epsilon's picture
Submitted by epsilon on Thu, 2005-12-01 15:04

One thing that I haven’t seen much written about is charity from the objectivist perspective.  I’d like to find out what Rand said on the subject (if anything), from both points of view, giving and receiving.  

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We live in a harsh world.

Lanza Morio's picture

We live in a harsh world. One tear-soaked round through the children's hospital will show you that. It knocks me down to see the kids in there. No bad choices led them to that hospital. Just bad luck. It's terrible.

Nevertheless, charity is fine if you want to do it. It's nothing to be especially proud of but if that's how you wish to spend your time there is nothing wrong with it. The trouble is that people start finger-pointing that it's our duty, as Stormy says above, to share and support their idealism.

You are certainly to be

Robert Malcom's picture

You are certainly to be applauded for your efforts in raising your child - indeed, this is the first time I have actually heard of such a manner of raising handicapped persons, and it is wonderful, actually, at how it has come out - his fierce sense of independence despite his disabilities... I agree, this area of 'Galt's Gulch Apartments' is one which needs be explored much more... sort of a secular Goodwill group...

I agree but...

She's picture

In this case, to offer the bare bones of a long husband considered this "Feeb" to be subhuman and a poor reflection of himself. (I.E. No Son of Mine….) He left the state while the baby was still in the hospital.

So, once I wiped away my tears and saw the errors of my own bad spousal choices, I wasn't moved to compound them by legally forcing this person to remain in our lives. I didn't want such a person in MY life. But most importantly...I didn't want such a person to have access to my child's mind. That mind was so vulnerable due to the way he processed information.

I probably could have gotten child support without visitation but I didn't want to take the chance. It was my belief that he would have fought for visitation if he had been forced to pay support just for "pay back" and it wasn't worth it.

Child Support Charity?

Ashley's picture

First of all, congratulations to you for raising a child with such good values. It is a fortunate thing for a child to have a thinking parent.
I probably don't know as much about this as I could, but in what situations would you all consider child support payments to be charity? I do agree that fathers should not be trapped into parenthood unwillingly, but if the child is born into a partnership that has agreed to have a child together, if that partnership splits up do the parents not share equal responsibility for the child's well-being? I have never found a problem with child support in this situation, especially considering that the custodial parent gives a great deal of their time and effort in managing the day-to-day responsibilities. But I don't have children and have not been in this situation, so this is just my immediate reaction.


She's picture

Charity…this is a sensitive subject in some ways. My son is handicapped. He’s legally blind, has cerebral palsy and a non-verbal learning disability, which means he only processes about 30% of what is said to him. He has a normal IQ but this glitch causes him some problems.

During his childhood, I was a single mom and his disabilities gave us access to every kind of assistance program known to man. With the exception of SSI, which provided Medicare Insurance, I opted for none of them. (I do regard tax funded programs and SSI as a charity) Not WIC, food stamps, welfare, or any of the rest. I also didn’t take child support from my ex, except for two years when the child was 16…that part is the longer story , so I’ll spare you.

My thought back then was as an Objectivist and was additionally powered by the understanding that this child would likely outlive me. It was clear that I could teach him to depend on others, or to choose himself whenever possible. It became my job to teach by my words, deeds, and example that we depend upon ourselves and our own productivity for our happiness.

During his teen years he hit the wall of teen age angst and became violent and suicidal over his own limitations. He didn’t want to be disabled and no one could make it better. He lived as a hospital inpatient for two years and that was funded by the state. He just was able to move into his first apartment (an assisted living apartment that is run by a Christian charity) after living in a State run group home for two years.

Now, as an adult, he qualifies for every assistance program known to man and he has elected not to take advantage of them. He does get SSI but outside of that, he works at a grocery store. He’s planning to go to school, as hard as that is for him because his goal is to become self sustaining and not need help from anyone due to disabilities. He has come to understand that he creates his path to his own happiness and if he's not happy, it’s his job to change the things he can change to make that happen. It is not easy for him. He still wants, more than anything, to not have disabilities.

We have relied on the charity and good will of others as little as possible but it has been needed. I get very conflicted over that, but stern tenets moved aside when it was a choice between my son’s low vision being completely lost because the surgery was more than I had in the bank. (For years, I couldn’t get insurance as his conditions were considered preexisting.)

