Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pathological Altruism

It explains why some cling so fiercely to ideas that we know will have "unintended consequences" and stop at nothing to realize them. Barbara Oakley defines pathological altruism as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm." (James Taranto via Instapundit):

Pathological altruism is at the root of the liberal left’s crisis of authority, which we discussed in our May 20 column. The left derives its sense of moral authority from the supposition that its intentions are altruistic and its opponents’ are selfish. That sense of moral superiority makes it easy to justify immoral behavior, like slandering critics of President Obama as racist–or using the power of the Internal Revenue Service to suppress them. It seems entirely plausible that the Internal Revenue Service officials who targeted and harassed conservative groups thought they were doing their patriotic duty. If so, what a perfect example of pathological altruism.

Oakley concludes by noting that “during the twentieth century, tens of millions [of] individuals were killed under despotic regimes that rose to power through appeals to altruism.” An understanding that altruism can produce great evil as well as good is crucial to the defense of human freedom and dignity.

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