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By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Insight @ theBFD 5/9/19]
Each and every one of us must make it our personal business to fight for our own individual happiness as if our lives depend upon it, for they actually do.
Individual human rights mean something – our lives are our own responsibility. Nobody else can, or should, be burdened by that personal responsibility which we owe to ourselves and others to shoulder.
We are each given one life to own, to control and to cultivate.
The ethics of altruism are quite ghastly and our whole welfare system hangs on them, also it seems, much of our social standing does too.
Altruism doesn’t mean doing nice things for others, as we all like to do from time to time. Altruism means dutifully self-sacrificing to others as a moral good.
One can only ask: if all human life is valuable, including our own, why is it so often considered noble to sacrifice our own happiness, resources, goals and desires for the sake of other people?
I’m not making the case that one should never do such a thing, there are obviously many moments during parenting, for instance, where parents do put the needs of their children before their own needs out of necessity (time, sleep, finances etc), but considering that the welfare of our children is extremely high on the personal values list which adds to our happiness, that can hardly be said to be “a sacrifice.” Our children are an immensely high value to us and maintaining our personal values is rational self interest.
If people wish to sacrifice themselves for others, then that of course is their personal choice – especially if others may be of value to them, by why is it considered noble?
One often hears it said during obituaries or other summations of a person’s life: “Such-and-such was a good person who never put themselves first, but always thought only of others.”
Why is that action considered to be “good”? Only thinking of the lives of others over and above the life that one has been given, may be a mark of chronic lack of self-esteem or abject servility – and that can hardly be said to be good.
This brand of “goodness” seems to have come down to us from 2000 years of Christian ethics, where the ethos is: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends.”
Observe that it reads: for his friends – not any old Tom, Dick or Harry.
About the only contexts that I can think of where laying down one’s life for one’s friends may be a noble act is during war-time, or during an emergency where one saves the life of another (or others) but loses one’s own life in doing so. But the ethics of emergencies are rare and often chaotic, and they present quite different points of principle than those we can live our normal daily lives by.
To develop this topic a little further, consider the profoundly moving, so-called self-sacrificial acts of the heroic fugitive Jean Valjean, the protagonist in Victor Hugo’s great novel Les Miserables. Valjean promises the dying young mother, Fantine, a woman he barely knows, that so long as he draws breath he will protect her small, illegitimate daughter and “raise her to the light” in fatherly devotion, despite not being her father – and despite the personal turmoil of Valjean being relentlessly hunted.
The true heroism of Valjean’s impossibly difficult quest lies in the motive that he feels responsible for Fantine losing her job in his factory, which pushed her into poverty and prostitution, hastening her untimely death. Valjean’s personal integrity demanded that he correct this wrong, deeming it a matter which his conscience just could not ignore.
Another example of the fictional Valjean’s nobleness of spirit, when news comes to him that the known fugitive ‘Jean Valjean’ has been taken into custody and is about to stand trial, Valjean is the only person in the world who knows the authorities are holding the wrong man. Again, his sense of personal integrity in service to his conscience propels him to the scene of the trial where he reveals his identity, rather than suffer an innocent man to receive punishment on his behalf. Valjean’s internal quandary is: “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned.”
Can it be said then, that Valjean is self-sacrificial? It could, but it wouldn’t be fully accurate. He is preserving the engine of his life – the integrity of his soul – which, since his conversion at the beginning of the story, became his highest personal value.
There are many terribly altruistic narratives at play during our time, designed to instil guilt in those who are well-off; those who are considered to be shamefully privileged; those who are “white.”
We’re told nothing less than that we must abandon our wicked white ways and sacrifice Western civilisation’s economic system on the altar of remorse:
“We all must also push for a different economic order, given the way that the twin forces of capitalism and colonisation have amplified the power of whiteness.”
[One guilt-ridden, white, former Rhodes scholar pursuing a PHD at Oxford]
To which I say: No thank you, sir. This white lady’s not for turning into a sacrificial animal to assuage your mawkish guilt.
The world is what each of us makes it. Strong, joyful, just and free people remain its most potent inspirational force.
Ayn Rand said it best in her novel Atlas Shrugged, where she exhorts readers to remember that strength of purpose and efficacy are essential to the happiness of a human being:
“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of people be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved integrity.
Do not lose your knowledge that our proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.
Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it’s yours.”
So long as we count ourselves as valuable human beings, we should all live our lives acting as our own personal heroes towards the goal of attaining our happiness for the short time that we have upon this earth. The principle needs to be clear – live and let live; no sacrifice required.
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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