So, I’d love to see Objectivist Charities that teach the concepts to disabled people. Perhaps, one day, I shall get around to creating a non-profit charity that builds Galt Gulch apartments and centers to teach and help people reach their full potential, even if that is limited. But for now, I’m making up for time I spent teaching this one child. (A previously ignored retirement fund!)

Rand's comment that charity

Lanza Morio's picture

Rand's comment that charity is a marginal issue is brilliant. If you want to help someone and have the means to do it then sure, it's fine. It's no big deal. The value in it would be when months or years later the person you helped returned to thank you and show you what they've achieved. And maybe even to pay you back. But most "charitable" people want more than just to help a friend along. They want prestige. They want respect. And they often like the power their charity brings them over those they help.

Nothing new - was like that

Robert Malcom's picture

Nothing new - was like that with United Way back in early 70's when worked for Howard Johnson's... so bad that caught an interoffice memo saying to take it out of the pay if not get that 100%... so, of course, quit... [yes, now know could have sued the pants off them if they had taken it from pay - but youngsters not know these fine points usually ]

Its that time of year again

katdaddy's picture

The biggest issue with charity, in my view, is not the giving itself, but the fact that others are telling you where to give by playing the guilt game. They come down on you like bill collectors.

I recently started a new job at a very large company and was amazed at the expectation of corporate social responsibility. I frankly wanted to puke. Now it is United Way pledge drive time and they are sending out global emails and voicemails reminding all employees to give until it hurts. Why is my employer telling me I have to give to their charities? I really resent those voicemails to tell the truth.

I did check out the link from one of the emails and found that it wasn't just the United Way, but a list of about 100 organizations I could contribute through payroll deductions. I was feeling generous and signed on to help the Autism Foundation and the Red Cross as well. I don't mind helping out or writing an occasional check, I believe private charities do a much better job than the government in providing help to those in need.

I just wish people would lose the attitude that productive people owe something to society. It is a personal choice, not an obligation.


It always fascinates me

Teresa's picture

That the very first concern most people have with regard to Objectivism is it's view of Ethics from the lowest possible standard of human existence: The poor cripled, unproductive people. As if poor, cripled, retarded people were the FIRST thing I should think about when I wake up and the last thought I hold before I sleep. Poor, cripled, retarded people are not the "standard" for a rational ethical system. Someone who views poor, cripled, retarded people as a first criteria with regard to ethics has a long long long way to go before they'll ever grasp the idea of "rational selfishness."

If they want to waste hours handing out blankets to the homeless alcoholic mental ward escapees, Objectivists are fine with that. It's fine! Such actions will never be outlawed under and Objectivist system of justice. Nor will they be rewarded.

With that, my favorite charity is in the form of giving big tips to my favorite waitress, raising three kids on her own, who supplies me with no end of joy with her happy dispostion and fantastic service. The girl even has my phone number in case emergency babysitting is needed. That's my idea of charity: Personal.

Couldn't agree more with you.

epsilon's picture


Isn't it about values?

Becky Pallack's picture

As long as nobody's requiring me to be "charitable," I'm happy to do it. I think charity is about values, like so many other things in life.
The reason I buy toys for poor kids is because I have fond memories of opening a new toy when I was a child and I want other children to have that experience. The reason I drop off my old coats at a homeless shelter is because I don't need them and I don't want them to go to waste.
A couple times a year, I volunteer my (valuable) time for some goodwill project that sparks my interest. This year it was serving Thanksgiving dinner to a group of political refugees.
I think these actions reflect my values and my sense of life.

You know, I'm not very

epsilon's picture

You know, I'm not very familiar with her work. I guess I just assumed that she spent her life helping the poor and tending to the sick. Clearly, I've been mistaken. She thought suffering was beautiful?! - A vile woman indeed; and of course she must be a fraud. Although, now that I think about it, suffering in general is kinda big in most religions, certainly in Catholicism.
Ashley, thanks for the link, it was illuminating. Christian God is a sadist?! - But of course! Why didn't this occur to me before? He even let his Son die a torturous death (according to their book of fairy tales). I'm currently updating my list of evil doers: it used to be Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, but now Mother Theresa will take Pol Pot's place (although, I feel like I might be just a tad too hasty with this reshuffling). As I read the article, I also thought that the author had a, shall we say, limited idea about Christian values.

