“Beware of altruism. It is based on self-deception, the root of all evil.”
The quotation is from Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love,” and stands at the entrance to an Amazon forum for baffled people who talk to invisible friends. They are baffled because they cannot understand how Robert Heinlein–a freedom-loving American proud of his heritage and willing to defend it–could possibly deny the goodness of altruism.
Oddly, none of the participants seemed interested in looking closely at what altruism boils down to. My ethics prof taught that altruism declares actions taken for the benefit of others good, but that actions taken for one’s own benefit are evil. No number of examples from Bob Heinlein’s books had any effect on the forum participants. They always came back with his address to cadets at a military academy, using baboons as examples of self-sacrifice for the tribe.
Yes it’s true he made the presentation.
But a good writer tailors his delivery to the intellect and interests of his audience. Let’s face it, Officers Candidate School is not where you look for philosophical thinkers. So he gave the audience what it came for, a rousing defense of sacrificial subservience to unquestioned arbitrary authority.
This song by Tom Lehrer, mathematician and pianist, helps resolve the dilemma.
The Heinlein talk at Annapolis was a public relations success. Ayn Rand made her own presentation at West Point. Yes it was philosophical, and yes it really irritated they who presume to take what you earn, but the cadets loved it. It was also Heinlein’s policy to avoid Q&A followups. Ayn Rand did make mistakes in her Q&A, and that is the only part of the talk you’ll hear quoted or discussed in looter circles.