Samson Corwell

Hypothesis: Dictators aren't altruists

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This struck me today while I was reading a book. My thought is that totalitarians like Schicklgruber or Stalin or Mao didn't choose to do what they didn't because of "altruist" premises. Rand's argument is that no selfish (Randian sense) would commit the horrors that they committed. But, while I was sitting down, I reflected on how much time I spend thinking about politics and I came to the idea that these men did the things that they did because they had the desire to shape society/the world.

Any thoughts?

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Samson, they were psychopaths. Philosophy does not come into it.

lol: Open and shut case.

Expect some fall-out, Carol.

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Samson,

I'm sure you are familiar with Lord Acton's phrase in talking about Popes and Kings and holders of power in general (see here for reference details):

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.


So it's a pretty good guess that some dictatorial monsters started out with good intentions and allowed themselves to be corrupted over time. I doubt any of them were born that way.

In fact, I came across a clever description of the corrupting process in a book called Feet Of Clay by Anthony Storr. He was talking about gurus, but I believe the process is the same with wielding power, especially the kind bloody dictators wield--including the impact on their souls from their first kill.

Here is what I said about it earlier:

... I read a book called Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr. In discussing David Koresh, he quoted a person who knew Koresh from earlier days. The guy said that the way he saw Koresh work was that he would get an urge of some sort then try it out on his followers (usually framing it as divinely inspired or something like that). If he got positive feedback and people started believing it, he would start believing it himself.

This is a trap almost all gurus face with their disciples....


Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

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Samson,

I'm sure you are familiar with Lord Acton's phrase in talking about Popes and Kings and holders of power in general (see here for reference details):

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

So it's a pretty good guess that some dictatorial monsters started out with good intentions and allowed themselves to be corrupted over time. I doubt any of them were born that way.

In fact, I came across a clever description of the corrupting process in a book called Feet Of Clay by Anthony Storr. He was talking about gurus, but I believe the process is the same with wielding power, especially the kind bloody dictators wield--including the impact on their souls from their first kill.

Here is what I said about it earlier:

... I read a book called Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr. In discussing David Koresh, he quoted a person who knew Koresh from earlier days. The guy said that the way he saw Koresh work was that he would get an urge of some sort then try it out on his followers (usually framing it as divinely inspired or something like that). If he got positive feedback and people started believing it, he would start believing it himself.

This is a trap almost all gurus face with their disciples....

Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

When I read where Ayn Rand said Stalin, Hitler, and others were altruists as opposed to egoists, my mind blanked out. I had never considered altruism or egoism to figure into it. Like the dichotomy wasn't applicable because they were actually neither of the two. You know what I mean? I thought it was a strange way to frame it. I have always thought (and still do) that those men were driven by neither. I've seen them as being folks who wished to shape the world in their image. It wasn't so much about the good of the group as it was about molding the group. It was power, delusions of grandeur, and bad ambition, I believe, that made them.

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Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

Ah... It is nice to be needed.

We know from our daily lives that groups form self-confirming beliefs, even without strong leadership. The formal study of "groupthink" began with an article in Fortune (March 1952 by William H. Whyte) and then became a book in 1972 from Irving Janis. (See Wikipedia here: Groupthink.) A lynch mob does not have a leader: they talk themselves into it. Of course, leaders have roles and make a difference.

I have to agree with Ayn Rand's analysis. I do not know any strong leaders, just the local garden variety. (Myself, I prefer to serve as vice president or secretary.) Samson Corwell is correct that leaders believe that they can change the world. That is exactly the point: they are not doing it for themselves.

Samson: if you read the biographical or autobiographical histories of those leaders, you will see that they claimed to be acting as agents of history, not bringing their own visions to reality, but only fulfilling a larger destiny.

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Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

Ah... It is nice to be needed.

We know from our daily lives that groups form self-confirming beliefs, even without strong leadership. The formal study of "groupthink" began with an article in Fortune (March 1952 by William H. Whyte) and then became a book in 1972 from Irving Janis. (See Wikipedia here: Groupthink.) A lynch mob does not have a leader: they talk themselves into it. Of course, leaders have roles and make a difference.

I have to agree with Ayn Rand's analysis. I do not know any strong leaders, just the local garden variety. (Myself, I prefer to serve as vice president or secretary.) Samson Corwell is correct that leaders believe that they can change the world. That is exactly the point: they are not doing it for themselves.

Samson: if you read the biographical or autobiographical histories of those leaders, you will see that they claimed to be acting as agents of history, not bringing their own visions to reality, but only fulfilling a larger destiny.

I'm not suggesting that they do it for themselves (or for others, either); I posit that they do it because they have the desire to reshape the world. No egoism. No altruism.

And "groupthink" is just pure nonsense (at least the word is). There is no doubt that the group's members are thinking; they try to minimize conflict the group that they are a part of.

