the previous set run out – a third will be required when the second set runs dry, and a fourth when the third runs out, and so on and so forth without end. Nothing is done to end the poor’s poverty or dependence on others.  Just as treating the symptoms of cancer will not actually cure the cancer itself, treating the symptoms of poverty does nothing to solve poverty itself.

In actuality, such a system perpetuates and even worsens poverty.  Rather than using their money to finance an expansion of their own production – an expansion that could potentially increase the standard of living of the poor – the donors to general welfare organizations are literally financing a known loss. The poor who receive general welfare funds (not all, but those bums and leeches who feel entitled to them) believe they have no incentive to bring themselves out of poverty. Why? Because they expect the good will of others to finance them. Neither the poor produce more nor are their benefactors able to produce to their full potential. Thus, the two paths out of poverty are rendered impotent.

I want to stress that I am not disparaging the poor who receive general welfare funds nor am I inherently criticizing those that financially support such funds. Truly, there are some individuals who, through circumstances beyond their control, are unable to pull themselves out of poverty by producing more without someone else temporarily supporting them financially. Others simply cannot and will never be able to produce more than they currently are, often through physical or mental disability, and must therefore rely on others to obtain the sustenance to survive. So long as the financiers receive some sort of selfish value for giving under such circumstances (e.g. the desire to help an honest man get back on his feet or the desire to assist a close friend who suffers from some permanent disability), then the giving is most certainly rational and moral.

Notice, however, that I did not say that it was rational to give to a poor individual simply because he needs it. Need alone is no standard for extending assistance to anyone. In fact, it’s no standard at all. Instead, man should give based solely on the personal values he receives from doing so. This kind of measurement is economic only insofar as it relates to the donation itself – one cannot give more than one produces, nor can one give more than he is required to maintain his own standard of living and provide for his future. The much more important part of the equation involves calculations of a spiritual (i.e. emotional) level: “What will my donations be used for? Who will be receiving it? Do they deserve it? Will it actually address the problem at its fundamental rather than superficial level? How much do I want to give? Etc.” All of these questions are merely smaller auxiliary questions within the larger question of, “Will it make me rationally happy?”

Rational happiness is received from pursuing and fulfilling values that are in accordance with man’s ultimate value of his own life. The answers to the first four auxiliary questions as they relate to Relay for Life would all be rational: I’m funding cancer research, prevention, and treatment; my donations go to researchers and cancer patients; they deserve it because they are either working to physically eliminate the problem or possess cancer themselves and, as cancer has affected my life as well, it benefits me spiritually to assist them; and yes, it addresses the root of the problem.

Irrational happiness is that emotion one receives by attaining personal “values” that are in direct conflict with the ultimate value of one’s own life. Here are answers to the same questions as they relate to general welfare funds: I’m paying for the living expenses of someone else; anyone who needs it will get it; some might deserve it though the fund makes no distinction; no, it addresses only the symptoms.

If one is “happy” giving under the second set of conditions, then one’s happiness is irrational. The “values” one receives from giving to a general welfare organization of this sort would rest solely with another, as the donor does not even get the satisfaction of knowing their funds went to someone of virtue or someone that exemplified some other personal value. But this is the kind of giving my teammate supports.

Excluding the situations in which a poorer individual may warrant my good will because of the personal value I receive from helping him, belief in the moral superiority of general welfare organizations stems from the altruism described earlier. According to this doctrine, man is nothing except a servant to his “brothers;” he has a duty to “help his fellow man” though he has no right to do something out of his own interests; and any miserable tramp has a claim to man’s property by the nature of being a tramp – his “needs” supersede those of cancer patients and researchers. Why? Because man would help the latter because he receives value from doing so – he has no reason to give to the tramp, and thus he should, because his giving will be out of pure, “selfless love” (a truly cruel contradiction).

Though it is valuable to me to give to Relay for Life, the doctrine of altruism would rather I have assisted the bum that once interrupted a date of mine at a coffee shop by asking, in turn, both my date and me if we presently had any beer on us that he could have. That is the kind of man my teammate would have me finance through general welfare organizations – the man who delights in his own depravity and feels no inclination to escape it. The truly virtuous individual that desires whole-heartedly to rise above his circumstances and produce does not deserve anyone’s help because (and this is likely true) he does not need it – and besides, he should be worried more about those around him than himself anyway.