Since nobody knows me at this forum, I feel like I should probably explain where I'm coming from. I love Rand's work. And I agree with what she has to say on absolute majority of the subjects. (Please don't mistake this for an apology for my views or an attempt to ingratiate myself to the guardians of the truth.) I'm also not trying to pick a fight here. Really.

With that,.. Mathew: "I would have said, "Fuck 'em; it's not my problem" whether I had ever read Ayn Rand or not. I don't care about strangers, and I do not donate to charity."
Michael "…wrote a check for $50 and sent it to the Red Cross after Katrina, which was about the limit of my concern and involvement."

I'm not saying that either of you is right or wrong; I am saying that I hope people around me are simply kinder. I'm also a little taken aback by the pervasiveness of this aggressive, militant kind of self-righteousness. For Pete's sake, there are children dying there. I could get into the discussion on the Natural Law, and why it IS immoral to blithely disregard someone's misfortune, but this post is getting lengthy as it is.

And a tiny story in conclusion: my dorm neighbor in school was always very vocal about his anti-gay stance. Never missed an opportunity to express his aversion and disgust to the "homos". By the senior year of college, he came out of the closet. - I'm always weary and incredulous of the folks who scream the loudest. Just because you are right about something, doesn't mean that expressing your unmitigated opinion (however right it may be) will advance your overall cause. Frequently, it will do the opposite.

P.S. "Let's stick with reality… shall we. We don't live in a hypothetical world, so let's not waste time weaving scenarios out of wishes and bullshit in order to prove points." Mathew, the use of hypotheticals is a basic and integral instrument of philosophy. Hypothetical cases provide advantages similar to those of controlled scientific experiments (the common motivation being to isolate a particular variable without getting distracted by confounding details). Hope that helps.

And it has its limits - it

Robert Malcom's picture

And it has its limits - it is not a perpetuated...

Rand had a few things to say

Ross Elliot's picture

Rand had a few things to say about charity but her main thrust, as with everything she said, was that premises must be checked carefully.

Many statements of principle sound dry & hard in the face of suffering & tragedy, but Rand was always careful to make sure that principles were clarified as the benchmark or baseline for eveything that followed. Consequently: "What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue."

Best to get that said, up-front and with clarity. What comes after that is, essentially, inconsequential.

That doesn't mean to say that objectivists should just quote Rand and expect everyone else to "get it" or fall into line. They won't. Our job is to illuminate these principles within a more immediate context. To show that while there is no moral duty to help others, charity is not the creed of the simpering altruist but a manifestation of the natural affinity that free people feel for each other when faced with extraordinary circumstances.


Building skyscrapers to withstand disasters

milesian's picture

Finally, didn’t the average Objectivist feel a moral obligation to help victims of tsunami or Katrina?

No, as far as I can tell, the "average" Objectivist did not feel any moral obligation to help them. The main discussion was between those who said it was their own fault and those who said that we should not say that in public, even though it was. However, I also wrote a check for $50 and sent it to the Red Cross after Katrina, which was about the limit of my concern and involvement. I wrote:
"The difference between New York City after 9/11 and New Orleans after Katrina is an undeniable contrast between a city that rose to the sky, because its people could not be held to the ground, and a city that wallowed in a swamp, as long as the red beans and rice were as cheap as music and bourbon.
"New Orleans was perpetually sleepy and New York is the town that never sleeps. A few years back, Gotham mayor Rudy Giuliani cracked down on the windshield washers -- people who wiped your car windshield when you were stuck in traffic and who then expected a dollar for it. It was annoying -- but it was enterprise. On the other hand, the Big Easy was wiped away by a big waterspout."
from THE BIG APPLE VERSUS THE BIG EASY by Michael E. Marotta
I was chided for that article, but only because it was "insensitive" so soon after the disaster and might be misperceived by the general public -- not because anyone disagreed. In fact, I got a few "Atlas Points" for it, in increments of four and five, indicating some general approval by the tenured SOLOists.

