The True Nature of Altruism?

I wanted to discuss what people regard as ‘altruism’.  Anyone who has read any Machiavelli, or any authors/intellectuals who espouse his beliefs, would be familiar with the notion that there is no such thing as ‘true’ altruism, or even morals.  Everything is relative in terms of power.  The more powerful agents set the standards for what is right and wrong, and everyone acts to maximize their own interests, and thus their own power.  Whether power is a means to an end, or an end in itself, is something that is still debated.

As a moderate, I stand to displease everyone.  I am not Machiavellian.  I do believe in standard morals, but I also believe that everyone acts out of self-interest, and that is perfectly okay.  After all, if we don’t advocate for our own selves, who will?   I do find contemporary American society to be kind of strange – a society which preaches individualism, private property, and the obligation to put others needs before one’s own all in the same breath.  It is unrealistic.  I would rarely, if ever, act against my self-interests, and would never expect anyone else to help me at their expense.  This is a mutual understanding most people have.  Most of us would feel downright guilty for asking or demanding someone to give up their convenience, even if it favored us.  Qualities such as sympathy and empathy lead us to respect others’ desire to maximize their own well-being.

Thus, acting in one’s self-interest is not the same as being unethical or selfish, in my opinion.  We still help others.  However, it is our subjective opinions which lead us to prioritize and choose the benefactors of our generosity.  Most people are willing to put the needs of their kids and relatives before their own – but as long as it is their own kids and relatives.  I would choose to help my friends before a stranger, choose which stranger I would take the time to help, and choose which charities I give to.  I believe there is such thing as altruism, but conditional altruism.  I would not put everyone’s needs before my own, but rather a selected and favored few. 

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