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Sorry Samson but your thesis makes no sense to me. The desire to shape the world, versus the desire to shape glass, is not a primary motive. It does not solve the egoist-altruist dichotomy.

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A lynch mob does not have a leader: they talk themselves into it. Of course, leaders have roles and make a difference.

Michael,

I have a much different view of lynch mobs. The ones I have encountered are lathered up and manipulated by leaders. (I agree that the members do talk themselves into it, but I have always seen them goaded by the leader until the motor of hate jump starts. Only after that does it run on its own.)

Think about your typical scene in a Western movie. The lynch mob comes to the jailhouse to pull out the prisoner and hang him on the spot. The members are in a pissy rage. The lone sheriff comes out with a shotgun and aims it squarely at the leader. The sheriff usually says something like they may outnumber him, but the leader is going to be the first to go. And by the way, his trigger finger is itching. Long tense pause. After the leader slowly backs down, the mob disperses.

I have faced down several lynch mobs like that (metaphorically speaking). That is the way it has always worked for me. Even when they were coming for me and not a prisoner.

Michael

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This is a trap almost all gurus face with their disciples....

Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

Micheal. Dare I even suggest that Rand herself might have fallen into a trap like this. She became a den mother to a bunch of rather er.... strange people. Could that have fed back on her and made her strange?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Samson, they were psychopaths. Philosophy does not come into it.

Even psychopaths can make choices. However, most importantly- calling Herr Schick and others "psychopathic" ratifies and excuses their true evil.

Basically, this is the Progressivist meme of "he can't help it, was born that way - and look how awful was his upbringing".

Philosophy is behind everything - with some psychology in there as well.

Carol, I'd like to ask, if Hitler was a psychopath, what does that make those who put him in power, rallied behind him, and those who carried out orders- right down to the minions who cleared out the crematoria? Was the majority of Germans psychopathic too?

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Ba'al, I'm pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing...

MSK, I do not have any experience facing down lynch mobs but I am often an officer in coin clubs. It does happen that someone has an idea and talks everyone else into it. It also happens that the group has no new immediate project and several are tossed around and someone or ones steps up to take charge with an assenting vote. My point was only that groups do not need leaders as prime movers, but that leaders will emerge from the group. Sometimes there is no leader, they just move like a zoological colony.

Samson Crowell named names: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. They were all members of committees. Any of them could have died and another would have taken his place. Crowell's conjecture would have to apply to the entire central committee, and then, by extension down the chain to the newest party member: that they are not altruists but seek to make the world in their image.

It is true that the manifestos and all that do sell an inspirational message. But they give themselves to it, for the future, not for themselves in the present.

One thing you have to say for Objectivism, it does give you things to do here and now for yourself. Many of Rand's admirers found her works while in high school or college and that shaped their careers. It did mine, several times. I do not know a single man in our milieu who would say, "My wife's not very bright, but she sure can cook." Our choices were based on other values. Do you know anyone who does not have hard money in savings? Would any Objectivist you know or know of say, "I don't know what the candidate stands for, but I feel that I can trust him?" The "anti-life artwork" thread is pretty much the icing on the cake. Even in art museums, you seldom hear people - nominally educated in college and interested in art - who actually conceptualize what they perceive.

Sure, Objectivism has its leaders, true believers, party purges, and lynch mobs. People are people. What Ayn Rand discovered, invented, and offered is deeply and universally true of any rational individuals engaged in the pursuit of their own personal best interests. We all have our faults, but what counts is the virtues. The virtue of selfishness was wholly lacking in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, ....

But is possible to be a rational leader. Margaret Thatcher has a cute story - I tell it in her voice. "I came home from school one day very upset because the other girls had all gone into town and not taken me with them. And my father said that rather than doing what everyone else wants, I should decide what I want to do and have them follow me. That was very hard at eleven."

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This is a trap almost all gurus face with their disciples....

Basically, they start believing their own BS from a loopback process with followers. And the followers carry out their wishes, so they not only get agreement, they see it in action. Over time, the good part of their soul goes away and inner corruption grows, along with their conceit (often wedded at the hip to insecurity).

A yes chamber is the ultimate temptation.

Michael

Micheal. Dare I even suggest that Rand herself might have fallen into a trap like this. She became a den mother to a bunch of rather er.... strange people. Could that have fed back on her and made her strange?

Ba'al Chatzaf

She might have "fallen into a trap like this," but I protest the description of the "den" to which she became mother as "er...strange people." Can you list the persons who were the original Collective members? (Hint, they have been listed on threads where you've posted. Were you paying attention?) I dare say you're confusing Peikoff, and possibly Nathaniel, with the whole group.

Ellen

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Samson, they were psychopaths. Philosophy does not come into it.

