Monday, March 16, 2009

The Soul of a Housing Project

After my last post Knowledge in a Bottle, Seine commented (rhetorically):

As an aside, doesn't it say something about a persons evaluation of their own life's 'worth' when they expect someone else to pay to sustain it or begrudge the $50 needed retain that life?

It certainly does say something, but what is the root of this fact? It is a simple fact that people do not take care of things that they do not own, i.e., things for which they are not responsible. Of course, it is obvious that people do not drive around and randomly mow strangers' lawns. Why should they? It belongs to someone else and they do not have the right to trade or dispose of the item, i.e., they have no incentive. The issue of "public" buildings, e.g., a housing project or public bathroom, provides a different context but illustrates a similar principle. People have some incentive to take care of it since they live in it or go to the bathroom in it, but it is evident that people still do not take care of public facilities in the same way they keep up their own property.

I am not arguing that people should take care of things that do not belong to them. Quite the opposite. I think it is entirely rational not to care that much about things you do not own or have no stake in. So, if we can see that people do not take care of material possessions for which they are not responsible, why would this principle not apply to the ultimate material possession: one’s own life? It does apply, but, why would anyone believe they are not responsible for their own life?

Altruism is the doctrine that a man does not have a right to exist for his own sake and that sacrifice to others is the standard of morality. This doctrine dominates modern culture and is responsible for the notion that the pursuit of one's own happiness is evil. One of the consequences of altruism is that it implies that one is not responsible for their own life. If you are poor, you deserve other people’s money. If you are sick, a hospital must take care of you. If you are homeless, someone else must provide you a housing project. On the other hand, if you have any money, you must fund other people's well being. This doctrine is at the root of the welfare state and is used to justify the wholesale expropriation of wealth and the redistributive schemes of the nanny state.

If one believes that they are not responsible for their own life and others must take care of them, one's relationship to their person is similar to the relationship of the housing project resident to the housing project. Under the doctrine of altruism, one does not own their own life. They are not responsible for themselves. It is someone else’s duty to take care of them. Why work? Someone will send them a check in the mail or find them shelter. Why not abuse drugs and alcohol? Someone will take care of them. Why pay your mortgage? The government will bail you out.

Altruism leads to a kind of self-loathing irresponsibility. Your existence is a burden to others and you must serve others so it therefore creates a sense of guilt about existence. Because it upholds the idea that you are not responsible for yourself, it induces irresponsibility by definition. Why should you pay any money for a life saving prescription drug? Someone else should pay. And why won't that doctor treat me for free? He owes me. To the extent that a doctor or landlord seeks payment for his service, it is considered an affront to the altruist - such a pursuit exemplifies selfishness and greed. Since nature requires payment for a service or a product, the altruist is at war with the nature of reality. This combination of guilt, irresponsibility, and contradiction induces a sense of malevolence about the world - and a hatred of other human beings but mostly, them self. This, I believe, is why people in today's society, begrudge a payment of $50 for a live saving drug rather than regard it as a profound value.

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