Nechayev’s “The Revolutionary Catechism”

[Posted here as an example of nineteenth-century nihilism integrated with violence and destruction as a means to a revolutionary end.] Nechayev,Sergey

The Revolutionary Catechism

By Sergey Nechayev

The Duties of the Revolutionary toward Himself

1. The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution.

2. The revolutionary knows that in the very depths of his being, not only in words but also in deeds, he has broken all the bonds which tie him to the social order and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities, and customs, and with all its generally accepted conventions. He is their implacable enemy, and if he continues to live with them it is only in order to destroy them more speedily.

3. The revolutionary despises all doctrines and refuses to accept the mundane sciences, leaving them for future generations. He knows only one science: the science of destruction. For this reason, but only for this reason, he will study mechanics, physics, chemistry, and perhaps medicine. But all day and all night he studies the vital science of human beings, their characteristics and circumstances, and all the phenomena of the present social order. The object is perpetually the same: the surest and quickest way of destroying the whole filthy order.

4. The revolutionary despises public opinion. He despises and hates the existing social morality in all its manifestations. For him, morality is everything which contributes to the triumph of the revolution. Immoral and criminal is everything that stands in its way.

5. The revolutionary is a dedicated man, merciless toward the State and toward the educated classes; and he can expect no mercy from them. Between him and them there exists, declared or concealed, a relentless and irreconcilable war to the death. He must accustom himself to torture.

6. Tyrannical toward himself, he must be tyrannical toward others. All the gentle and enervating sentiments of kinship, love, friendship, gratitude, and even honor, must be suppressed in him and give place to the cold and single-minded passion for revolution. For him, there exists only one pleasure, on consolation, one reward, one satisfaction—the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim—merciless destruction. Striving cold-bloodedly and indefatigably toward this end, he must be prepared to destroy himself and to destroy with his own hands everything that stands in the path of the revolution.

7. The nature of the true revolutionary excludes all sentimentality, romanticism, infatuation, and exaltation. All private hatred and revenge must also be excluded. Revolutionary passion, practiced at every moment of the day until it becomes a habit, is to be employed with cold calculation. At all times, and in all places, the revolutionary must obey not his personal impulses, but only those which serve the cause of the revolution.

The Relations of the Revolutionary toward his Comrades

8. The revolutionary can have no friendship or attachment, except for those who have proved by their actions that they, like him, are dedicated to revolution. The degree of friendship, devotion and obligation toward such a comrade is determined solely by the degree of his usefulness to the cause of total revolutionary destruction.

9. It is superfluous to speak of solidarity among revolutionaries. The whole strength of revolutionary work lies in this. Comrades who possess the same revolutionary passion and understanding should, as much as possible, deliberate all important matters together and come to unanimous conclusions. When the plan is finally decided upon, then the revolutionary must rely solely on himself. In carrying out acts of destruction, each one should act alone, never running to another for advice and assistance, except when these are necessary for the furtherance of the plan.

10. All revolutionaries should have under them second- or third-degree revolutionaries—i.e., comrades who are not completely initiated. These should be regarded as part of the common revolutionary capital placed at his disposal. This capital should, of course, be spent as economically as possible in order to derive from it the greatest possible profit. The real revolutionary should regard himself as capital consecrated to the triumph of the revolution; however, he may not personally and alone dispose of that capital without the unanimous consent of the fully initiated comrades.

11. When a comrade is in danger and the question arises whether he should be saved or not saved, the decision must not be arrived at on the basis of sentiment, but solely in the interests of the revolutionary cause. Therefore, it is necessary to weigh carefully the usefulness of the comrade against the expenditure of revolutionary forces necessary to save him, and the decision must be made accordingly.

The Relations of the Revolutionary toward Society

12. The new member, having given proof of his loyalty not by words but by deeds, can be received into the society only by the unanimous agreement of all the members.

13. The revolutionary enters the world of the State, of the privileged classes, of the so-called civilization, and he lives in this world only for the purpose of bringing about its speedy and total destruction. He is not a revolutionary if he has any sympathy for this world. He should not hesitate to destroy any position, any place, or any man in this world. He must hate everyone and everything in it with an equal hatred. All the worse for him if he has any relations with parents, friends, or lovers; he is no longer a revolutionary if he is swayed by these relationships.

14. Aiming at implacable revolution, the revolutionary may and frequently must live within society will pretending to be completely different from what he really is, for he must penetrate everywhere, into all the higher and middle-classes, into the houses of commerce, the churches, and the palaces of the aristocracy, and into the worlds of the bureaucracy and literature and the military, and also into the Third Division and the Winter Palace of the Czar.

15. This filthy social order can be split up into several categories. The first category comprises those who must be condemned to death without delay. Comrades should compile a list of those to be condemned according to the relative gravity of their crimes; and the executions should be carried out according to the prepared order.

16. When a list of those who are condemned is made, and the order of execution is prepared, no private sense of outrage should be considered, nor is it necessary to pay attention to the hatred provoked by these people among the comrades or the people. Hatred and the sense of outrage may even be useful insofar as they incite the masses to revolt. It is necessary to be guided only by the relative usefulness of these executions for the sake of revolution. Above all, those who are especially inimical to the revolutionary organization must be destroyed; their violent and sudden deaths will produce the utmost panic in the government, depriving it of its will to action by removing the cleverest and most energetic supporters.

17. The second group comprises those who will be spared for the time being in order that, by a series of monstrous acts, they may drive the people into inevitable revolt.

18. The third category consists of a great many brutes in high positions, distinguished neither by their cleverness nor their energy, while enjoying riches, influence, power, and high positions by virtue of their rank. These must be exploited in every possible way; they must be implicated and embroiled in our affairs, their dirty secrets must be ferreted out, and they must be transformed into slaves. Their power, influence, and connections, their wealth and their energy, will form an inexhaustible treasure and a precious help in all our undertakings.

19. The fourth category comprises ambitious office-holders and liberals of various shades of opinion. The revolutionary must pretend to collaborate with them, blindly following them, while at the same time, prying out their secrets until they are completely in his power. They must be so compromised that there is no way out for them, and then they can be used to create disorder in the State.

20. The fifth category consists of those doctrinaires, conspirators, and revolutionists who cut a great figure on paper or in their cliques. They must be constantly driven on to make compromising declarations: as a result, the majority of them will be destroyed, while a minority will become genuine revolutionaries.

