In my travels through Govland, I enjoy posting comments on forums like those of The Guardian and the News Hour, and dealing with the nonsense that sometimes comes in response. Always I try to stay polite, often in the face of very rude provocation (for example, last week one adversary called me stupid, crazy, untruthful and "effing" - twice! - and, worst of all, a Republican; all in one short post. Oh, the horror of it.)
Occasionally, I come across someone who is articulate as well as statist, and that also occurred last week. After several exchanges about the job-killing proposal to raise the minimum wage, I steered him towards an acknowledgement that humans are, uniquely, rational; that was to provide a basis for leading him towards the self-ownership axiom. Quite to my surprise, he denied it; that is, he said that many animals are also rational, that there is nothing unique in that regard about humans.
I replied that I had come across a few smart dogs and squirrels, but never any who could compose a rational message to post to an on-line forum; but recognized at that point that if he was going so far as to deny human rationality, he was one I was unlikely to persuade. When someone simply brushes reason away, they are lost to us... for the present.
Before we parted, though, he made one further breathtaking claim; that while he said rationality is not an uniquely human trait, altruism is! He said that only humans go out of their way to help and rescue strangers. Perhaps I've led a sheltered life, but I've never come across anyone so crass as openly to flaunt a favoring of altruism. It's there under the surface in different names, of course, everywhere; but brazenly to praise it as such is amazing. I know too little zoology to know whether altruism occurs elsewhere in the biosphere, but this man said not and that it is man's finest attribute.
Wow. A denier of reason and an open altruist, all in one. Some mothers do have 'em.
The two fit together, though. Once reason is abandoned, any kind of superstitious nonsense can take its place; that the Universe is controlled by Unies, or that the world was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that everyone must be subject to everyone else, with no ownership rights in himself.
Only when rational thinking is the guiding principal can it be seen that reality is what can be observed, neither more nor less, and that every person is his own property and nobody else's; for to deny that premise it would be necessary to assume it (so as to express any opinion at all, and to explain how A came to own B when A doesn't even own A.)
Then, once that self ownership axiom is properly in place, it follows that no person owes any duty to anyone else - not unless he has voluntarily undertaken to perform it, in some kind of exchange. Now that is the very antithesis of altruism, for altruism is the fiction that we all are obligated to serve others; that "greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13.) That good ethics consists of self sacrifice.
Phil Donahue had a hard time understanding, in an interview of Ayn Rand, well worth watching, why it is a bad thing to help out strangers in need; and so do many others. Her answer was that it's not, in and of itself; what matters is why such help is given. If you do it because you value the recipient of your benevolence and feel compassion and thereby enhance your own life, excellent! No problem! But if you do it because you suppose you ought to, morally, big problem. For that would mean you're valuing your own life as worth less than the recipient's. The difference is enormous.
There are two degrees of obligation, to evaluate oneself less than others: moral and legal. The moral standard has been drummed into our culture for generations, by the Christian religion as above. What's much more recent and far more sinister is the associated legal obligation; in effect the government is saying "that's the right thing to do, and we'll force you to do it whether you choose to or not." Hence the massive transfer of wealth, from those who produce it to those whom the State alleges are more deserving, or victims, or needier - or at the very least, generous contributors to its members' re-election funds.
It's a huge con, because very few of those recipients of such forced charity are needy at all; the bulk of the money goes to the comfortably-off adminstrators of the thousands of government programs. Yet still these larcenists get away with the lie that it's all about good ethics, about helping others in need.
Never was this deception more openly and successfully practiced than in JFK's famous Inaugural speech in 1961. He spoke to a "new generation of Americans" about self sacrifice. "We", he said, "shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure... liberty." By "we" he meant, of course, "you" and by "liberty" he meant roughly its diametric opposite. But at least he presented this garbage as an exhortation; he was asking his new generation to choose to do all that., as a moral virtue. "Ask not what your country can do for you [fair enough!] - ask what you can do for your country." Altruism; front, center and utterly ugly.
Only after he had returned to the Oval Office did the tax collectors and the draft boards get to work to make sure his words were backed by force. A few years later, in the war that had already begun, 58,000 more got to know at first hand what the self-sacrifice of altruism is really all about.
Fact: altruism would be very bad ethics even if it were voluntary. But in Govland, it's not voluntary.