Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another Bite of the Apple:

If You Act Nice You Are Nice with an explanation

You won't be surprised to hear that getting tangled in useless arguments is a weakness of mine. I had an old one with a conservative Sunday, the argument against the idea that there isn't any such thing as being generous. He said that people who seem nice only do good things because it makes them feel superior, they do it to save their own souls, etc. It was a waste of time but I did come up with a new angle on it.

The charge of hidden selfishness behind generous acts isn't anything but a guess based on pop psychology, it isn't proof. Even a conservative can directly experience a good act and can compare its results to an act of selfishness, a good act is tangible. Sometimes you can see hypocrisy behind showy acts of charity and words that sound nice but that doesn't prove anything about other acts. The charge falls apart unless you can show a result that is selfish.

Pop hedonists like to say that people only act out of self-interest but that's not based on anything but cynicism and one of Freud's more destructive lines of hogwash. It's hard-hearted but it isn't hard logic. The results of the action are real, the charge of hidden selfishness is what is airy-fairy. Nastiness isn't any guarantee of realism.

And I will repeat, So take some of them apples, greed balls!

A Partial Explanation

Why have I repeated myself? One of you politely expressed your confusion as to why I said it in the first place and that deserves an explanation.

One of the things that has and does weaken the left is a loss of confidence in our positions. A lot of that, I believe, can be traced to these kinds of cynical ideas gaining popularity during the past fifty years.

The ideas gained ground on the assumption that their cynicism was some kind of magical guarantee of realism. The idea is that anything less cynical could be chalked up to self-congratulation for moral superiority or wishful thinking.

Without more evidence than can be produced these charges are no more than bad natured speculation. This is especially true when the results don't seem to hide ulterior motives.

Until the left abandons these counter-leftist assumptions foisted on it, the frankly idealistic and generous programs favored by us are at a fatal disadvantage. Liberalism and the left have a basically optimistic view of life, that we aren't doomed to an eternal and savage fight to look out for #1.

So many of our positions call for personal sacrifice for the common good, paying taxes for a start. Out of fairness we should insist that those taxes be progressive instead of regressive but it's not a position you can sell without a basis of optimism and a general attitude of generosity.

The right uses this kind of thing to undermine us at the most basic level. Trying to stop that is one of my basic goals in writing this blog.

I guess I'm a bit confused at all this but it may be simply a matter of semantics. I usually have multiple reasons for doing whatever it is I do, some selfish, some altruistic, and oftentimes, depending on the frame of reference, each reason might be either or both and all at the same time, too. I bought a friend a car two summers ago. I did so to 1) help the friend who was selling it 2) help the person I gave it to get on her feet financially after many years of "scrounging" (which she has since done) 3) It made me feel good to help them out. How does this fit into that conservative meme of "self-interest"?

Likewise, I have truly tried to be a nice person but over the years I've had to do things that definitely were not nice, at least not from a short-term perspective. For example, divorcing a wife of many years (no children) who was seriously mentally ill (schizophrenia) whose life had reached the point wherein my attempts to help were actually making things worse. Or perhaps I'm still confused...
I do think it makes a difference. The argument, in its most common form, is that NO act that appears to be done out of generosity is actually done out of anything but self-interest. The position of the post is that there isn't any objective reason to believe that is true and that actions be judged by the tangible results not by some nasty theory of motives.

I fully believe that there are many acts done without a selfish motive. It's not my position that many or even any people always act out of the best motives, Lord knows I don't want anyone expecting me to be perfect, but that there are a lot more actions that are than currently believed which are good.

I don't think that liberalism can be sustained if this isn't assumed to be possible and able to be encouraged. That makes a big difference in what happens, what people make real by their actions.
Until the left abandons these counter-leftist assumptions foisted on it, the frankly idealistic and generous programs favored by us are at a fatal disadvantage.

On second thought, I think the key word is foisted. That would make this yet another one of those right-wing frames that are constantly being foisted upon liberals in order that liberals have to adopt right-wing terms & concepts in order to make their arguments within those same frames. To this I call bullshit & would tell your conservative where he can put his frame!

While there is such a thing as a purely selfish act (just look at GW & his cronies) there cannot be an act based solely on altruism - look deep enough and you will always find some motive that can be construed as selfish. But just because one can find that selfish motive does not necessarily denigrate the original act of altruism. i.e., I support single-payer healthcare and would gladly give my tax dollars to enact it, besides me wanting you to have healthcare when you need it, I too want affordable competent healthcare for me & mine and single-payer (government) is the only way that will happen. Selfish? I prefer "enlightened self-interest". Real, thinking people are complex.

Now a good example of an act that was portrayed as altruistic but in fact is totally selfish was Barbara Bush donating money to "hurricane relief" with the stipulation that it only be used to buy her son's "Ignite" educational software. 1) keeps the $$ in the family 2) tax deduction for Bush 3) convinces the stupids that the Bush family is generous. Please spare me such acts of "generosity", okay?

(same anon as last time)
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