21. The sixth category is especially important: women. They can be divided into three main groups. First, those frivolous, thoughtless, and vapid women, whom we shall use as we use the third and fourth category of men. Second, women who are ardent, capable, and devoted, but whom do not belong to us because they have not yet achieved a passionless and austere revolutionary understanding; these must be used like the men of the fifth category. Finally, there are the women who are completely on our side—i.e., those who are wholly dedicated and who have accepted our program in its entirety. We should regard these women as the most valuable or our treasures; without their help, we would never succeed.

The Attitude of the Society toward the People

22. The Society has no aim other than the complete liberation and happiness of the masses—i.e., of the people who live by manual labor. Convinced that their emancipation and the achievement of this happiness can only come about as a result of an all-destroying popular revolt, the Society will use all its resources and energy toward increasing and intensifying the evils and miseries of the people until at last their patience is exhausted and they are driven to a general uprising.

23. By a revolution, the Society does not mean an orderly revolt according to the classic western model—a revolt which always stops short of attacking the rights of property and the traditional social systems of so-called civilization and morality. Until now, such a revolution has always limited itself to the overthrow of one political form in order to replace it by another, thereby attempting to bring about a so-called revolutionary state. The only form of revolution beneficial to the people is one which destroys the entire State to the roots and exterminated all the state traditions, institutions, and classes in Russia.

24. With this end in view, the Society therefore refuses to impose any new organization from above. Any future organization will doubtless work its way through the movement and life of the people; but this is a matter for future generations to decide. Our task is terrible, total, universal, and merciless destruction.

25. Therefore, in drawing closer to the people, we must above all make common cause with those elements of the masses which, since the foundation of the state of Muscovy, have never ceased to protest, not only in words but in deeds, against everything directly or indirectly connected with the state: against the nobility, the bureaucracy, the clergy, the traders, and the parasitic kulaks. We must unite with the adventurous tribes of brigands, who are the only genuine revolutionaries in Russia.

26. To weld the people into one single unconquerable and all-destructive force—this is our aim, our conspiracy, and our task.

* * *

[Here also is a PDF version of Sergey Nechayev, The Revolutionary Catechism (1869).]

Debating Liberalism — FRI event in Buenos Aires

Here is the flyer (click to enlarge) for a full-day event in Buenos Aires:

The event’s theme is taken from the first two parts of my forthcoming book Liberalism: The Meaning of Political Life. In Socratic Seminar format, the participants will be discussing and debating the best arguments for and against liberalism.

I’m not there to participate, but the highly-proficient discussion leaders are Agustín Etchebarne, Ricardo Manuel Rojas, Alejandra Salinas, and Martin Krause, with two additional talks by Roberto Cachanosky, Eduardo Marty, and Gustavo Lazzari. Thanks to FRI’s María Marty for her organizing this event. The conference is sponsored by Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual, Junior Achievement Argentina, HSBC, CEMA University, and the John Templeton Foundation.


Lifeboat ethics: how scarcity thinking sets us at each others’ throats [The Good Life series]

A scenario beloved of ethicists, public policy experts, and management consultants asks you to imagine yourself on a lifeboat.

Lifeboat Built into such scenarios are powerful assumptions with life-or-death consequences, so as we work through the lifeboat scenario try to make those assumptions explicit. Here we go:

You were flying over the Pacific, but bad weather knocked out the plane’s communications. To avoid the storm, the pilot then diverted from the plane’s scheduled route. A terrible hour or so later he lost control and crashed the plane into the ocean. You and some others survived and managed to climb into an inflatable lifeboat.

You take stock of your situation. There are ten of you in a boat designed for four people, with enough food and water for two days. Nobody knows where you are, you don’t know where you are, and your phones were lost or destroyed in the crash.

What do you do?

1. You might assess the situation ruthlessly, point to the water and shout Shark! When one of your companions foolishly looks to see — you shove him overboard. One down, five to go. Of course the rest see what’s up and begin trying to shove each other overboard. When the fighting ends, the four quickest and strongest have prevailed and the six slowest or weakest become shark food.

2. Or you might say, Nobody move — let’s talk this over. Someone then suggests that, in the interests of equality, everyone share the food and water. The likely result? A big wave swamps the boat carrying ten people but designed for four; everyone dies. Or when one person gets too hungry or thirsty, she defects and shoves someone overboard. Fighting commences. The four strongest prevail and six die.

3. Or someone suggests that, in the interests of fairness, you draw lots to decide who will live and who will die. Result? The first powerful person to draw a bad lot refuses to accept the result. In the ensuing fight to shove him overboard, the strongest prevail and the weakest lose.

4. Or you might suggest, Let’s see who has the most to contribute and the best chances of surviving. On the lifeboat, it turns out, are an 88-year-old man, someone who broke both legs in the crash, an emotional basket-case, and a 95-pound woman with zero fat reserves — along with a healthy 20-year old male, a woman in the military Special Forces, a middle-aged man who is twenty pounds overweight, and several others. So as a group you identify the four strongest and, unfortunately, sacrifice the six weakest.

Other options are possible. But note that they all seem to be converging on a common result: The lifeboat is a strong-versus-weak situation, and the strong will sacrifice the weak.

How realistic is this made-up scenario? The point of using lifeboats is to help us think through the big questions of life and death by giving us a simplified model of the factors that we must attend to.

The lifeboat’s key factors are economic: the lifeboat’s supply of space, food, and water is much less than the demand for them. That is to say, scarce resources is the dominant reality.

If the lifeboat is used as a microcosm from which we can draw grand conclusions, as many ethicists and other experts want to, then the claims are, first, that we live in a world of scarce resources and, second, that our public policy decisions should be based on that fact.

A nature show followed a herd of caribou on their annual migration from southern to northern Alaska where, in the short summer, they will graze. Packs of wolves also followed the caribou, picking off the old, the weak, and the injured. The narrator of the show intoned, “And this is good for the caribou,” explaining that the supply of grasses in northern Alaska was not enough to support the entire herd.

Anthropologists tell us that when a harsh winter approached and food was scarce, many Native American tribes had a policy of expecting their elderly members to take themselves off into the mountains, the woods, or the desert to let nature take its course. The reasoning was that the eldest were the weakest and that vital food resources should go only to the strongest.

In a widely-reprinted essay, contemporary bio-ethicist Garrett Hardin extended lifeboat ethics to the human population at large, arguing that the Earth’s resource scarcity demands that we rich and strong nations stop giving to the poor and weak nations. Such charity, he argued, undercuts the survival chances of the strong and means only that more of the poor will survive and reproduce, thus making the problem worse in the next generation.

But arguing against Hardin is the equally-widely-cited line from Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Those of us with more are depriving those with less, so we resource-rich should give up for the sake of the resource-poor.

