Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

15 June 2009

A Response to an "Obligated to Give Back" Commenter

Back in my post of 28 March 2009, I wrote about how hard my daughter Katie had worked as a biotechnology major in the Honors Program at Rochester Institute of Technology. Today I received a comment which I posted. If I only did that, few will see my response, so I am going to give it here. The comment was this:
Obviously Katie has done alright by herself...but what has she done for those less fortunate.
Does she tutor, mentor act as a big sister?
As a father you measure your daughter by what she has accomplished...why not add a little of "what she has given back."
Quite possible, she has learned with "me" behavior from her objectivist father.
If you ask these questions from the viewpoint that Katie or I or anyone is obliged to do things for the "less fortunate" then I completely deny your premise. Katie might not do so as completely, but she fully understands that her success has been the result of some very dedicated work on her part. Nobody gave her the knowledge she has acquired. She made a huge effort, which she might have chosen not to make, just as most people do choose not to make it.

However, Katie happens to like helping other people. She has tutored, been a notetaker for classes, collected money and gave time to a number of charities, and she worked very hard as President of the Habitat Club at RIT to build homes for people. I certainly have no problem with this as long as Katie has chosen to do these things because she enjoys doing them, rather than because she feels obliged or forced to do them while feeling little but pain. No one is obliged to feel pain for the sake of others, though they may choose to take it on for a friend or someone of great value to them.

It is a sad mistake that many people believe that the choice one faces in life is either one of only I matter or one of I am but dirt and only others matter. Only the person who knows he is very worthy of life is able to respect and care for others. We cannot help but assess others from the viewpoint of our own introspection. We are only really familiar with our own mind. If your mind is not respected and valued enough by you, you will not be able to perceive anything in others which is worthy of respect and to be valued. I believe that, like me, Katie really is able to see value in others because she sees value in herself.

You and many others make the false assumption that Objectivists cannot care much about others. This is not true about me and it was not true about Ayn Rand. She was personally a very charitable woman. I know the roommate of a man, to whom she was not related, whose B.S. degree in engineering she paid for just because he otherwise was not going to be able to go to college and she wanted him to. She was in many other ways a very caring and generous person, unlike such pretenders as Obama, Biden, and Gore who claim that their lives are dedicated to the good of others. These pretenders instead simply use force to make others give to the less fortunate through governments as the enforcer and conduit. These governments, in turn, provide the Obamas, Bidens, and Gores with power, the lust for which existed among the worst men long before money was invented.

Let me point out one more thing about Katie. Katie is extremely dedicated to doing medical research. She is at this time particularly interested in the study of immunology. She finds the field fascinating and she is looking forward to solving some very real problems so that many will live healthier and richer lives. The altruist who has not done alright by himself and chooses to tackle less arduous studies and to work at a minimally demanding job, is probably going to be objectively of less value to other human beings than Katie is likely to be. If you care so much about others, then you should have no objection to Katie's becoming a great medical researcher, even if she were never to give to charities or to never "give back" in any other way.

There is a terrible sense of the thug in this demand that others serve him or that others should be bowed down before an obligation to serve others. We should resist this by all means at our disposal. There is nothing wrong with exercising the choice to perform an act of charity for someone you care about or even for those who have met misfortune through no or little fault of their own, provided it is your free choice. But, do not attempt to force me to give up my values and adopt your values. Do not attempt to force me to live my life in accordance with your values. I am proud to manage my own life in accordance with the values I choose.

What we are obligated to give back to others is agreement to the principle that our relationships are voluntary and none of us, not even a majority, are to initiate the use of force to make others do our will. I am not to force you to live for me and you are not to force me to live for you. This principle then allows us a wide range of mutually beneficial interactions and trades of values, while yet respecting each other's life and the values we have each chosen as goals in our living.


Joe said...

Well said!!!

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Thanks Joe. Now the big question is will this or some other believer in the Obligated to Give Back notion attempt to make a reasoned rebuttal of my comments.

It is very common for people to make this assertion, but much less common for them to imagine that someone would actually challenge them to defend this notion.

One thing I did not comment on is that this notion is so common in academic circles that it is now very difficult for a student to win honors or be selected by good graduate schools without playing a game of "Giving Back." This has become an essential part of the credentials one needs. It is given a greater role by means of a huge inflation of grades so that it becomes difficult to distinguish scholars on the quality of their academic work.

In Maryland, you cannot even graduate from high school without playing this game! This is really an effort in the schools to accustom young people to being slaves to others at a young age.

There is a place for charity as a manifestation of our benevolent regard for others as producers and friends. It is rational to have a regard for other living creatures and even plants based on their efforts to survive and thrive in life. This rational regard stems from one's own appreciate of the effort one makes in living one's own life. There is a sense of fellowship with others striving to live their lives well. But, this sense should not become shackles and must always flower best when it is voluntary, an act of free will.