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Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)


by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)


Chapter II.

Egoism.



VS-2.1 The habits of the lower animals, the growth and development of plants and the motion of the heavenly bodies may all be generalized, and the laws in accordance with which they act may be stated. May not the motives of human action be also subject to generalization? This is a question to which the old school of philosophers gives a negative, the modern school, an affirmative answer.
VS-2.2 The fact that a person reads or writes a book devoted to social science pre-supposes an agreement with the modern idea. It is only when human action is generalized that a science of society can be found possible. Such a science must consist of generalizations of human action and deductions form those generalizations. If men are “free moral agents,” that is, if they can act of their own volition regardless of the rest of the universe, any generalization of their actions is impossible. Even if under such conditions any general statement of their past actions could be made, it would be valueless, for there would be no guarantee that they would again act in a similar manner under similar circumstances. Anyone that admits the possibility of a social science is thereby committed to the doctrine of necessity, that is, that a certain individual, placed in certain environments, of necessity acts in a certain manner. This being assumed, it becomes of the very first importance to discover the fundamental law of human action, for on this law all sound theories of social reform must depend.
VS-2.3 The Theist declares that we should always act in accordance with the commands of God. Admitting, for the sake of argument, the existence of God, why should we obey Him? Immediately the answer suggests itself. God being the supreme ruler of the universe, it is the height of folly to antagonize Him. He can heap disasters from which there is no escape on those who disobey Him, and is capable of rewarding with eternal joy those who uphold His honor and glory. We must obey the commands of God and deny ourselves in this life, in order that we may reap joys eternal. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth; where rust and moth doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither rust nor moth do corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal.” (Matthew vi., 19 and 20.) This is the essence of the Christian religion.
VS-2.3 The Altruist maintains that we should love our fellow man and act for his good. If we love our fellow man, the sight of pain in him will make us unhappy and his happiness will cause us pleasure. So we proceed to ameliorate his pain and increase his happiness in order that we ourselves may be happy. But why should I love my fellow man? If I donít love him or feel badly when he suffers, I certainly will not put myself to the trouble of helping him, unless I know that he will help me in turn when I shall need it.
VS-2.4 “You should act for the greatest good of the community,” says another. Why should you except in so far as the good of the community is liable to result in good to you? Even if you owe the community anything, why should you pay? Still the same answer, “If you don’t it will be the worse for you.”
VS-2.5 But now up comes another and says, “You must act from a sense of duty.” Duty to whom? To God? I owe Him only such obedience as He gains through my fear of punishment or hope of reward. To my neighbor? What do I owe him? Only that consideration which we agree to accord to each other for our mutual good. To society? To my family? To the state? The same answer applies. Turn which way you will, the idea of duty entirely disappears.
VS-2.6 John Stuart Mills [Online editor’s note: sic. – RTL] says, “The internal sanction of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, is ... a feeling in our own mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violations of duty, which in properly cultivated moral natures rises, in the most serious cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility. ... Its binding force, however, consists in the existence of a mass of feelings which must be broken through in order to do what violates our standard of right, and which, if we do nevertheless violate that standard, will have to be encountered afterwards in the form of remorse.” (Utilitarianism, pp. 67-68.) Thus there are two forces which cause us to pursue a right course of action, the external force or fear of retaliation, and the internal force or fear of our conscience.
VS-2.7 The conscience has been considered by many as the distinctive attribute of man – the spark divine in the human breast. Darwin, however, found many evidences of it in the lower animals. Really there is nothing mysterious about it. “At the moment of action man will no doubt be apt to follow the stronger impulse; and though this may occasionally prompt him to the noblest deeds, it will more commonly lead him to gratify his own desires at the expense of other men. But after their gratification, when past and weaker impressions are judged by the ever-enduring social instinct, and by is deep regard for the good opinion of his fellows, retribution will surely come. He will then feel remorse, repentance, regret or shame; this latter feeling, however, relates almost exclusively to the judgment of others. He will consequently resolve more or less firmly to act differently for the future; and this is conscience; for conscience looks backward and serves as a guide for the future. (Darwin, Descent of Man, Chap. IV.)
VS-2.8 We must by no means underestimate the important part which this internal force plays in deciding the happiness or unhappiness of most men. But both the internal and the external forces, which deter us from a wrong course of action, operate upon our knowledge that such a course will ultimately result in unhappiness. This is the only ultimate motive of action.