And we should not forget that very realistic lifeboat scenario — the sinking of Titanic in 1912. titanic-lifeboatsLifeboats were few and people were many, so a life-and-death scarcity was real. In that case, the operative principle was “Women and children first.” In accordance with Victorian and Edwardian ethics, stronger men had a noble obligation to protect and, if necessary, sacrifice for their weaker women and offspring.

So which is the more moral policy: Should we sacrifice the weak for the strong — or the strong for the weak?

For example, when revising tax policy, should we favor the rich or the poor? If the government’s healthcare budget is maxed out, should we first deny lifesaving surgeries to the elderly? Or should we prosperous nations feel guilty about our lifestyles and send more billions of dollars in foreign aid to the struggling nations?

Note that all of these arguments assume that we live in a zero-sum world that pits the strong against the weak. We are then supposed to choose sides, favoring either the strong or the weak. And note especially that underlying all of the arguments is the assumption of scarce resources.

The claim that resources are scarce is everywhere — in political debate, in environmentalism, in much of economic science, and in moral decision theory. But is it true?

In my next column I will argue that it is false. (Available words are now scarce, as my editor’s cruelly-imposed limits for this column have decreed.) We live in a world of plentiful resources, both actual and potential. And in those places where people sadly continue to struggle with scarcity for generation after generation, the problem always is dysfunctional culture or dysfunctional politics — or a doubly-dysfunctional combination of the two.

Bad thinking and occasional accidents can drive us into scarcity conflicts, but scarcity itself is not a fundamental or unavoidable fact of the human condition.

[This article was originally published in English at and in Portuguese at]

Nuestro problema con el Che Guevara

por Stephen Hicks 

[This is a Spanish translation of “Our Che Guevara Problem”, first published in English at EveryJoe and then translated into Portuguese at Portal Libertarianismo.]

Es muy probable que alguien que conozcas tenga una camiseta del Che. Versiones románticas del rostro barbudo de Ernesto Guevara Lynch son muy populares en los campus universitarios y en otros lugares — tan populares que la cadena de tiendas estadounidense Urban Outfitters había planeado lanzar toda una línea de artículos de moda inspirados en el Che, y docenas de sitios web ofrecen una amplia gama de parafernalia “Che.”cheguevara-620x350

Guevara fue un marxista que nació en Argentina, obtuvo una posición en Cuba como Ministro de Economía, y murió en una escaramuza con soldados en Bolivia.

Pero aquí está el enigma. En la vida real, Guevara era un carcelero, torturador y asesino “igualitario”. No importaba si se trataba de defensores de la libertad de expresión, homosexuales, partidarios de la libertad de religión o amantes del rock and roll, dueños de negocios o enemigos ideológicos — y no importaba si eran hombres, mujeres o niños — él estaba a favor de encarcelarlos, torturarlos y asesinarlos.

“Para ejecutar a un hombre”, dijo el Che una vez: “no necesitamos pruebas de su culpabilidad.” En los primeros días de la revolución cubana, el Che escribió a su padre acerca del fusilamiento de un guerrillero campesino: “Me gustaría confesar, papá, en ese momento descubrí que realmente me gusta matar.” Gran parte de la historia del Che es muy fea.

Entonces, ¿cómo un asesino se ha convertido en un icono de la moda?

Graciosamente — y tal vez inspirada por el capitalismo americano — una empresa estatal cubana anunció recientemente sus planes para lanzar una línea de perfumes “Ernesto” y “Hugo”, en honor al Che Guevara y al ya fallecido dictador socialista de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Ese plan, sin embargo,  fue derribado por los mandamás del gobierno y habría sanciones inminentes para quienes sugirieron tal sacrilegio.

Menos gracioso es que, en 2008, una heroica estatua de bronce de Guevara se descubrió en su ciudad natal de Rosario, Argentina.

Volviendo a EE.UU. la guerra cultural continúa con productos anti-Che como remeras con una foto de Adolf Hitler y el subtítulo “Mi remera del Che está en la lavandería.” O remeras con la imagen del Che y una leyenda sutil “Mi otra remera tiene a Hitler.” El punto, por supuesto, es que a nadie se le ocurriría utilizar a un matón nazi para hacer una declaración de moda. O tal vez no en estos tiempos nuestros, ya que la iconografía de Hitler también está haciendo una reaparición. Para su crédito, Urban Outfitters decidió abandonar su línea del Che en respuesta a las protestas de la comunidad cubano-americana y a la carta abierta publicada en The Huffington Post por Thor Halvorssen de la Fundación de Derechos Humanos.

(Realmente me gusta la ironía de las ideas del perfume y de la remeChe-Guevara-Jay-Zra en la lavandería, ya que el Che raramente se bañaba de acuerdo a las quejas de sus companeros.)

El problema no es tanto el propio Guevara, que ha estado muerto ya desde hace medio siglo. El problema es la leyenda del Che y su simbolismo, que ha permanecido en las mentes y los corazones de una subcultura de jóvenes durante dos generaciones. Los hechos acerca de la brutalidad del Che no son desconocidos. Pero el poder de la leyenda y del mito a menudo supera el poder de los hechos. Y en nuestra cultura pro-mercado y pro-libertad de expresión, siempre habrá un mercado para aquellos que son anti-mercado y anti-libertad en general. El tamaño de ese mercado es un indicador cultural que vale la pena observar.

Para algunos, el Che es un símbolo de la revolución socialista. Para otros, él se destaca, más difusamente, por algún tipo de revolución. O simplemente por estar en contra del status quo. Para algunos otros, el Che representa un mártir relativamente joven a favor de una causa. Para comentaristas sofisticados, el producto Che es kitsch — una postura superficial de niños universitarios mimados que quieren ser parte de la escena y, de paso, shockear a mamá y papá y a los conservadores.

Pero para todas las variantes, el simbolo del Che es una exposición de cómo una contra-cultura se ve a sí misma.

El libro de viajes de Patrick Symmes “Chasing Che” (Persiguiendo al Che) es, a mi juicio, el mejor representante. Symmes es un hombre reflexivo de la ecléctica izquierda, y se inspiró para recrear parte del viaje del Che por varios países de América del Sur. El Che comenzó su viaje en una motocicleta, pero al igual que la economía cubana de la cual más tarde se hizo cargo, la motocicleta se averió y el Che no sabía demasiado acerca del funcionamiento de esas cosas. El Che y su compañero de viaje, Alberto Granado, continuaron el resto del viaje a los tumbos. Symmes, por el contrario, era organizado y sabía como mantener su motocicleta BMW — y llevó su ojo periodístico bien entrenado para contar una buena historia de los pueblos y paisajes que encontró en su viaje a lo largo de la ruta del Che desde Argentina a Chile y Perú .

