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Tuesday, August 25 - 11:49amSanction this postReply
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I wrote the following response to the website's Comments section:

 

The problem is: In giving to charity, just how much do you give? Do you give half your income, assuming you could afford it without impoverishing yourself? Is it "from each according to his ability to each according to his need"? Is that the principle? And if so, is that the principle that's operating when you save a drowning child at the expense of your $500 suit? We've seen where that leads. Are you responsible for saving every last child on the planet even if it means sacrificing your cultural amenities and your luxurious enjoyment of life?

 

Saving the drowning child is justified, because it's not the norm. You're not living your life saving drowning children. There is a difference between devoting your entire life to charitable causes and saving someone in an emergency at little risk to yourself. Emergencies are one thing; normal life another. You don't live your life as if emergencies were the norm -- unless, of course, you're a doctor in the ER, a police officer or a fire fighter. But those are occupations for which you're paid. They're not self-sacrificial obligations.



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Tuesday, August 25 - 1:35pmSanction this postReply
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Good reply, Bill.

 

Another way to look at this came to me.  I value the life of that girl that is drowning in a way that is personal.  For a spiritual, that is emotional, reward.  My emotions are saying a value of mine is at risk.  We don't live for reason, but rather use reason to live well.  What we live for, our purpose, is our happiness which is a long term experience.... an experience - not cogitation.  Reason guides our actions, chooses our values, but it isn't the good feelings and happiness that we encounter any more than they are way to choose the actions or values.

 

Our subconscious minds symbolize those things that we make into our values as they are pulled back into the sub-conscious.  How else do explain the slightly greater emotional response/value of a living plant in our house over a plastic imitation?  We have an affinity with things living, that affinity is greater when it is a human, and when it is a child the affinity includes those values we symbolically assign to a child: innocense, more honesty, potential, etc.  The more one values his own life, the more likely he is to have an empathetic emotional response to threats to the lives of others.  These emotions are not exacting conversions of specific values totally vetted and shaped by critical reasoning - because our mind doesn't work that way.  It often blends together things we like - in its own way - as it creates the emotion we will experience relative to what life presents us.  And these emotions are triggered by real instance in the immediate moment far more so than by some theoretical and distant possibility.  That is one reason why we are powerfully moved by one girl drowning in front of us over the possibility of hundreds of girls starving in Africa.  We should have powerful emotions because that is having a richer life.  None of that is to say we use these powerful emotions as if they were tools of cognition.  I fell in love with Atlas Shrugged because it showed me a terrible mistake I'd been making: assuming that one had to be a person who was emotional or a person who chose to use reason.  Ayn Rand showed me that the two, when each was understood, were best together and at full throttle.

 

My entire response to this thought experiment is taken from the perspective of one who is a rational egoist.  I would disagree with any statement that a person is morally required to make a sacrifice - not even to get his shoes wet.  And I reject the clever attempt to use this thought experiment, which is just using our emotional response to a real value, to try to justify a moral claim that we sacrife for children all over the world.  I would end up buying new clothes not just out of an emotional response that says to act, but because my reason says that my self-esteem and my capacity to enjoy life and the depth of my integrity are consistent with that empathetic response to the girls plight... and I will feel a powerful rush of joy from succeeding in saving her (I once used the hiemlich manuver to save a young boy in a cafeteria and was surprised at the intensity of the feelings it left me with).



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Tuesday, August 25 - 5:41pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

 

Good thorough psychological analysis of why at a deep emotional level and for positively selfish reasons, we are moved to save the life of a child that we see drowning right in front of us versus saving the lives of countless children all over the world.  There is, as you point out, no sacrificial obligation to undertake the latter.



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Tuesday, August 25 - 5:45pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Bill.



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Wednesday, August 26 - 1:24amSanction this postReply
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I just finished reading a book by one of the bleeding-heart libertarians.  They view freedom as primarily a means to achieving altruistic ends.  The premise, of course, is that freedom helps the poor much better than government.  They couple this with a historic argument about how bad government has always been.  So when someone complains about some problem with the free market, they respond that it may be flawed, but government is more flawed.  You can dream of a government program that solves some problem, but history shows that government never lives up to that idealized version.