VS-2.9 If every individual always attempts to attain the greatest amount of happiness, the doctrine of Necessity follows as a logical deduction. Given a complete knowledge of all the environments in which an individual is placed and a complete knowledge of that individual’s conception of happiness (this latter includes an exact idea of his intelligence) and we could determine with mathematical certainty what course of action he would pursue. That this exactness is never reached is due to the practical impossibility of obtaining all the necessary data. But it is surprising how accurate the keen observer of human nature often is in forseeing the actions of another. This accuracy will be found to increase or diminish in proportion as more or less correct estimates if the actorís character and environments are formed. Conan Doyle gives us a glimpse of the possibilities in this line in his famous Sherlock Holmes stories.
VS-2.10 If, on the other hand, men do not always act from motives of self interest, but sometimes from selfish and sometimes from unselfish motives, it is impossible to generalize their conduct in the slightest. In which case, as above stated, a science of society is absolutely unthinkable. The absurdity of such a position need hardly be pointed out, in spite of the voluminous works which have been written in its defence. So we are justified in maintaining that all action resolves itself into an attempt on the part of an organism to place itself in harmony with its environments; that is, to increase its happiness or, what is the same thing, to decrease its pain. Such is the philosophy of Egoism.
VS-2.11 This is the only theory of psychology which is in harmony with the doctrine of evolution, for it is a sine qua non of that competition which is so essential to natural and sexual selection.
VS-2.12 In accordance with this principle all our actions may be divided into two classes: those from which we expect to derive pleasure directly, and those from which, though often unpleasant in themselves, we hope ultimately to gain more happiness than pain. When a man goes for a walk on a pleasant afternoon, he expects to derive pleasure form the walk. But when, on a cold, wintry night, he walks several miles through the snow to go to a dance, the walk becomes only a means to attain happiness; in other words, he sacrifices his immediate pleasure for one which is greater though more remote. The two possible courses of action are perpetually conflicting with one another. We pursue one course or the other, according as our experience and intelligence may prompt us.
VS-2.13 So many of our actions are the result of sacrificing the immediate to the remoter pleasure, that people begin to look upon that sacrifice as something noble, forgetful of the fact that it is only a means to attain greater happiness sin the end. Experience teaches us that it is often advisable to sacrifice minor points for the benefit of others, in order that we may escape either the pain of self-reproach, or that we may reasonably expect others to help us when we shall need it. This is a purely Egoistic course of action. We can often perform great services for others at the cost of very little trouble to ourselves, and we often need assistance which others can give us without much inconvenience, but which is invaluable to us. These exchanges are for mutual benefit. When people lose sight of that mutual benefit and say we must sacrifice ourselves without any hope of reward, they get altogether beyond the pale of reason.
VS-2.14 If self-sacrifice is good, the more we have of it the better, and the man who gives away all that he has except just enough to keep him alive is the finest member of society. But now a paradox is manifest. If the self-sacrificer is the noblest member of society, the one who accepts that sacrifice is the meanest. So to manifest due humility we should debase ourselves by permitting others to sacrifice themselves for our good. This nice little piece of jugglery may be kept up ad infinitum. A can sacrifice himself, by permitting B to sacrifice himself, by condescending to allow A to sacrifice himself, and so on as long you like.
VS-2.15 If self-sacrifice is good, to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of the lower animals, from whom no return of the kindness can be reasonably expected, is still better. Since we cannot even breathe, much less eat, drink, or be clothed, without destroying life, suicide becomes the only moral course. Now the same old paradox confronts us again. The fulfilment of duty is a source of happiness from which the self-sacrificer should flee. Instead of committing suicide as in duty bound, he should live to kill others. Mental gymnastics of this nature may be highly amusing, but they are hardly satisfactory when offered as a substitute for a philosophical system. Yet this is all the self-sacrifice theory, or Altruism, as it is called, has to offer, It is absurd whichever way it is approached.
VS-2.16 “If a man smite thee upon one cheek, turn to him the other also,” [Online editor’s note: Matthew 5:39; cf. Luke 6:29. – RTL] is a very ennobling and comforting doctrine – for the man who is doing the smiting. But the other fellow will generally find it more satidfactory to follow the advice which Charlotte Bronte puts in the mouth of Jane Eyre: “If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter but grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should – so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.” The Egoist does not advocate a spirit of revenge, however, but rather a spirit of self-protection. In some cases an apparent non-resistant attitude offers the most effectual method of resistance. In such cases non-resistance will be the not intelligent attitude. But these cases are few indeed. It will usually be found that a good active show of resistance commands more respect than all the submission in the world.