Pero uno apenas se entera por Symmes, y sólo en las últimas páginas del libro, que Guevara torturó y mató indiscriminadamente. En cambio obtenemos un retrato sensible de un joven en búsqueda de su yo y en búsqueda de che-guevara-gunreformas sociales. Symmes muestra una verdadera simpatía por la impotencia e indignación causadas por las injusticias realizadas por gobiernos poderosos y sus socios de negocios “crony”, junto con una sutil sensación de que la brutalidad del Che fue quizás una respuesta excusable. Symmes nos deja una fuerte impresión de que la única alternativa al semifeudalismo latinoamericano, es algún tipo de socialismo igualitario.

Todo esto sugiere que nuestro problema con el Che es realmente un problema filosófico. No es sólo que Guevara fue un activista y lector voraz de pensadores como Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzsche, y, por supuesto, Karl Marx y Friedrich Engels. El problema es que todos nosotros seguimos debatiendo acerca del significado abstracto de su legado. ¿Qué es cierto y qué es mito? ¿Qué ideales y qué perversidades están involucradas? Y, de acuerdo a la batalla de la moda, ¿qué es “cool” y descontracturado? Usando vocabulario filosófico, la batalla del Che es de orden epistemológico, ético y estético.

Otra manera de decirlo es la siguiente: el problema no es el Che Guevara, sino el Che-guevarismo.

Si alguna vez conseguimos dejar atrás los desastres del socialismo del siglo XX y evitar que vuelvan a ocurrir en el siglo XXI, entonces es importante lograr una mayor conciencia de lo que realmente fue el Che para contrarrestar el modo en que se limpió su imagen y se creó el mito. Pero más importante aún es contrarrestar  las ideas filosóficas que llevaron a un joven tan enérgico como Ernesto Guevara Lynch hacia un camino tan violento y destructivo.

[Traducido al Español por María Marty.]

William James’s “The Moral Equivalent of War”

[Below is the text of William James’s “The Moral Equivalent of War” [pdf].]

The Moral Equivalent of War

By William James

william-james[Based on a speech delivered at Stanford University in 1906. Published in 1910.]

The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade. There is something highly paradoxical in the modern man’s relation to war. Ask all our millions, north and south, whether they would vote now (were such a thing possible) to have our war for the Union expunged from history, and the record of a peaceful transition to the present time substituted for that of its marches and battles, and probably hardly a handful of eccentrics would say yes. Those ancestors, those efforts, those memories and legends, are the most ideal part of what we now own together, a sacred spiritual possession worth more than all the blood poured out. Yet ask those same people whether they would be willing, in cold blood, to start another civil war now to gain another similar possession, and not one man or woman would vote for the proposition. In modern eyes, precious though wars may be they must not be waged solely for the sake of the ideal harvest. Only when forced upon one, is a war now thought permissible.

It was not thus in ancient times. The earlier men were hunting men, and to hunt a neighboring tribe, kill the males, loot the village and possess the females, was the most profitable, as well as the most exciting, way of living. Thus were the more martial tribes selected, and in chiefs and peoples a pure pugnacity and love of glory came to mingle with the more fundamental appetite for plunder.

Modern war is so expensive that we feel trade to be a better avenue to plunder; but modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.

History is a bath of blood. The Illiad is one long recital of how Diomedes and Ajax, Sarpedon and Hector killed. No detail of the wounds they made is spared us, and the Greek mind fed upon the story. Greek history is a panorama of jingoism and imperialism — war for war’s sake, all the citizen’s being warriors. It is horrible reading — because of the irrationality of it all — save for the purpose of making “history” — and the history is that of the utter ruin of a civilization in intellectual respects perhaps the highest the earth has ever seen.

Those wars were purely piratical. Pride, gold, women, slaves excitement were their only motives. In the Peloponesian war, for example, the Athenians ask the inhabitants of Melos (the island where the “Venus de Milo” was found), hitherto neutral, to own their lordship. The envoys meet, and hold a debate which Thucydides gives in full, and which, for sweet reasonableness of form, would have satisfied Matthew Arnold. “The powerful exact what they can,” said the Athenians, “and the weak grant what they must.” When the Meleans say that sooner than be slaves they will appeal to the gods, the Athenians reply, “Of the gods we believe and of men we know that, by a law of their nature, wherever they can rule they will. This law was not made by us, and we are not the first to have acted upon it; we did but inherit it, and we know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do. So much for the gods; we have told you why we expect to stand as high in their good opinion as you.” Well, the Meleans still refused, and their town was taken. “The Athenians,” Thucydides quietly says, “thereupon put to death all who were of military age and made slaves of the women and children. They then colonized the island, sending thither five hundred settlers of their own.”

Alexander’s career was piracy pure and simple, nothing but an orgy of power and plunder, made romantic by the character of the hero. There was no rational purpose in it, and the moment he died his generals and governors attacked one another. The cruelty of those times is incredible. When Rome finally conquered Greece, Paulus Aemilius, was told by the Roman Senate, to reward his soldiers for their toil by “giving” them the old kingdom of Epirus. They sacked seventy cities and carried off one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants as slaves. How many they killed I know not; but in Etolia they killed all the senators, five hundred and fifty in number. Brutus was “the noblest Roman of them all,” but to reanimate his soldiers on the eve of Philippi he similarly promises to give them the cities of Sparta and Thessalonica to ravage, if they win the fight.

Such was the gory nurse that trained soldiers to cohesiveness. We inherit the warlike type; and for most of the capacities of heroism that the human race is full of we have to thank this cruel history. Dead men tell no tales, and if there were any tribes of other type than this they have left no survivors. Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won’t breed it out of us. The popular imagination fairly fattens on the thought of wars. Let public opinion once reach a certain fighting pitch, and no ruler can withstand it. In the Boer war both governments began with bluff, but they couldn’t stay there; the military tension was too much for them. In 1898 our people had read the word “war” in letters three inches high for three months in every newspaper. The pliant politician, McKinley, was swept away by their eagerness, and our squalid war with Spain became a reality.

