When “Helping Others” Doesn’t Help: Destructive Charity

What would happen if you gave a long-term homeless man $100,000? If he wasn’t mentally handicapped, would it turn his life around? Would he suddenly be like any normal, productive citizen? Well, someone actually tested this idea in real life, as described in this video from the “Today I Found Out” YouTube channel:

As presented in the video, the mentally sound homeless man, Ted Rodrique, was given $100,000 to do with as he chose. He was even given the benefit of a financial adviser. But within a year, Ted was already broke and homeless again, now with debt he hadn’t had before. In short, Ted was slightly worse off for having been given the $100,000.

So, what was the problem? Why didn’t Ted take proper advantage of this huge opportunity thrown his way? He didn’t take advantage because he didn’t really value the things required to maintain the small fortune given to him. He didn’t value hard work, planning and discipline, but rather, living day-to-day, guided by his whims.

This points to an important truth about human nature: Our personal well-being does not depend on purely material resources, but requires that we develop certain spiritual values–i.e. goals and pursuits in our own minds. These values are not determined by our material circumstances–by how much money we have–but by our choices and the way we think. In order to have a self-sustaining well-being, or happiness, you must choose to be the sort of person who earns wealth and pursues values for yourself. If you don’t choose the proper values that allow you to be self-sustaining, then you are wholly dependent on the work of others for any “prosperity” you have and any goods you consume.

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Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher of Objectivism, a philosophy for living on Earth.

Ayn Rand

Objectivism, the philosophy of the novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand, is well known for advocating the pursuit of your own self-interest. Many people take this to mean that Ayn Rand thought that you should ignore the well-being of other people. But this is not what Ayn Rand thought, and this is not what Objectivism says. Objectivism holds that contributing to other people’s well-being can be in your self-interest, even if they are not involved in a monetary, business relationship with you. This potentially includes helping friends, lovers, children and even strangers.

Why did Ayn Rand hold this view? How is loving and helping others consistent with pure self-interest? These are questions that this article will answer.

Objectivism Rejects Materialism and “Range-of-the-Moment” Pleasure Seeking

In order to understand why Objectivism holds the position it does on helping other people, there are a couple of common misconceptions of “self-interest” that need to be rejected.

The first is that self-interest is materialistic: that is, that acting in a self-interested way means acting only to satisfy your physical needs, without concern for spiritual (i.e. mental or psychological) values.

But for human beings, “materialistic self-interest” is an absurd idea that Objectivism rejects. If self-interest were materialistic, then going to see any movie, no matter how good, entertaining, inspiring or emotionally powerful, would not be in your self-interest. You are no better off physically after seeing a movie than you were before, so there is no physical value to the movie. The same would go for video games, museums, roller coasters, Halloween parties, and all similar forms of entertainment. Instead of going out to eat with other people, you would always be best served eating a healthy and inexpensive meal at home. Sex would best be avoided, in favor of vigorous exercise, etc. Continue reading