on charity and altruism and political libertarianism

By special request of a man I consider one of the most intelligent persons I've ever had the privilege of knowing, I'm obliged to address the differences between charity and altruism in terms of objectivism. Now, I don't consider myself an expert on objectivist philosophy. Hell, I don't even consider myself an objectivist--since its creator once professed that no one is an objectivist unless they accept every tenet of the philosophy and since I do not know the objectivist stance for every philsophical issue, I cannot make the claim that I agree and accept them all.

I actually consider myself an objectitarian, an affiliation I think I made up but, regardless, best describes how I reconcile my metaphyical and epistemological beliefs with my political beliefs. And since I'm not an expert objectivist and since I consider myself more of a political libertarian than objectivist, I think it's equally pertinent that I describe how I see charity and altruism as they relate to ethics--note: "how I see" ... not how Rand sees. She can answer for herself.

"Altruism -- 1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others | 2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species"

"Charity --
1: benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity | 2 a: generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering; also : aid given to those in need b: an institution engaged in relief of the poor c: public provision for the relief of the needy | 3 a: a gift for public benevolent purposes b: an institution (as a hospital) founded by such a gift | 4: lenient judgment of others"

It's charitable to give a street musician $1 of the $100 in my wallet as I walk by and enjoy his "cool" tunes. It's altruistic to give a street musician all of the money in my pocket--at the expense of my family's being able to eat that day--as I walk by and enjoy his "cool" tunes.

It's charitable to help my neighbor move after a house fire. It's altruistic to give him my house.

It's charitable to donate $100 to Jerry's Kids. It's altruistic for the government to mandate that I give that same $100 to Jerry's Kids.

Altruism seems to me--and I'm trying to give the "most fair" definition here, having cited a dictionary first--a philosophy in which the good is the elevation of others at one's own expense--in terms of time, money, energy, etc. It mandates not only that giving is good but that someone cannot be good unless they give. Altruistic morality, then, depends on the extent to which I harm myself for the benefit of someone else. (Sound like a straw man argument? Could be. I never claimed to be a good philosopher, just a philosopher.) Consider: To have unselfish devotion to the welfare of others, one has to think about anyone and everyone that is worse off than him/herself. Aside from the fact that this is negative liberty, it creates an impossible situation. If Bob has a need--a monetary need, for example--and I, being altruistically moral, give him the money, then Bob no longer has the need. In fact, in order for Bob to be moral, he now has to give to someone with a greater need. Once that person receives the money, they must give to someone with greater need. Ad infinitum. (This point seems to be only one of the major flaws of altruism and I could probably write for quite some time, but in the interest of going to bed, I'll leave it here and we can talk another time.)

Charity, on the other hand, differs from altruism on point, a point that makes one hell of a difference. By definition altruism requires participation. Charity does not. Charity is a gift--a voluntary transaction between willing participants. Charity requires no harm on the part of the giver and no action at all on the part of the receiver--though "thank yous" are always appreciated. Choice, here, seems to be the only and fundamentally moral difference. If a masked robber accosts you with a gun and forces you to donate $100 to Jerry's Kids, we do not classify that as charity. That's robbery. What's the difference if the government mandates that same donation? (And I don't mean to imply that all taxation is robbery or even immoral. I do mean to imply, however, that it can be.)

From an objectivist view and my personal view, charity has no moral value, good or bad, unless it works in your rational self-interest1. That is, if charity makes you happy, then, by all means, be charitable. If it does not make you happy, then don't do it.

And here is where I must separate myself from objectivism. From a libertarian viewpoint, it does not matter to me what you (e.g.--everyone not me) considers to be the good. What matters is that the government does not implement policy that requires me to act contrary to my beliefs--unless, of course, my beliefs infringe on the beliefs of others or are not in my rational self-interest. That is to say that I'm OK with someone believing that altruism is the correct way to live as long as that person does not use force--physical or law--to enforce altruistic morality.