 

Of course, once you accept the premise that it is our burden to help anyone who needs it, it's just a matter of specifying the terms of surrender.  If the free market can't be counted on to do it, maybe a little government coercion is necessary.  So they don't exclude the idea of government welfare programs.  They just bring some skepticism to the table.  But at the end of the day, I don't know how that can stand up to something like "But think of the children!".  It's the usual problem.  Free markets may work well over the long haul, but what about the starving (or slightly less well off) people today?  So they prefer a balanced approach that leans somewhere towards long term growth but is willing to make any number of compromises in the short term.

 

There are a number of places where there's no necessary compromise between the long term benefits of freedom, and short term altruistic benefits.  Things like government corruption and waste, corporate welfare, etc.  The biggest one is immigration.  Open borders would have an immediate positive effect on the needy, and have a huge benefit in the long haul.

 

Overall, though, they're stuck in the same conundrum that conservatives are in.  They want to argue for freedom and altruism, but when confronted with specific problems, freedom always surrenders.  Who cares about long term growth when there are starving or sick people right now!  And coercion is the only reliable way of making sure people give as much as you think they should.  Freedom may be statistically better, but coercion is better in any specific situation.



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Wednesday, August 26 - 7:44amSanction this postReply
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Newcomers to this site should read Joe's excellent article "Altruism Against Freedom" and subsequent lengthy and heated discussion for more insight into the hazards of libertarian bleeding hearts.



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Thursday, August 27 - 6:39pmSanction this postReply
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The child you save may need to drown instead.

 

The Priest Who Saved A Four-Year-old Hitler From Death In An Icy River



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Friday, August 28 - 6:27pmSanction this postReply
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You're so right, Luke.  If only we had a crystal ball.  I think it was Nathaniel Branden or some other Objectivist who argued that some life-saving acts are positively evil, and gave the example of saving Hitler from drowning.  I wonder if he was aware of the incident you mentioned.

 

You often hear opponents of abortion rights argue, "But what if the fetus you abort would have become an Einstein or a Galileo!"  To which you can always reply, "But what if it would have become a Hitler or an Ayatollah!  There is no answer to that.

 

I guess as far as saving a stranger is concerned, you would presume his innocence in the absence of evidence to the contrary, which would fit the legal "presumption of innocence" standard. 



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Monday, November 9 - 6:15amSanction this postReply
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tempting ... only a few teasers - my apologies for not having the time to fully edit ...

a) if you 'knew for a fact' what Adolf would become - would you have let him drown? worse - would you have actively pursued his childhood death even if he was not imperiled by nature? would you have force-sterilized his mother to prevent his birth? interesting concept when time-travel emerges ;)

b) Germany currently faces the 'poor child' syndrome: one fugitive child drowns on an illegal crossing of the Mediterranean (I'm certain there are many more) and the coast-guard get's photographed picking up it's dead body on shore - big outcry not only in the media, but across all social and political parties (except the far right brownies who are against anything foreign, even the coastguard who picked him up) to let in all fugitives so no more children have to drown - guess that poor child did more for immigrants by dying then by living and becoming a great leader of it's people back to the homeland :(

bb) if you value a child's life (who is unfinished, dependant, unproductive) higher than an adult (who is self-sustaining, independant and productive) you regard potential value higher than factual value - of course the 'bleeding hearts' always bled more for the children and I'd defend my own children with my life: because they are my own and I value them for their potentials, not because they are children

c) as to the original argument: false choices - if the child has no physical or emotional value (as Steve so eloquently describes) I'd let it drown even if I wore my trekking clothes which cost next to nothing and which I've dragged through some of the worst bushes and marshes :P same goes for giving money to charity - it's the charity I'm helping, not the child ... though I'm not surprised there's one behind every false choice ;)

individuality always trumps classes, groups, 'multiples of one' and false choices are never worth choosing :P



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