Friday Philosophy: Altruism



Maybe I was born this way.  Maybe it’s a genetic mutation.

Maybe it happened when I was sitting on the dock of the bay in my hippie youth.

Maybe it happened because once upon a time it became clear that my life and my needs didn’t matter to the progress of this thing we call human society and its relationship with and survival on this planet.

Which means maybe Poul Anderson is to blame.

Maybe it happened because I’ve lived so close to the edge of death by my own hand so many times.  That could have singed away any real motivation for the self-interest that I have been told recently is at the heart of every human being’s motivation and that virtue is only enlightened self-interest.

Now available in Orange.

I can’t accept that…and the emphasis is on the “I”.  My examination of my life does not allow me to classify doing something in my self-interest, enlightened of not, as being a virtue.  If I’m not doing something that benefits society at large in some way, I am not spending my time wisely.  

That someone else would question the my motives or the motives of anyone else me is perplexing to me.  

The pride with which the young poster (since I am nearing 60, I feel safe in using the adjective “young”) interpreted psycho/sociological research and questioned my own knowledge of self to justify his claim that I indeed once again belonged outside of the whole was astounding to me.  Inside I could not possibly believe that the good of the many was paramount.  I must be delusional (like I haven’t hear that before).

Once more I feel like a complete outsider, unable to be fully human if I am altruistic, if the benefit of the world and its people do not in every case supersede the needs of the one.

I had to be like him.

I’m not.  And there is nothing wrong with me.

We are not all alike and nobody gets to tell me what I think or why I think it.  The only freedom I truly have in this life is the freedom to think my own thoughts and establish my own motivations.

I am an altruist.  I will not back away from that descriptor for myself.  I do truly believe that spending my life trying to benefit the whole of mankind is something I should be doing.  I’ve made it my life’s work.  I do not need people seeking to prove that I am not an altruist.  I really do have better things to do with my time.

There are just some statements which are wrong but are said too often.  I denounce the thoughts that everyone is selfish, that everyone is a racist, that aggression is good and pacifism is bad, that hatred cannot be eliminated.  I believe in the human race.  I believe that our society can evolve beyond such thoughts.  

The thoughts aren’t true and they don’t help anyone.  There is a huge difference between All and Some.  What someone else may believe about themselves has no influence on what I believe about my life.  In many cases, the context in which those thoughts above are expressed makes the work harder for those of us who seek to find ways for society to advance for the greater good of its members.

I am not alone.  I can’t be or the notion of altruism would not persist.  I have to believe I am not alone.

But even if I were alone, I would still go on believing what I believe and doing what I do for what I believe is the good of the many.

Nobody has to worry about me trying to create others like me.  Other people have their own processes to go through to arrive at personal understanding.  My view of the world works for me.

And nobody has to claim that means I think I am better than anyone else.  I don’t.  Selfishness is a human right and altruism is not a human obligation.  Altruism is an obligation I have for myself in living my life.

If that is delusion, so be it.  I can only be who I am, one human being among many.

13 comments

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    • Robyn on December 1, 2007 at 12:03 am
      Author

    …I will be spending the evening constructing tomorrow’s Daily Kos diary for World AIDS Day.  Last year I posted Sharing our AIDS Stories and am planning a similar effort…because someone should listen.

    If not me, who?

    Robyn

    PS:  Because of World AIDS Day, Teacher’s Lounge will be on Sunday this weekend.

  1. That bastard!

    We are aall bozo’s on this bus….and let’s never forget it!

    Great essay Robyn, thanks.

  2. we must have drunk the same Kool-Aid somewhere along the line…

    At 37 years of age, after much fire, vitriol and brouhahah, all I can think of now, is seeing my kids grow up safely, and keeping myself from doing any more harm in this world than that which I have already done…

    I sleep better at night, this way…oh, and it lends my sanctimony a patina of respectability…

    I’ll take it…

    Cheers…

    • RiaD on December 1, 2007 at 2:47 am

    as always!

    I read this at orange first, then almost forgot to stop in here.

    • plf515 on December 1, 2007 at 3:34 am

    but beautiful diary.

    It give me my second opportunity to quote Hillel today:


    If I am not for myself, who is for me?

    If I am for myself alone, what am I?

    If not now, when?

    smart dude, that Hillel

    • Alma on December 1, 2007 at 5:23 am

    other and outsider on this too.  Lucky I don’t let what other people think bother me.  They are the ones loosing out by not helping just because they can, and want to.  Maybe the youngster will learn about real life as he grows.

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