As for the tsunami, we touted the 10-year old girl who had learned about tsunamis in science class:
"A 10-year-old British girl saved 100 other tourists from the Asian tsunami, having warned them a giant mass of water was on its way, after learning about the phenomenon weeks earlier at school. Tilly recognised the danger signs. "I was on the beach and the water started to go funny," Tilly Smith told the Sun at the weekend from Phuket, Thailand. "There were bubbles and the tide went out all of a sudden. I recognised what was happening..."

When you get right down to it, on the one hand, all of life is a constant disaster -- there are all these challenges and threats and if you stop striving for a split second, you are dead meat. On the other hand, that being the normal course of events, it is difficult to get too worked up over it. You solve one problem at a time and get ahead of the situation and pretty soon, you can take off that inflatable lifejacket and build a skyscraper or something ...
"I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings."

There is also the point to

Robert Malcom's picture

There is also the point to remember - we, as Objectivist individuals, are traders - that is, properly, our worldview, value for value... anything less is mooching or other form of a slaver mindset[existing, in some form or other, by whatever name or other, for the sake of the other]... but - that does not mean the trading need be in same coin, for investing is as much a trading as blankets for butter...

You got that right,

Robert Malcom's picture

You got that right, Ashley...

I always wondered, when she

jenright's picture

I always wondered, when she said charity was not a major virtue, if she therefore regarded it as a minor virtue, but a virtue nonetheless in appropriate situations.

And a parting musing: I

Ashley's picture

And a parting musing: I wonder what Rand would’ve characterized Mother Theresa’s life as?..

What do you think of Mother Teresa's life? I will urge you again not to feed into the propaganda machine and to read up on the *actual* acts of Mother Teresa, for much has been written that convince me that the myth of the "saint" is a huge fraud.

Read any review (or better yet, the book) by Christopher Hitchens about Mother Teresa's crimes against humanity. Even our own members have written about it:

"For me, charity is not a

Ashley's picture

"For me, charity is not a marginal issue. To be more specific / practical, what does Objectivism have to say on dealing with orphans, refugees, the elderly, etc? "

That if people wish to help them, they can. That private organisations can do a better job of it than a government agency. Do you really think that compulsory taxation to fund bloated federal programs is the best way to help people who are helpless? If you begin by believing that the essence of mankind is good, how can you believe that noone really cares about others who are suffering? (If you don't believe that man is essentially good, you are not an Objectivist). I think that most people are hardened by the daily assault on that which they have produced that comes in the form of taxation. If people had the additional money to do with what they wished, I think *many* people, enough people, would choose to act locally to make their communities better places to live. Starving, dying people don't make people feel good. Acting positively in the local community does often make people feel good, which might include many things, according to one's desire. Some thoughts: educating people about how to make more of what mental, physical, or financial means they have. Teaching people job skills. Teaching people to read. Giving your leftover dinner to a hungry person. Giving your old clothes to someone who is cold. Producers contribute something to the world. They want the world to be a good place to live. We are conditioned by the assholes in charge of helping the helpless to believe the opposite, that people are mean, and greedy, and hateful. I urge you to think of the people you know and ask yourself if this is true, or if they do in fact act helpfully towards others when it makes sense to do so.

Let's stick with reality...

stormyeyes's picture

...shall we? We don't live in a hypothetical world, so let's not waste time weaving scenarios out of wishes and bullshit in order to prove points.

Let me make myself clear: the fact that I do not care about strangers does not mean that you cannot help them yourself, or even attempt to persuade me that the people you claim to care about are worthy of my aid. All an objectivist world means, in the context of what to do about the needy, is that you cannot hold a sword to my throat and force me to pay for your idealism.

Again, if you want to help the needy, nobody will stop you.

In a hypothetical world, if

epsilon's picture

In a hypothetical world, if tomorrow everyone decided to become an Objectivist, I guess the orphans, the elderly and the disaster victims wouldn’t have fared too well.  Taxation would be minimal (thus no help from the government), and charities are of “marginal” importance, I guess it just sucks to be in need in an Objectivist reality.

If you want to help...

stormyeyes's picture

To be more specific / practical, what does Objectivism have to say on dealing with orphans, refugees, the elderly, etc?

