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Obama and Selfishness

Barak Obama recently made a speech in which he said that people would accuse him of socialism because he shared his toys and  peanut butter sandwiches when he was a child.

I'm not going to call that socialism. If he CHOSE to share HIS stuff with others, that is great. Socialism is when a third party forces you to share what you have with another person of their choosing.

And then he delivered this whopper:

And this brings me to two problems I have with a lot of peoples definition of selfishness. Many seem to think  it is any desire to have control over what is done with your own money,or time, or your toys or your peanut butter sandwich. The man who is, like Howard Roark, "the one man who wished neither to serve nor to rule" is selfish.

By this definition, selfishness might not be a virtue, but it sure as hell ain't a vice.

My second problem is that somehow people that want others to take care of their needs or desires are not selfish. Like this woman:

I know her desires are rather modest. But they are still self-interested. Why is she not selfish,but  someone who wants to keep the money they earn so they can put gas in their car and pay their mortgage is?


Ayn Rand once wrote: "The man who tells you that your life is your own, and you have no obligation to hand anything to others, that is the man you need never fear...and that is the man who is called a selfish monster."

Couldn't agree more.

The trouble with Obama isn't that he shared his toys and sandwiches. It's that he wants to take 25% of everyone else's toys and sandwiches and divide them among those who have less. That's not being generous, that's being...dare I say it...? That's one step up from the school bully. Only a kind hearted bully who takes the toys from the rich kids to give to the poor ones. Kind hearted or not, that's still wrong.

Edited at 2008-11-03 10:12 pm (UTC)
a kind hearted bully who takes the toys from the rich kids to give to the poor ones

That's a perfect description of Ellsworth Toohey!

Edited at 2008-11-03 10:21 pm (UTC)

Yes it is. Only that Toohey was truly evil. I doubt Obama is. I think he's dead wrong. That's not the same thing.

I do think that redistributionists start out with genuine compassion for the poor. Even their feelings about income inequality, I believe, come from that. But I reckon any truly good-hearted impulse can be transformed into something bad, if one starts seeing it as being above any other concern and/or uses immoral means to achieve it.

I suspect this is also why those liberals who are so big on tolerance become incredibly intolerant of those they perceive to be intolerant. Also explains the phenomenon of the "Be nice or I'll whack you over the knuckles with a ruler" types. I was in terrible danger of turning into one of those, once...

Regarding the woman with modest desires, I haven't seen the video but I think she's probably the sort I can sympathize with - heck, I'd probably give her some money if she was my neighbour or something - but I agree with the double standard of "selfishness" being used. I once heard that "the government never calls you selfish for wanting someone else's money. Only if you want to keep your own."

Edited at 2008-11-03 10:31 pm (UTC)
I am not completely against a safety net, but my big problem with income redistribution is that I think economic equality is a horrible metric for judging the economy.

I can see sympathizing with the woman in the video. I might help her out myself. It's not that what she wants is so unreasonable, it's just her belief that the best way to get money for gas and a mortgage payment is at the voting booth.

And going back to coercion, I have been helped by people in my life. But the people I am most grateful to are the ones who didn't HAVE to help me.
I have been helped by people in my life. But the people I am most grateful to are the ones who didn't HAVE to help me.

Exactly. And that's why the state-enforced welfare safety net decreases people's generosity. I've seen it happen to one family member, who doesn't donate to charity because the government takes 25% of her earnings and spends so much of that on welfare. I understand how she feels.

Same thing with the idea that it's your duty to help the less fortunate. It was David Kelley who said something like: "If my doctor waives my bill because I'm poor, he's given me a free gift, and I owe him gratitude. But if it's his duty to treat me without reward, I owe him nothing." Totally agreed, and I suspect this accounts for lots of the mutual rudeness and lack of respect among doctors and patients today.

"it's just her belief that the best way to get money for gas and a mortgage payment is at the voting booth.

Darn...And I spent so much time looking for and working at jobs...:D

Edited at 2008-11-03 10:54 pm (UTC)
My most recent definition of selfishness is: choosing to abstain from becoming involved with others' lives or refusing to acknowledging that you have an impact on another's well-being.
As far as acknowledging an impact on another's well-being, of course that's important. That's called being considerate.

As for the first one, sometimes becoming involved with other's lives can be good. Much of the time though, I like to live by the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." I don't like to get so involved I become a pain in the ass (or have to deal with a pain in the ass.)

And then there's the problem of drawing the line between involvement and meddling. For instance, there have been a couple of times when I let the driver get lost even though I suspected we were going the wrong way. It's not because I didn't want to help. It's because I hate backseat drivers so much I go to extremes to avoid being one.
I think people get annoyed by evangelical Christians and those people who proclaim the unhealthiness of smoking, drugs, and burgers for the same reason you hate backseat drivers.