One of the foundational beliefs of socialism is that all members of society have a moral obligation to assist those significantly less well-off than themselves. The compassion expressed by the belief has enormous emotional attraction and is to a large degree responsible for socialism’s widespread popularity.
Socialism derives this particular moral obligation directly from the fact that human beings clearly have a behavioural predisposition to behave altruistically – for the individual on occasion to put the interests of others before their own interest. Altruism is in all probability a behavioural adaptation that has evolved as part of humankind’s social nature. In the interests of survival, natural selection has determined that individual human behaviour, like that of all animals, be motivated principally by self-interest. The fact that humans are not solitary, and are social animals, however, requires that our predominantly self-interested behaviour be tempered to a degree to reconcile it with the interests of those other individuals with whom we live and upon whom we rely for our survival. Altruism exists in order to facilitate this requirement.
Although it benefits selected other individuals at some cost to ourselves, altruism should not be perceived as the opposite of self-interest, or in conflict with it. Altruism is rather an extension of our self-interest, modified to accommodate our social needs. We benefit ourselves by benefiting those upon whom we depend. Altruism is also not a fixed quotient, but varies in degree. Rather than being spread evenly, like jam over a piece of bread, it radiates outwards from the core of our individual egos, in circles of ever-diminishing strength. Thus, we will each do a great deal for our immediate family, a lot for our kin and close friends, something for other members of our tribe, and very little, if anything, for anyone beyond this.
The degree of altruism felt by any individual at any time will therefore vary in accordance with the emotional distance they feel from the beneficiary. It will also tend to correspond largely with the nature of their genetic relationship, as well as with each individual’s capacity in the first place for experiencing altruistic feelings. There is no reason to think that everybody is inherently equally altruistic, any more than there is reason to think that everybody is equally empathetic, intelligent, or athletic.
Each human behavioural predisposition, including that of altruism, has presumably evolved in the way that it has because, as such, it contributes positively to the survival of the species.
While altruism indubitably exists and while the foundational socialistic belief drawn from it is superficially an attractive and compassionate one, it certainly does not follow logically that each individual has a moral obligation to assist all those in their society significantly less well-off than themselves simply because of altruism. As discussed previously, altruism in nature has to work very selectively if it is to fulfil its biological function. A person, for example, who dedicated most of their time and resources to assisting strangers rather than attending first to their own interests would be unlikely to survive long enough to do much good for others. Attempting to increase or decrease the strength of any form of human behaviour for moral reasons, in an attempt to attain greater social justice, for example, were it possible, would in all probability prove highly counterproductive to survival. The rational presumption must be that each form of behaviour is probably best for us as it has been selected by evolution. In this regard, Socialism’s claim that we each have a moral obligation to assist all those in society in significant need is misguided.
Logically, it is more accurate to state that we each have a strong moral obligation to assist those in need close to us, a weaker moral obligation to assist those others that we identify emotionally with, and no predetermined obligation to assist those emotionally remote from us. This is not to say that the unfortunate are not be assisted. It is simply to point out how natural selection has led humans to behave in the interests of the survival of the species, and to indicate why socialism’s demand that they behave in accordance with its sentimental and mystical interpretation of altruism is deeply flawed as well as morally questionable.
We now need to address the question as to why and how socialism has been able to garner so much support with its flawed and moralistic claims regarding altruism. The simple answer is that mankind and science’s understanding of altruism is still so deficient. Our lack of full understanding of its functioning allows socialism to exploit the concept. This it does by claiming that what are no more than its highly dubious moral opinions are actual facts. Firstly, socialism claims as a universal fact that everybody has a moral obligation to assist all those in the society who are in significant need. It does not bother to explain why this is true or from where the moral obligation arises, relying upon people’s uncertainty regarding morality and the nature of altruism itself in order to inhibit any arguments to the contrary and so to gain general acceptance for its claim. And because everybody has at some time or other actually personally had altruistic feelings, even if without knowing or understanding their biological function, and also because people are inherently responsive to moral order, they tend to accept unquestioningly the moral bona fides and authority of the socialists who make the bold moral claims, just as they uncritically accepted the church’s unproven claim to moral authority in earlier ages. After all, on whose or what moral authority could socialism’s claims be disputed in our secular era?
Denying the moral validity of the claim is made doubly difficult because it is true that we all do indeed have moral obligations. These, however, are biologically limited to those with whom we naturally relate emotionally. In order to be able to acknowledge this, while at the same time denying flatly that this means that we have any binding moral obligation to assist those emotionally distant from us that we do not voluntarily choose to accept, there has to be an understanding of the natural biological role played by altruism explained earlier, as opposed to the theological concept of altruism as uniquely a spiritual force, projected by socialism and uncritically accepted by most.
The early socialist ideologues deliberately chose to make an unquantified, undefined, and open-ended moral claim that each individual had a moral obligation to assist all those in society who were poor, less well-off, or exploited. They did this for exactly the same reason that the early church had made the unfalsifiable moral claim that humanity was innately sinful and could only be redeemed, at a price, by the church itself. Once socialism’s moral claim was accepted by believers, it was solely at the party’s discretion to decide just how much each relatively well-off individual had to pay-over annually to the State in order to fulfil the mystical moral obligation that all socialists had assumed and which the socialist parties in their compassion had supposedly discovered. Like the church, socialism succeded in capturing a guilt-based income stream, and the inexorable growth of average Western government expenditure from 3% of GDP in 1913 to approximately 48% today illustrates the course that this moral shakedown has taken.
Socialism, as a political ideology, is exploiting our failure to understand fully the true nature and function of altruism, as well as our human credulity, in order to gain control over people’s minds for its own political ends, by playing upon our inherent human predisposition to moral order. Although presenting itself as a political ideology, it is in fact a quasi-religion, claiming as it does the two fundamental things that all religions are compelled to claim in order to gain moral authority; namely, to be in possession of the universal moral truth and to be aiming at the highest moral good. Socialism is a religion for a supposedly secular age.
Like earlier religions, socialism’s objective is to gain complete control of society’s belief system, and through this, all its resources, eventually controlling society itself, for the benefit of the politicians and ideologues who drive the system. Significant progress has been made in the West over the past 200 years in this regard, to judge by the dominant role that the State has come to play in society.
Alternatively, socialism is a noble, morally-driven ideology, controlled by people possessing the finest moral and personal qualifications, striving to raise human society to the highest possible level of spiritual awareness and social justice. The choice is yours.
Read more about how ideologies and religion use morality to control society in David Matthews book, available for free on Amazon.