Sunday, February 26, 2012

Does Altruism Exist?

"Why do good for others," many have asked, "when it results in a cost to you?" It is a fair question raised throughout the years. Does doing good for others, at your own expense, have positive gains in the long run? Surely it does, I don't really think that there is an argument there. What I'd like to dive into, is the notion of whether these benefits, render altruism itself, non-existent.

Altruism is generally defined as the "principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism)" or more simply "a concern for the welfare of others." So altruism is caring for others and doing helpful deeds to them. But does it matter where those altruistic motives come from? If you are only helping someone, because you seek to gain something immediate in return, is this still altruism? For example, if I offer to help you fix your car only because I know that you will drive me to places I want to go, am I then really just acting out of my own selfish best interests? Can all thinkable acts of altruism be found to have motivations in one's own self interests? Would acting ultimately out of one's own self interest, cancel the notion of altruism itself?

When I think of altruism, one of the best examples I can think of is giving your seat up for a stranger on a bus or subway, or helping a stranger carry a large package they are having difficulty with. The stranger in this case is of no relation to me, and in a large city, there is little chance that I will see them again and that my altruism will ever be reciprocated. Altruism cannot be motivated out of one's duty or obligation. So a firefighter who saves a child from a burning building is not performing an act of altruism because they have a sworn duty to do so that their job commands of them, and they will face punishment if they fail to do so. Altruism must be voluntary with no commandments involved. It is true to note however, that many police, firefighters and doctors are motivated my altruism to get into their career fields in the first place.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manifest Destiny

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
 -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I've been increasingly complaining to friends on how I am currently dissatisfied with my life. Sure I appear to have plenty of fun debating the issues of the day, as well as the ones of years past. But with the pleasures of drinking and partying diminishing, and with discontent with my job and overall lifestyle growing, I have recently had a lot to reflect on. One downtrodden friend of mine, proclaims how lucky I am to even have a job in such hard times. He sounds as if he'd instantly switch places with me, and take my job in cubicle hell.

I, in a way, don't blame him, but rebut his ideas that having a job is anything good. I then wonder, why do feel the need to keep my job? Well the money first and foremost. I have to pay down my debts; I have to pay my rent and my other bills. It are these liabilities that I feel keep me in the mental bondage that is work. If only I were debt-free, if only I didn't have to pay rent or worry about money at all. If I could only somehow, live like a free-loading hippie, traveling where I want, being a political activist, or a champion for the atheist cause, with no rent to pay, or bills for that matter, maybe then I would be, are I say it, happy.

Is working in a cubicle for the next 40 years my idea of considered life? I don't hold on tightly to ideas that are against any form of structured work. There's nothing wrong with sitting in a cubicle if that's what one fancies. Perhaps if behind my desk I was writing for secular causes, or collaborating with link-minded individuals on such matters, I wouldn't be so discontent.

It deeply scares me that I might have to sit in a cubicle for even just another 5 years laboring towards something I don't really care about, and around people I don't really care to be around. The problem I have is that the things I am most passionate about, are not really things that make one particularly wealthy, apart from a select few. Sometimes I think, that if only I was one of those Wall Street types, preoccupied with money and financial markets, I would be able to maximize my passion and get ridiculously wealthy off of it. But such is not my character; I detest those greedy Wall Street, money market schemers.


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