Monday, September 27, 2010

Altruism Doesn't Grow on Trees

Money has been on my mind a lot since I've taken up my Project, and I've learned a great deal about my attitude towards it. What would I do with a lot of it? Well, I'd get my Project done, save, invest in my culinary and general education, and start funding some of my entrepreneurial ideas. That's about it. I really can't imagine myself indulging in extravagant luxury other than gourmet food; primarily, I'd use the money to fuel my business aspirations and educational endeavors. If I were to become successful and rich in business, then I'd use that money for even more business aspirations, to simply pursue greater and greater achievements. Hedonism is furthest from my mind in thinking of riches, and I actually feel uncomfortable at the thought of inheriting a vast fortune rather than making my own.

Given my attitude, it makes me contemplate how terrible popular attitudes are. Predominantly it seems like people want a large pile of money -- with no means to obtain it specified -- so they can live the most hedonistic lifestyle they've ever dreamed of, which I consider to be similar in error to people who desire retirement: they take a momentary desire and inflate it to the point that they think they could spend a lifetime perpetually satisfying it. It's erroneous since it confuses a short-term desire with a long-term one. I'd perhaps be tickled to order the complete series of my favorite television show, Monk, and utilize more expensive ingredients in my cooking, but I know what I'd truly want is to do in life in master my culinary craft and become a masterful business owner, using money as the means and not the end.

The most pathetic attitude towards money I've observed, however, are those that want to use a fortune for altruistic ends. Of course, as an Objectivist you know I'm opposed to the morality of altruism, but that actually isn't important here; what I'm concentrating on is what this says about a person who holds this desire. Regardless of one's moral stance, at first sight this seems like a very well-intentioned desire, but upon further thought it can be seen how truly pathetic such a person would be. The particular person that I've observed who holds this desire doesn't give much consideration as to how they would obtain a vast fortune: He seems to want it to fall out of the sky. One time I even observed him express a desire to marry a particular person for the sole purpose of gaining a portion of that person's wealth.

After theoretically obtaining such pined-after wealth, by whatever means, I've then heard the person state that he would pursue to distribute it to his family. This seems comical to me: He wants to gain a fortune so he can promptly get rid of it? Since the means of obtaining said fortune isn't really specified, why not just hope that the whole family achieves wealth in their own realms and in their own way? Why does he desire to be the sole distributor of the money he wants everyone to have?

I realize now that he desires to cheat morality by finding an effortless shortcut to implementing it. Altruism requires its practitioner sacrifice his values for the sake of other men, and to, most importantly, not keep any values for himself lest he be selfish. Since a value-oriented life is the only possible way to achieving happiness, altruism necessarily leads to pain. Imagine if you had spent weeks saving up for a meal at your favorite restaurant, only to drop the saved money in a Salvation Army tin situated in front of the restaurant's door. It is, again, irrelevant to this particular topic as to how one views this action morally, for what I'm trying to point out is that such an action leads to frustration. This is the essence of altruism, in which it demands you "Give until it hurts." Nobody enjoys practicing altruism: the people who act in accordance to it consistently will suffer from losing their values, and the people who betray it but still believe it to be ideal will suffer in guilt.

The person above who desires a vast fortune for him to distribute recognizes, at least subconsciously, that altruism is a painful practice, so he's looking for a pain-free way to implement it and easily obtain the status of moral saint. With a large fortune, he supposes, he could easily "sacrifice" his monetary values and take the fast road to becoming virtuous. Perhaps he might even think that he can skim off the excess as a little treat for himself.

Altruism, however, doesn't work like this. Morality, all moralities, depend on constant and consistent practice. You can't just accumulate a "score" and expect to be able to sit still eternally at one moral status. After the fortune disappears, the person would no longer have riches to distribute, but altruism would still demand him to continue his sacrificial practices, again painful. Even if the person did devise a deliberate pace at which to distribute his riches, in order to ensure he has riches to give until his death, he would still be suffering from the guilt that he's not fully practicing altruism; you have to give all your values in one fell swoop, so any lesser action will prevent a person from being virtuous according to this standard.

The thing that truly sticks out to me in all of this, however, is how absolutely pathetic this person has shown himself to be in desiring the easy way out of the practice of his morality. Even if he could achieve virtue by this standard, it still would be far from an admirable action. What is admirable is to observe people of strength accomplishing difficult feats, not weak, petty people engaging in effortless distribution. That this person desires to practice morality in absolutely the weakest fashion is reprimandable.

But could this perhaps be a mentality present in the culture in general? If so, then how atrocious. It certainly isn't a recipe for a nation of people to try and develop themselves in the strongest way possible. That means the rest of us that do want to become strong will also have to bear the weight of those who do not, both in business and culture.

If I had a million dollars I unashamedly admit that I would spend it on myself, but not in hedonism or to try to somehow counter the need for effort. My aim would be to keep myself alive and to develop myself in the best possible way, better improved with a fortune. (Recorded lectures aren't cheap!) For now I'd truly and honestly settle perfectly content with bare sustenance, to get my Project done and to concentrate on my studies and culinary practices. Getting rich can wait for later; there's work to do first.

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