Altruism is an inversion of both moral values and reality. It treats the depraved as worthy of praise while the righteous are to be cursed. It demands supporting the vicious while the virtuous should be bound – morally and physically – in service to the former. The vicious don’t know any better, they just can’t help it, it’s not their fault, they need help, and so it is the unquestionable duty of the virtuous to provide it. How? Blank out.

The fundamental problem with altruism is that it attempts to portray reality as something other than what it is. It demands that man take care of others while ignoring the conditions necessary for him to do so: he must first and foremost take care of himself. It is fundamentally impossible to consistently live for the sake of others and still continue to live. Arguments from altruists that their doctrine does not ask man to die for others and that he also has a duty to take care of himself are of no value. Just because some altruists cannot or refuse to see that the logical end of placing another’s life and well-being above one’s own is death does not alter that logical end. If man’s life is not really his own but is instead a blank check made out to any leech that wants to cash it, then man will surely lose it.

Reexamine my teammate’s reaction to the high number of people participating in Relay for Life – she actually resented them. The reason being is that they weren’t giving selflessly and were instead giving because of the value they saw in doing so. Because my teammate already implicitly accepts the premise that the Relayers have no entitlement to their own time or money, she herself feels entitled to it, or at least entitled to allocate it to someone she thinks is more deserving – this is the root of socialism.

If what the “haves” have actually belongs to the “have nots,” then it becomes stealing for the “haves” to withhold what they have as it “rightfully” belongs to the “have nots.” The natural solution to this “crime” is the compulsory reallocation of what the “haves” have to the “have nots.” The “have nots,” in turn, are completely justified in demanding what is “theirs” from the “haves” and feeling bitterness, anger, resentment, and envy toward the “haves” simply because they are the “haves.” Ever wonder why so many members of the left – from their political icons down to the filthy degenerates at Occupy rallies – constantly rail against the upper class? It is because they truly feel a sense of entitlement, as brought on by the altruist doctrine, to that which they have not earned: the wealth of the rich.

Communism is the most consistent incarnation of an altruist political system ever devised and practiced on earth. Though there are various kinds of socialism, including fascism, Nazism, Islamism, welfare statism, etc., Communism is the system which unabashedly accepts and attempts to actualize the contradictions within the altruist doctrine. Under Communism, earnings are not for the earners. Equality is taking from some and giving to others. Stealing is giving what is deserved to the deserving, and justice is taking from the deserving and giving to the undeserving. The life of every man is valuable, but not one’s own. Man must live through sacrifice. Freedom is subservience. Liberty is submission. A is not A.

A statue of a nude man in Changchun, Jilin Province, China.

Egoism solves every issue outlined in the preceding paragraphs. If man’s first concern is his own life, well-being, and happiness, he will not give nor feel compelled to give more than is rationally valuable. Moreover, he will ensure that when he gives,  he does, in fact, have value in doing so, i.e. that his donation will go to someone he finds valuable in order to solve a given problem, not to merely mask it. If man accepts that the products of his labor are his own and no one else’s, he will accept that other men are entitled to the products of their own labor and that he has no legitimate claim to them. Thus, the envy that results from an altruist moral system is eliminated.

Moreover, if man accepts “that his life is his own ultimate value,” he can determine “that to pursue his own life, he must be free to pursue it; that the ultimate value of every other man is his own life, and that they too must be free to pursue that value; that to interfere with another man’s pursuit of his life is to contradict and deny the conditions necessary to pursue his own; that he can discover all of this through the use of his faculty of reason; that he can use his reason to objectively comprehend the reality in which he lives; that his comprehension of reality allows him to choose those actions that pursue his ultimate value; that the political extension of all these principles is capitalism, and nothing less.”

Thus, the death and destruction that result from Communism are removed from the picture, and man is free to produce and prosper without inhibition, allowing other men to benefit immensely from the achievements of their fellows. But it is not for their brothers that the producers produce, and it is not for the benefit of mankind that I defend capitalism. They produce for their own self-interests, just as I write for my own.

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