Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The oldest exercise in moral philosophy: Rationalizing Animal #4

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” —John Kenneth Galbraith

Galbraith was a liberal Canadian, which may be why he didn't notice that he could've replaced "the modern conservative" with "the capitalist and the monarchist", but he's right about the oldest exercise in moral philosophy: the rich love to rationalize being rich while others suffer. The pretentious ape wants reassurance. The traditional way to get it is for priests to twist the messages of prophets after they die: Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad all lived very simple lives, but kings and tycoons have claimed to be inspired by them, thanks to the priests who helped them rationalize their religions with their lives.

The same rationalization is done by atheists and agnostics, of course.

William Baldwin at Rationalizing Wealth - asks, "Now let's try to rationalize an economic system that gives one family 100,000 times as much loot as the average family." His rationalization is philanthropy, which may be the most traditional one. My favorite philanthropist was Andrew Carnegie, who gave away much of his fortune to build libraries, but I'm no fan of philanthropy—Carnegie's gifts never undid the cruel things done in his name to build his wealth, and for all that he gave, he still kept a fortune.

I prefer these thinkers:

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." —Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Millionaires at one end of the scale involved paupers at the other end, and even so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price." — Hugh Price Hughes

“First they take billions from you, then they give back half. And that makes them the world’s greatest humanitarians.” —Slavoj Zizek