At the present day, civilized opinion is a curious mental mixture. The military instincts and ideals are as strong as ever, but they are confronted by reflective criticisms which sorely curb their ancient freedom. Innumerable writers are showing up the bestial side of military service. Pure loot and mastery seem no longer morally allowable motives, and pretexts must be found for attributing them solely to the enemy. England and we, our army and navy authorities repeat without ceasing, are solely for “peace.” Germany and Japan it is who are bent on loot and glory. “Peace” in military mouths today is a synonym for “war expected.” The word has become a pure provocative, and no government wishing peace sincerely should allow it ever to be printed in a newspaper. Every up-to-date dictionary should say that “peace” and “war” mean the same thing, now in posse, now in actu. It may even reasonably be said that the intensely sharp preparation for war by the nations is the real war, permanent, unceasing; and that the battles are only a sort of public verification of the mastery gained during the “peace”-interval.

It is plain that on this subject civilized man has developed a sort of double personality. If we take European nations, no legitimate interest of any one of them would seem to justify the tremendous destructions which a war to compass it would necessarily entail. It would seem that common sense and reason ought to find a way to reach agreement in every conflict of honest interests. I myself think it our bounden duty to believe in such international rationality as possible. But, as things stand, I see how desperately hard it is to bring the peace-party and the war-party together, and I believe that the difficulty is due to certain deficiencies in the program of pacifism which set the military imagination strongly, and to a certain extent justifiably, against it. In the whole discussion both sides are on imaginative and sentimental ground. It is but one utopia against another, and everything one says must be abstract and hypothetical. Subject to this criticism and caution, I will try to characterize in abstract strokes the opposite imaginative forces, and point out what to my own very fallible mind seems the best utopian hypothesis, the most promising line of conciliation.

In my remarks, pacifist though I am, I will refuse to speak of the bestial side of the war-regime (already done justice to by many writers) and consider only the higher aspects of militaristic sentiment. Patriotism no one thinks discreditable; nor does any one deny that war is the romance of history. But inordinate ambitions are the soul of any patriotism, and the possibility of violent death the soul of all romance. The militarily-patriotic and the romantic-minded everywhere, and especially the professional military class, refuse to admit for a moment that war may be a transitory phenomenon in social evolution. The notion of a sheep’s paradise like that revolts, they say, our higher imagination. Where then would be the steeps of life? If war had ever stopped, we should have to re-invent it, on this view, to redeem life from flat degeneration.

Reflective apologists for war at the present day all take it religiously. It is a sort of sacrament. Its profits are to the vanquished as well as to the victor; and quite apart from any question of profit, it is an absolute good, we are told, for it is human nature at its highest dynamic. Its “horrors” are a cheap price to pay for rescue from the only alternative supposed, of a world of clerks and teachers, of co-education and zo-ophily, of “consumer’s leagues” and “associated charities,” of industrialism unlimited, and feminism unabashed. No scorn, no hardness, no valor any more! Fie upon such a cattleyard of a planet!

So far as the central essence of this feeling goes, no healthy minded person, it seems to me, can help to some degree parting of it. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible. Without risks or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed; and there is a type of military character which every one feels that the race should never cease to breed, for everyone is sensitive to its superiority. The duty is incumbent on mankind, of keeping military character in stock — if keeping them, if not for use, then as ends in themselves and as pure pieces of perfection, — so that Roosevelt’s weaklings and mollycoddles may not end by making everything else disappear from the face of nature.

This natural sort of feeling forms, I think, the innermost soul of army writings. Without any exception known to me, militarist authors take a highly mystical view of their subject, and regard war as a biological or sociological necessity, uncontrolled by ordinary psychological checks or motives. When the time of development is ripe the war must come, reason or no reason, for the justifications pleaded are invariably fictions. War is, in short, a permanent human obligation. General Homer Lea, in his recent book The Valor of Ignorance, plants himself squarely on this ground. Readiness for war is for him the essence of nationality, and ability in it the supreme measure of the health of nations.

Nations, General Lea says, are never stationary — they must necessarily expand or shrink, according to their vitality or decrepitude. Japan now is culminating; and by the fatal law in question it is impossible that her statesmen should not long since have entered, with extraordinary foresight, upon a vast policy of conquest — the game in which the first moves were her wars with China and Russia and her treaty with England, and of which the final objective is the capture of the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, and whole of our Coast west of the Sierra passes. This will give Japan what her ineluctable vocation as a state absolutely forces her to claim, the possession of the entire Pacific Ocean; and to oppose these deep designs we Americans have, according to our author, nothing but our conceit, our ignorance, our commercialism, our corruption, and our feminism. General Lea makes a minute technical comparison of the military strength which we at present could oppose to the strength of Japan, and concludes that the Islands, Alaska, Oregon and Southern California, would fall almost without resistance, that San Francisco must surrender in a fortnight to a Japanese investment, that in three or four months the war would be over and our republic, unable to regain what it had heedlessly neglected to protect sufficiently, would then “disintegrate,” until perhaps some Caesar should arise to weld us again into a nation.

A dismal forecast indeed! Yet not unplausible, if the mentality of Japan’s statesmen be of the Caesarean type of which history shows us so many examples, and which is all that General Lea seems able to imagine. But there is no reason to think that women can no longer be the mother of Napoleonic or Alexandrian characters; and if these come in Japan and find their opportunity, just such surprises as The Valor of Ignorance paints may lurk in ambush for us. Ignorant as we still are of the innermost recesses of Japanese mentality, we may be foolhardy to disregard such possibilities.

Other militarists are more complex and more moral in their considerations. The Philosophie des Krieges, by S. R. Steinmetz is good example. War, according to this author, is an ordeal instituted by God, who weighs the nations in its balance. It is the essential form of the State, and the only function in which peoples can employ all their powers at once and convergently. No victory is possible save as the resultant of a totality of virtues, no defeat for which some vice or weakness is not responsible. Fidelity, cohesiveness, tenacity, heroism, conscience, education, inventiveness, economy, wealth, physical health and vigor — there isn’t a moral or intellectual point of superiority that doesn’t tell, when God holds his assizes and hurls the peoples upon one another. Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht; and Dr. Steinmetz does not believe that in the long run chance and luck play any part in apportioning the issues.

The virtues that prevail, it must be noted, are virtues anyhow, superiorities that count in peaceful as well as in military competition; but the strain is on them, being infinitely intenser in the latter case, makes war infinitely more searching as a trial. No ordeal is comparable to its winnowings. Its dread hammer is the welder of men into cohesive states, and nowhere but in such states can human nature adequately develop its capacity. The only alternative is “degeneration.”

Dr. Steinmetz is a conscientious thinker, and his book, short as it is, takes much into account. Its upshot can, it seems to me, be summed up in Simon Patten’s words, that mankind was nursed in pain and fear, and that the transition to a “pleasure economy” may be fatal to a being wielding no powers of defence against its degenerative influences. If we speak of the fear of emancipation from the fear-regime, we put the whole situation into a single phrase; fear regarding ourselves now taking the place of the ancient fear of the enemy.

