Recently, I’ve been pondering the notion of altruism in a fair society.
Altruism, by definition of my handy Apple dictionary, means “the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”
Hmmmm…. seemingly on face value, one may think this is a good thing. Care about other humans! How could that be a bad thing? But I wonder, why is it good to not care about yourself but it is good to care about others? And how does one determine who the “others” are and what their needs for well-being are? And if it means that caring for “others” hurts someone else, is the right answer to be determined by whose NEEDS are greater? Then, who determines that? I suppose it’s the person making the choice to be altruistic, determining the needs of others and therefore using his/her own value system to do so…
But I wonder, if this is something he/she chose to do, how is it selfless? Perhaps that is a comfort blanket one uses to make oneself feel good about the choices they make.
In a fair society based in individual freedom, NEEDS play no part outside of oneself. Life is a matter of justice, which is being fair and moral, and that is the value system one uses to guide their actions if they choose to live a just life. If they choose to be altruistic, life is not about justice. It can’t be. It becomes a game of who’s needs are greater, and then choices are made accordingly. In other words, those who need more are rewarded while those who took care of their own needs are punished. How is that just?
I was talking to my father, a very smart man, about altruism. He posed a question to me that has not left my mind. He asked, suppose one who bases their decisions in altruism is in the hospital and is told the talented surgeon who was going to perform a specialized surgery on him/her has been fired and replaced by a less qualified surgeon because he/she was in much more need of a job. Do you think that person will feel as strongly about the altruistic solution of the less qualified surgeon as he/she had in the past about altruistic solutions?
It’s a smart question. And an important one.
How can one care about others if they don’t care about themselves? Isn’t it contradictory to say all humans deserve X but then not feel that way about themselves? And when it really comes down to it, I wonder what an altruistic person’s answer would be in this situation…
I suppose everyone has to figure this out for themselves. In our society, the term “selfish” has been given such a bad meaning that most shy away from it completely. But what about those of us who may care about ourselves and our own lives but also care about others because we truly want to? Instead of doing things blindly from an altruistic place, we do things accordingly to honesty and fairness? What about that? Is that selfish?
For those who try to live their lives just, take care of their own needs, be honest and help others in the process because they want to – yes, you may be considered selfish, but at least you don’t have to worry about putting your head on a pillow at night, because you will sleep the sleep of the just. And that is some mighty fine sleep.