Having I considered every angle of altruism and charity? Absolutely not. And I anticipate that you will find some outstanding flaw in my argument on which I will ponder until I discover some self-satisfactory answer. I have put forth what I consider to be the biggest problem with altruism, though, like I said, I believe there are many more. I'm always willing to talk. And I might as well do so now before you get that PhD and can out-think me even faster and more aggressively than you do now.

All the best,


1 I use the term "rational self-interest" specifically here to denote a concept that is often misunderstood. In the next sentence, I say that if charity makes you "happy" then do it. Someone might say, "Well taking ecstasy makes me happy, so I should be able to do it." True, it may make you feel happy, but it's not in your rational self-interest since it is, ultimately, destroying you. And here is where we enter into the realm of politics, where the government must weigh the harm of something versus the public's civil liberties. Alcohol, for instance, is technically "harmful," but when used "appropriately" it is safe. There is no circumstance under which ecstasy, when used, is safe. When in doubt, I believe the government should err on the side of civil liberties.
"The evening hangs beneath the moon, a silver thread on darkened dune. With closing eyes and resting head, I know that sleep is coming soon."

Now that is poetry.

And I certainly didn't write it. It's too beautiful.

It's from "Sleep"--music by Eric Whitacre, lyrics by Charles Anthony Silvestri.


my first script

reprinted here without any editing.

(context: we had to rewrite a section of Macbeth in a new "style" or genre for College Prep English IV--i.e. my last year of high school English. our group chose "senseless satire." we performed this in front of our class. yeah.)


Daniel, George, Dave, Andrew, Brad – 4th Hour

Macbeth ala uh...something

Andrew: (yawns) Oh joy. It’s Brad … oops … I mean Fleance.

Brad: Don’t act so excited, I’m as happy as you are to be here. What’s the point of this anyway?

Andrew: It’s to prepare us for college. Don’t you know that we’ll be spoofing great pieces of literature all the time…and that’s just the first semester.

(Enter Macbeth (George))

George: What?

Andrew: (looks at him) Oh… yeah…I don’t believe any of this nonsense about the witches…they were just old and senile and should be put in a home…better yet…put them on a rocket and shoot them into the sun…old people suck.

George: I thoroughly agree. Old people piss me off. They always block up the traffic…and they smell like cabbage.

Dave: Kinda like carnies.

Brad: Where did you come from?

Dave: I don’t know…Dan just kinda threw me in here…(gets blank stares from others)…I’ll leave now.

George: Anyways, back to what I was saying about shipping the old to Antarctica…

(Mr. W (Duncan) acts like he’s asleep)

Andrew: So…yeah…. Duncan’s asleep….just in case anyone wanted to kill him…..not that any of you would…….*sneeze*Macbeth*sneeze*…..

George: …. excuse you…?

Brad: Yeah…so…I’m missing Baywatch

(Andrew and Brad exit)

George: (walks over to Duncan (mr. w) rolls up script and BEATS HIM) (AS HE’s beating him) NO …*wack* MORE *wack* WORDS *wack* LIKE FEDUCIARY !!! (Mr. wilk = dead) Well, (slaps hands together) looks like Mr. Wilk needs a mint…OR A BLOOD TRANSFUSION…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHOK that’s enough. Well….I’m a bit tired…it’s a lot of work to beat someone until their head splits open and their brains ooze out all over the desk like and yolk spilling from a shattered egg.

(Enter Dave)

Dave: Did you kill him?

George: Yep…it was fun…you should try it sometime.

Dave: Yes….I shall……

George: Yeah…I kinda feel bad…

Dave: YOU WHAT? Why in the HELL would you feel back… you are now in control of everything…you control how many pages we have to read, how many gay classics we have to suffer through, how many vocab tests we have….WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY feel bad about…

George: That we didn’t do it sooner….

Dave:…. oh…..

George: I’m leaving.

(George exits)

(Enter Porter = Dan)


(Knock Knock says Mr. Herscher)

Andrew: Hello…I’m the actor formally known as Banquo.

