Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, April 20, 2015 - 10:20amSanction this postReply

The political form of altruism doesn't work the same way. One of the major differences is that you can gain moral credit without personally sacrificing. The 'sacrifice' can be assigned to others and spread across large groups. A politician who proposes and passes a new welfare program can gain the moral credit of helping others while distributing all or most of the cost to others.

This is why Hillary Clinton can propose that the wealthy sacrifice to help those less well off, but put no money in the fast food place's tip jar.  This is why the amount given to charity tends to be lower among progressives than conservatives.  This is why those calling for political altruism see those who object as hated enemies.  After all, those people objecting are standing in the progressive's 'moral' well-being.  A vocal supporter of capitalism, in their view, is endangering their chance of gaining moral credits.

...politicians are still given moral credit for programs they create without the slightest sacrifice. And since their jobs are dependent on votes, they actually benefit.

There is a tie-in here to Black Liberation Theology which holds that moral salvation is collective.  For example, Reverend Wright feels that until we have collectively adopted the 'proper' beliefs, that we cannot be saved from eternal damnation.  That kind of belief would make those with contrary beliefs real enemies - taking away 'moral credit' in the here-and-now as well as damning everyone to the loss of eternal salvation.  And, there is always the risk that the very scheme of getting altruistic moral credit without having to make a personal sacrifice might be in danger if the opposition isn't demonized.


Proposing an altruistic scheme gets some 'moral credit', even more if it is pushed hard, and if its opponents are demonized, but the largest amount of this 'moral credit' comes if it passes.

So what standard is used for judging in political altruism?


One of the ways moral credit is earned within the political arena is by creating a moral divide. For instance, the left presents a view where the right are in bed with big business and are constantly attempting to sellout the little guy for a quick buck. The left gains moral credit by claiming to side with the little guy.

Brilliant!  An entirely new and far more fundamental view of identity politics, social justice, centralized control and redistribution - How to be 'moral' by forcing others to adopt altruistic plans.


And it is a kind of pseudo-self-esteem.  Instead of "Self-esteem is the experience of one's self as capable of meeting life's challenges and worthy of happiness and love" it becomes a political, pseudo-self-esteem which is attempting to experience one's as self as morally worthwhile by proposing schemes to force others to make sacrifices and demonizing those who oppose the schemes.

The right portrays its own vision of the moral divide. In their view, the left is out to control people and regulate every detail of everyone's lives. The right is the noble opposition that resists the conceited left. The path to altruism is different. Instead of directly redistributing wealth and controlling people, the right see altruism as best achieved by creating incentives and institutions that attract altruistic behaviors. Consequently, the moral credit they get is in resisting the quick fixes that always have unintended consequences, and supporting policies that promote freedom and morality.

This seems to be true, but it feels incomplete... like there is more to the story.  What you've said explains, for example, why the right wants tax credits for donations to charity, and that is like a 'twofer' - they reduce taxes, and encourage personal altruism.  But, assuming we are talking about that portion of the right that want to enforce moral behavior in, say, the bedroom.  True, that is as if they want people to follow personal morality.  But there is a much stronger psychological drive in what we see to be explained without some sort of collective salvation premise involved ("we must force others to be moral or we will all be doomed in some fashion"). Or some degree of psychological projections. Like those righteous moralists who gather together to view porn in order to condemn it. We don't have to be Jungians to grasp what is hiding in the shadows of their psyche.

A normal citizen can view himself in terms of political altruism as well. He can think of himself as being on the side of the good guys. He can give himself credit for promoting policies that help others instead of selling out to the greedy businesses. The moral credit is diminished from not being in the spotlight, but it can still assumed.

More Brilliance! And the use of the big lie, and the Trojan Horse legislation, let the citizen cozy up to the politician's positions more easily in order to assume some of that moral credit.   This is such a clear exposee of the the motives of the Limosine Liberal.  The person teaches themselves to blank out any critical thinking about the lies they are hearing, or the contrary facts, or the logical inconsistencies so that they can grab that moral credit, but that very blanking out, makes it so much more workable - in their mind - that they can get moral credit just from being on the 'correct' side. And the intensity of the attack on that side's opponents, is the evidence and measure of their stance for the 'correct' side.

There's no contest. Personal morality is hard. Simply telling other people what to do is easy. And because of the way it is judged, political altruism provides far more moral credit with essentially no effort or cost. Of course it's popular.

Joe, this is a homerun - it really needs to be a book! This is really at the heart of things.  


Getting altruistic moral credit without fulfilling personal sacrifice is what explains the drive to abandon logic inorder to make it 'work', and then sensing that abandonment of logic explains the hunger to find pseudo-science to fill the resulting void.

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Monday, April 20, 2015 - 6:06pmSanction this postReply

This is more of an aside to this article and in no way a disagreement:


Mapping Moral Principles to Actions


We map actions against our moral code, and we mentally map moral codes onto actions to judge the moral nature of the action.


But when we look from the perspective of moral philosophy or legal philosophy we often forget that we humans have psychology.... with its motivational issues.  The day-to-day story is often one of a more complex mapping.  We have an identity - a set of feelings and beliefs about who we are - and that identity has moral components - things we see as good or bad, and right or wrong based upon both actions and thoughts.  It is a double-mapping.   We map moral beliefs of our ideal person onto what we hold as a personal identity and then we map our actions and proposed actions against our identity.


This is very important because in psychology - identity is destiny.


Its a process - a set of routines (mostly subconscious but fed by and monitored by the conscious mind).  We build a model over time of what a person should be, and it has many components - such as what a good man (or good woman) does.  A good model is one we work towards as we go through life, getting closer to living up to that model. Our identity is a measure of where we are in the relationship to our model.   That model is made from a subset of our values, a subset of ethics, and beliefs about what a man, or a woman should be.


There can be many cultural and family beliefs woven into our model of the ideal person.  Someone might think that a good man is kind and generous. And they might think that a good man is tough in negotiations.  And they might think that a good man is willing to make small sacrifices to help out people that are less capable or in a bad spot.


The questions arise when reality presents them with moral choices (e.g., on those days ending in a "y").  And the options the person sees, and the one chosen depends upon how the values and beliefs were defined, understood, and prioritized.  Does their model get parsed accurately enough to be able to use it when making decisions?  Most people haven't dealt with these issues explicitly and don't have a background in philosophy. That makes it hard for them to discern what the principles are - principles that would let them decide things like 'sacrifice is wrong', while not make the mistake of seeing an act of kindness as a sacrifice.


It is very, very rare to find a person whose principles are all consistent with one another, and whose model is made entirely of those consistent principles and with beliefs consistent with the principles.  And rare that their behaviors are all consistent with that model.  


Therefore, most people don't have a personal "altruistic morality" - at least not exclusively.  They are mixed in their principles just like our economy is.

Post 2

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 5:26amSanction this postReply


Thanks for these reflections, Joe. I wanted to mention that some American churches are (in the name of Christ) very much oriented towards personally helping people in the community who need help. This is promoted in the church in terms of specific service projects for which one can volunteer. But back in the ‘80’s, I was once in a church in a Chicago suburb in which right from the pulpit came the message that expansion of government programs for the welfare of the needy was part of Christian virtue.

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