VS-2.17 “Inquiring into the pedigree of an idea is not a bad means of roughly estimating its value. To have come of respectable ancestry is prima facie evidence of worth in a belief as in a person; while to be descended from a discreditable stock is, in the one case as in the other, an unfavorable index.” (Spencer, Nebular Hypothesis, p. 108, v. 1 of his Essays.) As soon as man began to have ideas concerning a supernatural agent, his fear prompted him to endeavor to propitiate that power. His worship was based on purely selfish motives. It was better to suffer considerable pain than to incur the anger of the Gods. The practice of self-immolation is not to be wondered at, but for its origin “we must once more go back to the ghost theory. ... There are the mutilations and blood-lettings at funerals; there are the fastings consequent on sacrifices of animals and food at the grave; and in some cases there are the deficiencies of clothing which follow the leaving of dresses (always of the best) for the departed. Pleasing the dead is therefore inevitably associated in thought with pain borne by the living. ... Sufferings having been the concomitants of sacrifices made to ghosts and gods, there grew up the notion that submission to these concomitant sufferings was itself pleasing to ghosts and gods; and eventually that the bearing of gratuitous sufferings was pleasing. All over the world, ascetic practices have thus originated.” (Spencer, Ecclesiastical Institutions, pp. 758-759.) It requires but little imagination to trace the effect of the spirit of utilitarianism operating upon this useless self-immolation and transforming it into the modern idea of self-sacrifice. People often find it necessary to submit to temporary pain in order to gain more permanent happiness. Gradually the cake of custom hardens. The means are mistaken for the end, and the whole trend of human thought is perverted in consequence.
VS-2.18 Egoism, as such, does not teach us how to act. It simply states why we act as we do. It is merely an analysis of the motives of action, but on the result of this analysis all true ethics must rest. In declaring that all action is the result of an attempt on the part of the individual to secure the greatest possible happiness, the Egoist merely asserts a fact. Having discovered this fact, he will base a theory of conduct upon it, with the end in view of obtaining the greatest amount of happiness. He will sacrifice an immediate pleasure for one more remote when it seems good to him, and not otherwise. Thus he says to himself, “I will countenance the killing of animals for my food, because the good to be derived from so doing is greater than the disadvantage. But I will discountenance unnecessary cruelty; first, because cruelty to animals makes a man brutal in his nature, and such a man is liable to injure me or some one I love; secondly, because the sight, or even the thought, of unnecessary pain is unpleasant to me; and thirdly, because I derive no benefit from it.
VS-2.19 So with regard to all his actions with other men, after taking into consideration the feelings of satisfaction or remorse he will experience from a certain act, the chances of the action exciting the resentment or commendation of the rest of the community, and the effect of setting an example which is liable to be followed by someone else to-morrow and cause a similar course of action to be applied to him, after taking all these and similar factors into consideration, he will, if he be a wise man, be governed by the highest expediency.
VS-2.20 But when have we time to weigh and consider all these factors before performing a certain action? “The answer to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time mankind has been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, is dependent. ... Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded on astronomy because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready calculated; and all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong, as well as on the far more difficult questions of wise and foolish.” (J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism, pp. 56-58.)
VS-2.21 So imbued do we become with the idea that certain acts are wise, and we get so in the habit of performing them, that we often do so unconsciously. But these reflex actions, as they are called, are really based upon experience and habit and are the result of previous calculation. The fact, that having calculated it so often before we know the result at once, is merely a matter of economy.
VS-2.22 If all our acts are attempts to gain greater happiness, it behoves us to exert all our energies to the attainment of that end. This gives us a direct rational basis of ethics. The idea of duty is absolutely lost. Actions appear to be good only insofar as they minister to our happiness, and bad insofar as they cause us pain. The term right is synonymous with wise, and wrong, with foolish.
VS-2.23 The highest morality is to devote all our efforts to attainment of happiness, leaving others free to do the same. The golden rule must be stated negatively and made to read, “Mind your own business.” As Egoists we are bound to assume that others are seeking their own greatest happiness, and as long as they do this, it is impertinent to interfere with them and foolish to set an example which will probably be followed and result in interference with our own affairs. If others attempt to meddle with us, we are justified in acting toward them in such a manner that they will find the pain resulting from such a course far outweighs the pleasure and, consequently, will not be tempted to repeat the experiment.
VS-2.24 The Egoist should abstain from all interference with others and resent any similar liberties they may take with him. He is not even justified in meddling with another’ís business for his own good. He is bound to assume that everyone is wise enough to know what constitutes his own happiness. If he isn’t, he will suffer the consequences and know better next time.
VS-2.25 Every individual should be brought to understand that he is responsible for his actions and will suffer the consequences of all his mistakes. This is really inevitable. The attempt to evade the law of individual responsibility invariably results disastrously. It leads people top suppose that they can act foolishly and not suffer the consequences, and when their folly finds them out there is no one to help them. The doctrine of individual responsibility is a corollary of Egoism. It teaches self-reliance instead of self-sacrifice, dependence upon self instead of upon others. To develop this feeling it is only necessary to give people a chance to practice it. To say that I am my brother’s keeper, is to admit that he is also mine. Devote yourself to being happy and I will do the same. If we all succeed the social question will be solved. If we fail, let us try again with our intelligence improved by past experience. “Enlightenment makes selfishness useful and this usefulness popular.” (“Egoism,” Vol. 1, No. 1, May, 1890.)




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