Weasel Words: Altruism, Greed, and Selfishness

rand sacrifice

By Mike Cronin

I went to a Catholic high school that subscribed to the motto “A Man for Others.”  A high school whose mission is to produce young gentlemen who put other people ahead of themselves sounds pretty good right? Similarly, the motto of the US Air Force’s Pararescue corps, whose specialty is rescuing downed pilots from behind enemy lines, is “So that Others May Live.”  Pararescue men, or “PJ’s,” often serve in Special Operations alongside Green Berets and Navy SEALs.  They are some of the most highly trained, dedicated, and respected troops in the US military.

Both mottos speak to putting other people before oneself. This is slippery territory. According to http://dictionary.reference.com, altruism is “the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.” We are meant to hold altruism as one of our highest virtues, and to consider selfishness a negative trait.  The same site defines “selfish” as “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.”

Enter the weasels.

Without selfishness, there would be little or no human advancement. We advance as a species because selfish people discover, invent, or produce the things that have helped us travel to the moon, communicate around the globe instantaneously, or live active, comfortable lives into our seventies and eighties. In exchange, they desire just compensation. Selfish people demand fair trade and produce wealth and abundance. With their wealth, selfish people often do productive things, such as expand their business and hire employees. With their abundance, selfish people often do generous things, such as donating time or money to charities.

The weasels have corrupted our language to the point that selfishness and greed are used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. Greed is a ravenous desire for the unearned. Wherever you hear the loudest calls for altruism, i.e. for self-sacrifice, you will find weasels and tyrants great and small, from ghetto muggers to Hitlers, who mean to collect your offering. Taken to its logical extreme, altruism demands one sacrifice himself to those who merit only contempt. Truly greedy people demand and take from others yet produce nothing but decay and misery.

I admire PJs and other warriors for their dedication, courage, and skill.  Many have indeed given their lives so that others could live.  Was that altruistic of them?  Consider this: there is a great deal of camaraderie that comes with serving voluntarily in the US military, and a great deal of prestige in serving among the most elite warriors America has.  When a PJ gives his life for others, it is often a trade for equal or greater value: a highly trained and capable warrior exchanging his life so that another warrior, or many other warriors like him can live to fight or be brought back to safety to continue the campaign. The PJ is exchanging one life for many; in essence, he is creating or maintaining a form of wealth.  While the PJ serves, he understands all too well the risks he takes, but he also trades his services and risk-taking for many forms of tangible and intangible compensation. If he dies in the line of duty, he is a producer of the first order, a genuine hero.  Those who send such men to war without extreme justification, while managing to remain safe and comfortable themselves, earn no such merit.

So ask yourself who is truly greedy: The inventor or entrepreneur or CEO who wants to keep what he has earned, or those who call him greedy for daring to feel he deserves the fruits of his own labor while they take it from him using the coercive power of government?

Stuff I Want My Kids to Know #1: There ain’t no Such Thing as a Free Lunch


By Mike Cronin

Have you ever heard the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” often abbreviated TANSTAAFL?  Well, it doesn’t just refer to meals.  It means that whenever something is advertised as “free,” there’s always a catch or a string attached. “Buy one, get one free” doesn’t really mean you get one free, it means you get two for the price of one, or two for half-price each. It might be a good deal, but you are not getting anything free.

It’s the same deal when you are offered a “free” gift or a “free” upgrade when you purchase goods or services.  You are paying for the thing that’s free in the price of the thing that isn’t.

Sometimes you really do get a good or a service for no money, but it still isn’t really free. “Free” software often comes with adware or malware that will cost you time, money, or in some other way cause you stress. Even if it didn’t cost you money, you are still paying for it in other ways.

Many times, the catch or the string is buried in the “fine print.”  All of the big, bold, splashy fonts and bright colors on an ad are just a lure. The legal facts are in the tiny text buried in the middle of the insert or at the bottom of the ad. The fine print section is like the ingredients portion of a food label – it tells you what’s really in there.

The bottom line is that you can’t get something for nothing except in very rare circumstances. One way or another you have paid, or will pay, for what you receive.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  For example, when you receive a birthday or Christmas present, in a sense, you have already “paid” for it by being a friend worthy of receiving a gift. The trick is to remember TANSTAAFL whenever you are excited about a seemingly good deal.  If it seems to good to be true, it probably is, because you will pay for it one way or another!

Are We Truly Guilty of Damaging the Climate?

By Mike Cronin

The allegation:

The human race is causing the earth’s climate to change in a destructive way, mainly by putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing acceleration of the greenhouse effect (warming the planet up faster than if it had been “left alone”).

The evidence you may have heard:

The global average temperature has risen over the last century. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere released by human activity has risen dramatically as a result of technological advancement from fire to steam to fossil-fuel burning for energy. The science is settled.

The polar ice caps are melting. Glaciers are receding.

97% of climate scientists are in consensus that global climate change is occurring and that it is being caused by man.

Let’s break it down.

  1. “The average global temperature (AGT) has not increased since 1995 and has declined since 2002, despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 8% since 1995.” The earth’s climate is changing – it always has.  The increased carbon dioxide released by human activity since the industrial revolution MAY indeed be a factor.  Some evidence is suggestive, but not incontrovertible. The science is NOT settled.
    1. Carbon dioxide is not a major greenhouse gas. Water vapor is the most important one.
  2. Regardless, climate change is inevitable – over time. That doesn’t make it a crisis.  We can adapt. It is what we excel at as a species.
  3. Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are growing in thickness and cooling at their summit. Sea ice around Antarctica attained a record area in 2007.
  4. Consensus has no bearing on physical reality.
    1. The fact that 97% of climate scientists agree is irrelevant; the 3% of climate scientists who don’t concur with their colleagues might be correct.
    2. The “fact” that 97% of climate scientists agree is itself not settled science!

The science of global climate change has been hijacked by ideologues who want to further their own agendas using scientific nomenclature to scare us laymen. Note how all of the “solutions” to global climate change always seem to require some sacrifice from the developed world. Note how the term “climate change denier” has become all but synonymous with the word “heretic.”

  1. Consider that in the 1970s, the scare was over global cooling. Then it was global warming. Now it’s “climate change.”
  2. Consider that the organization most responsible for climate change alarmism is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Is it a political body, or a scientific one?  Note that “solutions” to global climate change promoted by the IPCC, such as the so-called Kyoto Protocols, require developed nations to curtail carbon-dioxide producing activity, but allow developing nations to continue to produce CO2, as if the climate is sensitive to where CO2 comes from and who benefitted from its emission – a rich country or a poor one.

So, what can we do?

  1. Don’t be alarmed, be skeptical.
  2. Don’t go out of your way to add CO2 to the atmosphere, but don’t take a guilt trip if you drive an SUV or don’t recycle. Live your life as you will, on your own terms.
  3. Be wary of politicians, educators, and celebrities that proselytize the religion of climate change. They can’t save you from it even if they are right, but humanity can adapt.