Turn the fear over as I will in my mind, it all seems to lead back to two unwillingnesses of the imagination, one aesthetic, and the other moral; unwillingness, first, to envisage a future in which army-life, with its many elements of charm, shall be forever impossible, and in which the destinies of peoples shall nevermore be decided quickly, thrillingly, and tragically by force, but only gradually and insipidly by “evolution,” and, secondly, unwillingness to see the supreme theatre of human strenuousness closed, and the splendid military aptitudes of men doomed to keep always in a state of latency and never show themselves in action. These insistent unwillingnesses, no less than other aesthetic and ethical insistencies, have, it seems to me, to be listened to and respected. One cannot meet them effectively by mere counter-insistency on war’s expensiveness and horror. The horror makes the thrill; and when the question is of getting the extremest and supremest out of human nature, talk of expense sounds ignominious. The weakness of so much merely negative criticism is evident — pacifism makes no converts from the military party. The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor the expense; it only says that these things tell but half the story. It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self, and that mankind cannot afford to adopt a peace economy.

Pacifists ought to enter more deeply into the aesthetical and ethical point of view of their opponents. Do that first in any controversy, says J. J. Chapman, then move the point, and your opponent will follow. So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war’s disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war, analogous, as one might say, to the mechanical equivalent of heat, so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation. And as a rule they do fail. The duties, penalties, and sanctions pictured in the utopias they paint are all too weak and tame to touch the military-minded. Tolstoi’s pacifism is the only exception to this rule, for it is profoundly pessimistic as regards all this world’s values, and makes the fear of the Lord furnish the moral spur provided elsewhere by the fear of the enemy. But our socialistic peace-advocates all believe absolutely in this world’s values; and instead of the fear of the Lord and the fear of the enemy, the only fear they reckon with is the fear of poverty if one be lazy. This weakness pervades all the socialistic literature with which I am acquainted. Even in Lowes Dickinson’s exquisite dialogue, high wages and short hours are the only forces invoked for overcoming man’s distaste for repulsive kinds of labor. Meanwhile men at large still live as they always have lived, under a pain-and-fear economy — for those of us who live in an ease-economy are but an island in the stormy ocean — and the whole atmosphere of present-day utopian literature tastes mawkish and dishwatery to people who still keep a sense for life’s more bitter flavors. It suggests, in truth, ubiquitous inferiority.

Inferiority is always with us, and merciless scorn of it is the keynote of the military temper. “Dogs, would you live forever?” shouted Frederick the Great. “Yes,” say our utopians, “let us live forever, and raise our level gradually.” The best thing about our “inferiors” today is that they are as tough as nails, and physically and morally almost as insensitive. Utopians would see them soft and squeamish, while militarism would keep their callousness, but transfigure it into a meritorious characteristic, needed by “the service,” and redeemed by that from the suspicion of inferiority. All the qualities of a man acquire dignity when he knows that the service of the collectivity that owns him needs him. If proud of the collectivity, his own pride rises in proportion. No collectivity is like an army for nourishing such pride; but it has to be confessed that the only sentiment which the image of pacific cosmopolitan industrialism is capable of arousing in countless worthy breasts is shame at the idea of belonging to such a collectivity. It is obvious that the United States of America as they exist today impress a mind like General Lea’s as so much human blubber. Where is the sharpness and precipitousness, the contempt for life, whether one’s own or another’s? Where is the savage “yes” and “no,” the unconditional duty? Where is the conscription? Where is the blood-tax? Where is anything that one feels honored by belonging to?

Having said thus much in preparation, I will now confess my own utopia. I devoutly believe in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of socialistic equilibrium. The fatalistic view of the war function is to me nonsense, for I know that war-making is due to definite motives and subject to prudential checks and reasonable criticisms, just like any other form of enterprise. And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction vies in intellectual refinement with the science of production, I see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own monstrosity. Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims, and nations must make common cause against them. I see no reason why all this should not apply to yellow as well as to white countries, and I look forward to a future when acts of war shall be formally outlawed as between civilized peoples.

All these beliefs of mine put me firmly into the anti-military party. But I do not believe that peace either ought to be or will be permanent on this globe, unless the states, pacifically organized, preserve some of the old elements of army-discipline. A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy. In the more or less socialistic future toward which mankind seems drifting we must still subject ourselves collectively to those severities which answer to our real position upon this only partly hospitable globe. We must make new energies and hardihoods continue the manliness to which the military mind so faithfully clings. Martial virtues must be the enduring cement; intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command, must still remain the rock upon which states are built — unless, indeed, we which for dangerous reactions against commonwealths, fit only for contempt, and liable to invite attack whenever a centre of crystallization for military-minded enterprise gets formed anywhere in their neighborhood.

The war-party is assuredly right in affirming and reaffirming that the martial virtues, although originally gain by the race through war, are absolute and permanent human goods. Patriotic pride and ambition in their military form are, after all, only specifications of a more general competitive passion. They are its first form, but that is no reason for supposing them to be its last form. Men are now proud of belonging to a conquering nation, and without a murmur they lay down their persons and their wealth, if by so doing they may fend off subjection. But who can be sure that other aspects of one’s country may not, with time and education and suggestion enough, come to be regarded with similarly effective feelings of pride and shame? Why should men not some day feel that is it worth a blood-tax to belong to a collectivity superior in any respect? Why should they not blush with indignant shame if the community that owns them is vile in any way whatsoever? Individuals, daily more numerous, now feel this civic passion. It is only a question of blowing on the spark until the whole population gets incandescent, and on the ruins of the old morals of military honor, a stable system of morals of civic honor builds itself up. What the whole community comes to believe in grasps the individual as in a vise. The war-function has grasped us so far; but the constructive interests may some day seem no less imperative, and impose on the individual a hardly lighter burden.

Let me illustrate my idea more concretely. There is nothing to make one indignant in the mere fact that life is hard, that men should toil and suffer pain. The planetary conditions once for all are such, and we can stand it. But that so many men, by mere accidents of birth and opportunity, should have a life of nothing else but toil and pain and hardness and inferiority imposed upon them, should have no vacation, while others natively no more deserving never get any taste of this campaigning life at all, — this is capable of arousing indignation in reflective minds. It may end by seeming shameful to all of us that some of us have nothing but campaigning, and others nothing but unmanly ease. If now — and this is my idea — there were, instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out, and numerous other goods to the commonwealth would remain blind as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man’s relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life. To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas. They would have paid their blood-tax, done their own part in the immemorial human warfare against nature; they would tread the earth more proudly, the women would value them more highly, they would be better fathers and teachers of the following generation.

