Saturday, February 25, 2012

Altruism Versus Honesty

Altruism, the idea that your life only has moral worth if you're serving others, has always been associated with irrationalist philosophies, including religion. That is, the same philosophies that attack self-interest also attack the idea of reality and or truth. So altruism often goes hand in hand with philosophic dishonesty. But get a load of this direct attack on honesty using Kant's morality of sacrifice. The Scientific American post was written in reference to Peter Gleick's fraudulently obtaining Heartland institute documents and then publishing them online:
Kant said that when judging the morality of an act, we must weigh the intentions of the actor. Was he acting selfishly, to benefit himself, or selflessly, to help others? By this criterion, Gleick’s lie was clearly moral, because he was defending a cause that he passionately views as righteous.
He fudges a bit in the third sentence, switching from selfish vs. unselfish to "passionately views as righteous." What he should have said is that Gleick's lie was clearly moral because he was acting to help others. Whether the 'others' are people or trees or bugs is immaterial. As I've discussed elsewhere, there is no standard to judge helping others and this principle therefore is carte blanche to lie, steal and cheat as long as you can claim to be acting selflessly.

Contrast Kant's and altruism's moral blank check for dishonesty with Ayn Rand's description:
Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud—that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee
In fact Gleick was counting on not just the blindness of the Heartland Institute, but of the entire internet community. That didn't work out so well. The bloggers' intelligence, rationality and perceptiveness outed him pretty quickly and he's been removed from the ethics committee he chaired (!) and taken a leave of absence from his job. If only the Kantian professors whose creed justifies Gleick's actions were put on leave as well.

Rand continues:
[Honesty is the recognition of the fact]—that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling—that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Energy and the Power of a Positive Message

Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress has an excellent interview with Marlo Lewis reviewing the top energy stories of 2011. They cover the new and very successful methods of extracting oil and natural gas, Solyndra, EPA regulations, etc.

Stick around especially for the last 10 minutes (starting at 46:20) when Alex discusses his own efforts to promote capitalism and industry in the face of the environmentalist onslaught and the main lesson he's learned as an advocate.