Sunday, December 18, 2016

Your Altruism is Selfish

When I defined my morality in an earlier post, I defined it around life, and one's own selfish desire to survive and replicate. Life being of infinite value does not add or multiply. It is one thing to say that someone is a moral monster when they are talking about saving a single life over thousands with no other information, but it is a completely different question to talk about one's own life, or the life of his kin. Our genes are not collectivist, there is nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself and your kin over any amount of other people. This is not a point of semantics, the survival of our species depends on some portion of the population holding up the torch of egoism as it faces the tsunami of altruism.

With that said, we all want the person with our life in her hands to sacrifice herself, because that is in our selfish interest. So we celebrate the hero, we call it "good" because it's good for us. The us who survived while the hero died. A central tenet of egoism is that altruism is non-existent and all actions are selfish, but that gives it too much credit. In fact altruism cannot exist because it is self-contradictory, for it to exist the "altruists" would have to be selfish to even want another person to act in their interests, and in the face of any serious selection pressure the altruists would necessarily die first.

The above linked podcast is fascinating and well worth a listen; there are many topics covered, and one particularly interesting one is the moral value of AI lives in Westworld, but this post is not about that.

This post is about the mutually agreed upon understanding that someone is immoral for choosing to avoid harm vs. having a much larger order of magnitude of harm placed on you. Their example was extreme to be sure, and truth be told I probably would willingly give up a pinky to save 8,000 people, but I wouldn't fault anyone for not being willing to do the same. 

No one wants to be in pain, this coming from someone who has experienced a lot more of it than just about everyone reading. How dare you, Paul Bloom, say that someone is a moral monster for choosing to avoid pain. Now that we have that outrage-outburst out of the way, let's seriously consider the idea that "empathizing" is in any way comparable to experience (really sympathizing but now empathy is cognitive empathy). Thought about it, pain is still WAY worse. In fact I like empathizing with pain sometimes as do many, pretty sure that's why they spend money to see horror movies...

Bloom and I are in many ways coming from the same place of reason as necessarily primary in making decisions in the modern world, but I completely disagree that it is "reasonable" to be willing to kill or maim yourself or someone you know and like; it is totally irrational to choose that. So irrational in fact that none of us would do it and we celebrate those who do it for us. 

Nothing could be more rational than wanting your cake and eating it too, that is why the expression exists. Egoism explains this phenomenon perfectly: the selfish praise the hero selfishly for their own selfish ends. Altruism is merely a false ethic perpetuated for the ends of social control.

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