Such a conscription, with the state of public opinion that would have required it, and the many moral fruits it would bear, would preserve in the midst of a pacific civilization the manly virtues which the military party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace. We should get toughness without callousness, authority with as little criminal cruelty as possible, and painful work done cheerily because the duty is temporary, and threatens not, as now, to degrade the whole remainder of one’s life. I spoke of the “moral equivalent” of war. So far, war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until and equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its way. But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames of social man, once developed to a certain intensity, are capable of organizing such a moral equivalent as I have sketched, or some other just as effective for preserving manliness of type. It is but a question of time, of skilful propogandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic opportunities.

The martial type of character can be bred without war. Strenuous honor and disinterestedness abound everywhere. Priests and medical men are in a fashion educated to it, and we should all feel some degree if its imperative if we were conscious of our work as an obligatory service to the state. We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly. We could be poor, then, without humiliation, as army officers now are. The only thing needed henceforward is to inflame the civic temper as part history has inflamed the military temper. H. G. Wells, as usual, sees the centre of the situation. “In many ways,” he says, “military organization is the most peaceful of activities. When the contemporary man steps from the street, of clamorous insincere advertisement, push, adulteration, underselling and intermittent employment into the barrack-yard, he steps on to a higher social plane, into an atmosphere of service and cooperation and of infinitely more honorable emulations. Here at least men are not flung out of employment to degenerate because there is no immediate work for them to do. They are fed a drilled and training for better services. Here at least a man is supposed to win promotion by self-forgetfulness and not by self-seeking. And beside the feeble and irregular endowment of research by commercialism, its little shortsighted snatches at profit by innovation and scientific economy, see how remarkable is the steady and rapid development of method and appliances in naval and military affairs! Nothing is more striking than to compare the progress of civil conveniences which has been left almost entirely to the trader, to the progress in military apparatus during the last few decades. The house-appliances of today, for example, are little better than they were fifty years ago. A house of today is still almost as ill-ventilated, badly heated by wasteful fires, clumsily arranged and furnished as the house of 1858. Houses a couple of hundred years old are still satisfactory places of residence, so little have our standards risen. But the rifle or battleship of fifty years ago was beyond all comparison inferior to those we now possess; in power, in speed, in convenience alike. No one has a use now for such superannuated things.”

Wells adds that he thinks that the conceptions of order and discipline, the tradition of service and devotion, of physical fitness, unstinted exertion, and universal responsibility, which universal military duty is now teaching European nations, will remain a permanent acquisition when the last ammunition has been used in the fireworks that celebrate the final peace. I believe as he does. It would be simply preposterous if the only force that could work ideals of honor and standards of efficiency into English or American natures should be the fear of being killed by the Germans or the Japanese. Great indeed is Fear; but it is not, as our military enthusiasts believe and try to make us believe, the only stimulus known for awakening the higher ranges of men’s spiritual energy. The amount of alteration in public opinion which my utopia postulates is vastly less than the difference between the mentality of those black warriors who pursued Stanley’s party on the Congo with their cannibal war-cry of “Meat! Meat!” and that of the “general-staff” of any civilized nation. History has seen the latter interval bridged over; the former one can be bridged over much more easily.

* * *

Ogle County’s war dead

Ogle-dead-1I went on a spring-day drive through rural Illinois and ended up in Ogle County’s Oregon, a farm town along the Rock River that is also the county seat. The north side of the courthouse square has a war memorial, with two slabs of granite engraved with the names of those who died in the wars of the last hundred years.

World War I: 29 dead
World War II: 108 dead
Ogle-dead-2Korean War: 9 dead
Vietnam War: 22 dead
Iraq and Afghan War: 6 dead

They are only names to me: Patrick Manning, Leon Rucker, George Roose, Donald Kretsinger, Justus Bartlett, and 169 others.

Oregon’s population is about 3,600. The whole of Ogle County is about 52,000. In the United States, there are 3,144 counties.

Quando o altruísmo torna-se patológico [Portuguese translation]


[This is a Portuguese translation of “When Altruism Becomes Pathological”, originally published in English at EveryJoe.]

Quem é mais propenso a trapacear — praticantes de esportes individuais ou de esportes coletivos?

Um experimento fascinante realizado pelo professor Sharon K. Stoll, publicado no Chronicle of Higher Education, compara atletas de esportes individuais como golfe ou tênis simples com atletas de esportes coletivos tais como basquete ou tênis de duplas. Atletas de esportes individuais exibiram níveis mais elevados de moralidade, enquanto os de esportes coletivos eram muito mais propensos a trapacear e racionalizar.

No tênis, por exemplo, se a rebatida de meu adversário tocar a linha, supõe-se que eu deva aceitar tal fato, perdendo o ponto. Em uma partida de simples, eu, sozinho, perco o ponto; contudo, em uma partida de duplas, tanto eu como o meu companheiro de equipe sofrem a derrota. Assim, meus incentivos são diferentes, e o meu compromisso de fazer o que é melhor para a minha equipe me dá uma razão adicional para trapacear.

Da mesma forma, em esportes coletivos tais como o futebol americano ou o basquete, a estratégia e muitas das jogadas são determinadas pelos técnicos que estão do lado de fora. Em contraste, nos esportes individuais cada atleta (por si só) tem a responsabilidade da decisão. Assim, os atletas de esportes individuais são muito mais propensos a aprender a assumir responsabilidade por suas ações, enquanto os atletas de esportes coletivos são mais propensos a aprender a seguir ordens e a transferir a responsabilidade para os outros.pathological-altruism

Outro aspecto é a forma como um indivíduo vê seus oponentes e a si próprio. Na luta livre normal, um lutador está bem ciente de si e do seu oponente como indivíduos únicos, mas em esportes coletivos — com muitas pessoas usando o mesmo uniforme — é bem mais provável que você veja seus oponentes como seres indiferenciados e despersonalizados.

Tudo isso nos leva a um território moral mais obscuro e os debates sobre o altruísmo — e, para esse propósito, tomei emprestado para o título de meu artigo o título da obra pioneira da professora Barbara Oakley, Pathological Altruism (Oxford University Press, 2012).

