Tuesday, September 12, 2006
False Construct of the Day: Sacrificial Altruism
Altruism: The belief that the quality of doing good is proportional to the amount of pain suffered by the good-doer.
It seems to me this belief is described best as the existence of "good" as a giant doughnut. Some of us have large pieces of doughnut, others have very little. In order to do good, one must sacrifice part of his doughnut for someone else. In fact, doughnuts can be made from flour, water, yeast and fat. Good, like doughnuts, is made from other things, like time, energy, money and desire. If this Good is truly Good, it benefits the do-gooder by fulfilling his Values.
You will find, throughout the web, that mother-child relationships, in human and animals are sacrificial and altruistic. Do we find most mothers claiming that giving all to their child does them harm? Are their children not among their highest values?
Does it not occur to anyone the evolutionary benefits of this so-called "sacrifice?" Does it not encourage a harmful, sexist stereotype that mothers, in order to be good, should be constant sufferers? Does it not propagate the harmful myth that suffering should be sought after, and admired? Can we not do away with the teachings of Christianity, in a secular world?
Who performs an act he considers good that goes against his values? That would certainly be a sacrifice. Does a devout fundamentalist Roman Catholic supply condomns at bathhouses? Yes, that would almost seem to be a sacrificial, altruistic act. Yet, it is a good act, and it would certainly benefit the doer, even if he disagrees with it, by protecting his community, and probably his loved ones from certain sexually transmitted diseases.
The point I'd like most for people to take away from this is that if the action is really good, then it stands to reason it should benefit the one performing the good act. Instead of judging good by the suffering in the work, which is irrational and propagates this false construct, we judge values by their rationality, and acts by their benefit, and opportunity costs. Morality is in our brains and in our hands.