Even psychopaths can make choices. However, most importantly calling Herr Schick and others "psychopathic" ratifies and excuses true evil.... if Hitler was a psychopath, what does that make those who put him in power, rallied behind him, and those who carried out orders- right down to the minions who cleared out the crematoria? Was the majority of Germans psychopathic too?

Yes. I would say that considering the sociology of Europe, the Germans were not alone in (1) having their best and brightest come to America (2) suffering four years of total war ending in collapse and spiraling down to starvation. ("Roof rabbits" is what they called cats in 1921.) The people who were left behind and who survived the war and its aftermath were suffering from PTSD and a general break from reality. All kinds of communists and nationalists and whatever else were running around. In the Big Names, we just see the ones who rose to the top and forget the hundreds of competitors. Probably millions were pretty much all insane and even the best of the remaining millions were "unsane" i.e., suffering from traumatic stress.

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I agree with the "hypothesis" of the title. Dictators (the generality of them) aren't altruists. (There are professional altruists who become dictatorial.) But I don't think they're "egoists" either.

Consider the life of such a person. A goldfish bowl life, surrounded by security, can't even go to the bathroom, unless in your inner sanctum the perimeter of which is secured by guards, without the company of a bodyguard. What real egoist would want to live like that? :laugh:

Ellen

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Which comes first, a lust for power, or, one's warped vision of the 'betterment of society' by force?

The second seems to justify the former, it appears. So for dictators, they are interchangeable.

Both are rooted in altruism-collectivism. "Altruism", in its broad sense of existing by others standards, and ultimately, through others sanction. If the dictator can throw in "I'm doing it for your own good" - and be believed, so much the better for his advancement.

Altruism includes the cult of the second-hander, a person who is nothing without popular approval.

There is no bigger second-hander than the power-lover.

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The "'altruism', in its broad sense [...]" of post #18 is so broad a catch-all as to become a sieve.

Which might be Samson's point. I haven't read the whole thread. I was irritated by Bob's post, which was the one showing on "Recent Content" when I looked at the board, and wanted to protest his calling Barbara Branden, Allan and Joan Blumenthal, Elayne and Harry Kalberman, Mary Ann Rukavina (later Sures), and Alan Greenspan "er...strange people."

Ellen

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Sieves catch stones. Which is the whole point of highest concepts in philosophy.

The legitimate point of "highest concepts" in philosophy isn't to turn things which aren't stones into them. Rand did quite a bit of that - i.e., she did a lot of ignoring differences and producing sweeping generalizations which way overshot the purview of their usefulness.

Ellen

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Yeah, but without the sweeping assertions/highest concepts, there is no launch pad.

Thank god Rand left us with a whole lot of variations, exceptions and dissimilarities to work out for ourselves.

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Samson, they were psychopaths. Philosophy does not come into it.

I'm analyzing them. You can still analyze psychopaths.

Samson:

The word deontology derives from the Greek words for duty (deon) and science (or study) of (logos). In contemporary moral philosophy, deontology is one of those kinds of normative theories regarding which choices are morally required, forbidden, or permitted. In other words, deontology falls within the domain of moral theories that guide and assess our choices of what we ought to do (deontic theories), in contrast to (aretaic [virtue] theories) that—fundamentally, at least—guide and assess what kind of person (in terms of character traits) we are and should be. And within that domain, deontologists—those who subscribe to deontological theories of morality—stand in opposition to consequentialists.

Was not familiar with this.

2.4 Deontological Theories and Kant

If any philosopher is regarded as central to deontological moral theories, it is surely Immanuel Kant. Indeed, each of the branches of deontological ethics—the agent-centered, the patient-centered, and the contractualist—can lay claim to being Kantian.

The agent-centered deontologist can cite Kant's locating the moral quality of acts in the principles or maxims on which the agent acts and not primarily in those acts' effects on others. For Kant, the only thing unqualifiedly good is a good will (Kant 1785). The patient-centered deontologist can, of course, cite Kant's injunction against using others as mere means to one's end (Kant 1785). And the contractualist can cite, as Kant's contractualist element, Kant's insistence that the maxims on which one acts be capable of being willed as a universal law—willed by all rational agents (Kant 1785). (See generally the entry on Kant.)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological/

Out of curiosity, are you a student? Worker? Entrepreneur?

A...

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If we don't consider the entire concept of altruism (made clear by Rand in her many expressions) of not only living in service for others, but -as importantly- living by others' standards, and through others' sanction, we Objectivists paint ourselves into a corner, somewhat. Helping other people, supporting charities, or any empathy shown - then become the exclusive preserve of our detractors.

While we, the valuers of "life as the standard", could be in danger of becoming narrow and rigid within our ethics of rational egoism.

Replies to questions like the OP's about dictators, then become confusing, or solely psychological and behavioral.

To my mind the combination "for", "through" and "by"-others- is accurate to the word and spirit in AR's writing, regarding altruism - in its broadest sense.

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