To quote Ayn Rand: "If you want to help, nobody will stop you." Objectivism states that you are not morally obligated to help strangers, no matter how dire their straits. If you want to do so, then do so. Just don't force others to help you or to pay the bills for your concern.

Also, reading Rand’s novels, it seems that for her, the value of a man’s life is linked directly to the value of his output. In other words, the greater the ratio of production to consumption, the better the person.

Rand's novels don't give a complete view of her philosophy; she turned to non-fiction in order to further develop her ideas. Yes, Rand's heroes were titans in terms of productive ability, but that productive ability stemmed from their rationality. I won't speak for Ayn Rand, but as I understand Objectivism, you don't have to be John Galt to be a good man. You do have to do your best, given your abilities, and commit yourself to reason.

Finally, didn’t the average Objectivist feel a moral obligation to help victims of tsunami or Katrina?

I won't presume to speak for anybody but myself: I felt no moral obligation towards the victims of either the tsunami or Katrina. Objectivism has nothing to do with this lack of concern, I would have said, "Fuck 'em; it's not my problem" whether I had ever read Ayn Rand or not. I don't care about strangers, and I do not donate to charity. I refuse to, since I am already taxed in order to pay for others' idealism. In other words, I give at the office.

And a parting musing: I wonder what Rand would’ve characterized Mother Theresa’s life as?..

I don't think Rand had much respect for Mother Teresa, and I know that I think she was a fraud.

For me, charity is not a

epsilon's picture

For me, charity is not a marginal issue.  To be more specific / practical, what does Objectivism have to say on dealing with orphans, refugees, the elderly, etc?  How exactly does “value for value” work out here? 

Also, reading Rand’s novels, it seems that for her, the value of a man’s life is linked directly to the value of his output.  In other words, the greater the ratio of production to consumption, the better the person.  What about those, who for some medical reasons were never able to produce much?

Finally, didn’t the average Objectivist feel a moral obligation to help victims of tsunami or Katrina?  Why?

I have friends whose lives embody the ideals of Objectivism, yet they dislike Rand and her ideas due to their lack of concern with humanitarian issues.

And a parting musing: I wonder what Rand would’ve characterized Mother Theresa’s life as?..

There's nothing wrong with generosity.

stormyeyes's picture

Personally, I believe that if you feel charitable, it is fine to act on that desire in the situations and to the extent that you wish.

Ashley, I see nothing wrong with the sort of generosity you're talking about and practicing in your work. I am certainly not as generous as you are, but I am not going to give you static for being more benevolent than I am.

Charitable Acts

Ashley's picture

I am interested, as well. I have talked about this before, but I often have a strong urge to do things which are charitable. Currently I am developing a communication and problem solving curriculum for a juvenile detention facility. I am volunteering my time and I will commit to a weekly time which I will spend there teaching it. I sometimes feel uneasy talking about these sorts of projects (which I do frequently) in Objectivist circles, because I am not sure how it will be perceived. 

I work in a community where most families are in a cycle of failing to succeed at just about everything. Where most people have a strong desire to get out, I have a strong desire to use my skills to provide opportunities for betterment. Ignoring this seems like a betrayal of my essence. Personally, I believe that if you feel charitable, it is fine to act on that desire in the situations and to the extent that you wish. I do not think it should ever be an obligation, nor that people should be compelled to give charitably by friends, families, government, or employers. 
During this season of holidays, we will all be approached over and over again to contribute time, material goods, and money to a million different organizations. This makes me feel dirty, and I hate it. If all of those were gone, I think many people would choose to act charitably in their own creative ways, acting locally and when it had meaning for them. And some would not, and that's fine, too. I think that the combined actions of those who did choose to act would effect more change than all of the professional do-gooders combined. 
"The single journey through consciousness should be participated in as fully as possible by the individual no matter how dangerous or cruel or terror-filled that experience may be."

That quote of her's

Summer Serravillo's picture

That quote of her's essentially drew the dividing line between benevolence and altruism.  'Least I think so.

So did I.

stormyeyes's picture

I remember reading the same thing, Summer.

I remembered the following

Summer Serravillo's picture

I remembered the following quote from the site:     


"My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." [From "Playboy's 1964 interview with Ayn Rand"]

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