Dan: Did you know that drinking makes your worm go numb.

Andrew: …uh…no Dan….can’t say I did.

Dan: Yep….no cha cha in your who who dilly.

Andrew: … great… I’ll have to remember that next time I go on my binge.

Dan: You do that….oh by the way…the king’s dead.

Andrew: You don’t say?

Dan: Yep….found his head …well what USE to be his head…embedded in the desk…

Andrew: Wow, that has to suck for him.

Dan: Yep…guess he’ll never be a head-up in life….ha….haha….ha…..ok stop looking at me like that before I kick you in testes.

Andrew: Ouch.

(Exit Dan)

(Enter Brad as Lennox and Enter George as Macbeth)

Andrew: Hey, they King’s dead.

George: Yeah I know…I killed him…I mean…..oh…really?

Brad: Didn’t you just say…

George: Look Brad…A playboy…. fetch…(Throws it…. Exit Brad)

Andrew: I’m sorry did you say something I was staring at (select Girl form audience) *whispers* Call me …

George: (To himself) I was just confessing to the brutal murder of king that’s all.

Andrew: Huh? I was distracted by that bloody mass of goo over there that we use to call our king.

George: Yeah…I guess that’s my clue to go kill more people isn’t it?

(George kills two guards)

George: Those guards must have been the one’s to kill the king…. why you ask…because they look pretty guilty to me. O.J. Simpson guilty.

Dan: Wow, this skit is taking forever.

Andrew: You wrote it.

Dan: …just…..shut up.

(exit George as Macbeth)

(exit Dan (who never entered in the first place))

(Enter Dave as Ross and Enter George as Old Man now)

George: Ooo…look at me…I am old and feeble. So old am I that I fall asleep real…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Dave: Wake up ya old fart before I break your hip.

George: WHAT? Who’s talking…I need my diaper changed…

Dave: Don’t you have some pertinent dialogue?

George: Is it pudding time?

Dave: Jesus…Ok…you were SUPPOSE to say that strange things have been happening in Macbethworld.

George: I wanna watch T.V.

Dave: I am getting to the point where I think I should beat you within an inch of your old man life.

George: You’re not Billy….WHERE’S BILLY? BIIILLLYYY??

Dave: Ok…that’s it…(thwack)

George: Ow…that didn’t feel (thawk) nor did that one feel good.

(Enter Dan)

Dan: And so this act ends with the senseless beating of an old person. Or does it? Stop old people….before they stop you. Just think…they drive slow…they complain…they smell…they do doody in their pants…they’re like babies…only…not cute. Do the world a favor…beat an old person.

(For all of you out there with no sense of humor…don’t REALLY beat an old person…beat a whale.)


I'm still unclear on how it1 ends and how it2 begins, on its3 existence even--or how anyone can make it4 work. What you said makes sense--as much as any of it5 can make sense--but for some unGodly reason, it6 feels wrong. (And even as I type those words, I cringe just a little bit. Its6 truth value shouldn't depend on my feelings but on its6 logical coherence.)

It1 has brought me an incalculable amount of joy, yet every time I reason it1 out, the joy disappears--for a little while. I imagined you reading this and asking what it's7 about. And I wouldn't want to tell you. And I would say, "Something that makes me feel immature and weak and everything else I don't want it1 to make me feel." And you would say something kind or witty or caring. And I wouldn't feel that way for a while--though I would feel another way.

And then the cycle begins again. Life, that is. Maybe JML is right; time is circular. Lives are linear moments on a circular path--two steps forward, one step back--a loop with forward momentum.

And--all in all in all--what can be done about it1, it2, and especially it3? Nada thing, my dears; not a damn noun or a verb--or an article, but doesn't that go without saying?

Then why did I write this? Because it7 was there to be written.


This video actually makes me ill. I'll probably write more later when I've had time to cope with the horror.


Well, I suppose we handled it like men.

We pretended it never happened. And I'm OK with this development.