O altruísmo, como tantos outros conceitos filosóficos complexos e polêmicos, é usado de diversas formas. Em sua forma mais forte, ele mantem o significado dado por Auguste Comte, proponente do termo (em 1830): que os interesses dos outros são eticamente superiores, e que o desejo de um indivíduo sacrificar seus próprios interesses pelo bem dos outros é o critério da moralidade. “O principal problema da vida humana”, Comte argumentou, é “a subordinação do altruísmo ao egoísmo”.

Em sua forma religiosa, o altruísmo forte foi exortado pelo professor do famoso escultor Auguste Rodin, Padre Eymard, que foi canonizado em 1962. Ele propunha como principio orientador que “para salvar a sociedade, nós temos que reviver o espírito do sacrifício” por meio do “sofrimento e da auto-abnegação” e “nós estamos aqui unicamente para a autoimolação do corpo e da alma”.

Em sua forma secular, Jane Addams, progressista estadunidense ganhadora do prêmio Nobel da Paz, argumentou que “neste esforço em prol de mais moralidade em nossas relações sociais, nós devemos exigir que o indivíduo esteja disposto a renegar o seu sentimento de realização pessoal, devendo contentar-se ao perceber o valor de suas ações somente em conexão com a atividade alheia”.

Em usos mais comuns, todavia, o altruísmo às vezes significa meramente o comportamento intencional que respeita ou beneficia os interesses dos outros. Tal uso não implica necessariamente uma oposição ao egoísmo, na medida em que negociadores, conhecidos e amigos, e namorados podem formar relações sociais que são calcadas no respeito mútuo aos interesses das partes.jane-addams

A melhor forma de evitar confusão terminológica é usar o termo pró-social para intenções e ações que fomentam resultados sociais positivos, e usar altruísmo e egoísmo para as posições concorrentes sobre qual a melhor forma de alcançar o pró-social.

Se a promoção do comportamento pró-social (comércio, amizade, etc.) é parte da ética, então, qual é a melhor forma de fomentá-lo: respeitando os interesses individuais ou obrigando-os a sacrificar seus interesses em prol dos outros? Isto é, pensamos que o pró-social requer um compromisso com relações ganha-ganha (egoísmo), ou perde-ganha (altruísmo)?

A preocupação com respeito às possíveis implicações patológicas do altruísmo tem ligação direta com a mentalidade de um tipo de trapaceador, exemplificada acima no contraste entre esportes individuais e coletivos:

  • Pelo bem da equipe, sacrificarei minha integridade e mentirei.
  • Para ser parte da equipe, sacrificarei minha independência de julgamento e seguirei ordens.
  • “Não existe um ‘Eu’ na equipe”, e nossos oponentes têm um caráter impessoal.

Em poucas palavras, o que se comporta mal parece estar agindo como exigido por um altruísmo forte — ele está colocando os outros antes dele próprio, valorizando as necessidades da equipe acima das suas, e sacrificando a sua individualidade em prol do social.

O professor Dan Ariely da Carnegie-Mellon University estuda o fenômeno da trapaça em grupos e conduziu uma série de experimentos com estudantes da instituição. Os estudantes de um grupo teriam que resolver uma série de problemas matemáticos, sendo remunerados de acordo após sua conclusão. Um membro do grupo que era, na verdade, um aliado trabalhando junto com os pesquisadores, levantou após um curto período de tempo e afirmou que tinha resolvido todos os problemas. Claramente, isso era improvável dado o número e a dificuldade dos problemas; contudo, o supervisor do experimento pagou o prêmio sem verificar se ele tinha, de fato, resolvido todos os problemas. Não causa surpresa que os outros estudantes logo tenham feito o mesmo, afirmando terem resolvido muito mais problemas matemáticos do que, de fato, tinham.runners

O experimento foi feito novamente com outro grupo de estudantes, mas com uma diferença — o estudante infiltrado usou uma camiseta da University of Pittsburgh, o que o identificava como um membro de um grupo social diferentes, os rivais do outro lado da cidade. Quando este estudante da UP disse que tinha terminado, a quantidade subsequente de trapaça (afirmações falsas) entre os outros estudantes foi muito, muito menor.

A implicação moralmente negativa do experimento de Ariely é que, quando os indivíduos se consideram primariamente como membros de um grupo, sua responsabilidade individual diminui. Eu trapacearei se outros membros do meu grupo trapacearem, mas não trapacearei se membros de outros grupos trapacearem. Em resumo: o compasso moral que é seguido é determinado pelos outros componentes de meu grupo, e não por mim mesmo.

Pior: a identidade interna de um grupo X pode e, muitas vezes, leva à disposição de sacrificar indivíduos que são membros de outros grupos (Y,Z). O professor Joachim Krueger, que colaborou para a obra de Oakley, nota que “o altruísmo tende a ser paroquial”, isto é, quando os interesses dos membros de outros grupos (Y,Z) estão em conflito com o do grupo (X), o sacrifício de indivíduos naqueles outros grupos (Y,Z) parece moralmente desejável e, até mesmo, imperativo. Em sua forma extrema, essa disposição a sacrificar os membros de outros grupos é um componente da psicologia genocida. Se for para o bem de meu grupo — e as necessidades de meu grupo são de suma importância — então, vale tudo.

Mesmo membros do grupo X que parecem ser ameaças ao grupo como um todo — dissidentes, hereges, pessoas com deformações físicas ou enfermidades mentais — podem ser sacrificados moralmente, de acordo com o altruísmo patológico. Muitos comentaristas perceberem que o coletivismo altruísta imbuído no pedido do juiz da Suprema Corte Oliver Wendell Holmes por esterilização forçada para evitar que os “manifestadamente incapazes procriem”. Como ele escreveu em Buck v. Bell (1926): “é melhor para todo mundo” que tais indivíduos sejam sacrificados.

E, é claro, a disposição a se autosacrificar pelo grupo é o componente-chave do altruísmo. Em sua forma patológica, aqueles que buscam o martírio pela causa, kamikazes, e homens-bomba são exemplos de pessoas com disposição extrema ao autosacrifício — de forma a mostrar seu altruísmo em benefício da causa do grupo.

O ponto é que, apesar do argumento frequentemente repetido de que o altruísmo é positivo, existe um conjunto altamente complexo de questões fascinantes — e perturbadoras — que merecem ser mais bem exploradas do ponto de vista terminológico, psicológico e moral.

hicks-stephen-2013“Quando o altruísmo torna-se patológico” Por Stephen Hicks. Tradução de Matheus Pacini. Revisão de Ivanildo Santos III. Artigo Original no “The Good Life”. Visite Publicações em Português para ler os últimos artigos de Stephen Hicks.

Stephen Hicks é o autor do livro Explicando o Pós Modernismo e Nietzsche and the Nazis.