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When questioned about desperate situations like being stranded on a desert isle or sharing meager rations with your wife or husband aboard a rickety raft, Ayn Rand would classify such scenarios as “lifeboat” questions. These questions constitute statistically improbable situations. She would go onto explain that life is not lived on a remote location nor in a battered sea vessel. It is lived in the way of meeting with all kinds of people in every scale of ability and trading with them. The key to both of these extreme cases is the fact that morality would have to play the largest part. To perish while your spouse lived is not a sacrifice. To gobble up all of the rations is not a selfish act but a selfless one, if you value your wife or husband over the fact that he or she should live and not you, and that life wouldn’t be worth living without them.
On a faraway island, the ethics of self-preservation may or may not kick in for you. It is up to your free will and your reasoning mind to fashion clothing, capture and prepare meals, and groom yourself (where applicable) and utilize hygiene as best that you could. Miss Rand holds in her work that you would most certainly need to possess morality stranded all alone.
Fortunately, we do not live in a world where a “lone wolf” has to produce a living based on his own manufacturing of food, clothes, shelter, and other values. These products and services (and more) are available on the semi-free market. The Industrial Revolution has permitted art, commerce, and healthcare, among many other facets to facilitate lives and make living longer and more comfortable. The “lifeboat” questions extend to this day. With the ideals of individualism and egoism eroding every day, the sense that you should live for yourself and your values is of chief importance. So grab your seat in the boat for Pulling Rank: Best Examples of Selfishness in the Face of Precarious Situations Listed from Selfish Devotion to Self-Interested Care.
"I would die for you... but couldn’t and wouldn’t live for you."
Miss Rand also said in her writings from The Fountainhead (1943) that her ultimate and ideal man Howard Roark would “die for [Gail Wynand] but [he] couldn’t and wouldn’t live for [him].” This sentiment ought to be printed on the currency of the United States for its profundity. It says that a man, if he is a value to you, ought to be saved from some calamity or another. But what it is also explaining is how a man of Roark’s stature would be damned if he had to live for another man. To put his feet in Wynand’s shoes and walk around in them would be immoral.
In today’s sacrificial, self-effacing, cynical culture, the idea to save another man’s life is of great value, still. But that is what is said after the warrior jumps on the grenade to save his comrades, or the fireman goes up the flight of stair to search for more life but is killed when the structure falls down on him. All the reporters say that self-sacrifice and unselfishness lead to these individuals to try and save others. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the selfishness of a man or woman who decides to fall on a grenade to safeguard the lives of his or her buddies. What would be a sacrifice and a horrific example of unselfishness is if that warrior decided to hurl the explosive towards his or her comrades and join forces with the enemy. The fireman’s selfishness lies in his quest for preserving lives. To not go into that building (given that he is able to enter) would show cowardice.
To live for someone is not only physically impossible, it is spiritually impossible. You cannot supplant your soul into the mind of another. You must respect another man or woman’s right to live for their own sake. If something terrible occurs, it is for you to spring into action to protect that person if you value them. It is out of respect and honor that you do this, not duty. This word duty has been issued from the depths of hell to mean dedication or devotion to an ideal, when, in fact, it means that your life does not belong to you but to the tribe, the collective, the volk, to be gobbled up by moral cannibals. Your only duty is to yourself as a selfish, rational being. When you are faced with a challenging situation, it is not your duty that kicks into high gear but your integrity. This virtue disallows the Camus-esque notion of nothing matters so don’t save anyone’s life. Objectivism rejects this notion. It says that if you are not going to be losing any value, it is completely OK for you to risk your life to preserve the life of someone, and you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself because you failed to act. It is the most selfish and proper thing to do to not lay down your life for your friends but to boost the lives of those around you.
A man is an island. He chooses which other islands to link to in this life, but he is alone as an individual. The best part of living in a semi-free society like the United States of America is the fact that millions of islands connect and allow for the trade of goods and knowledge to flow. So to attempt to live a life for another man is tantamount to attempting suicide over and over. You may not die physically, but your soul sure will perish. The beauty of individuality is that each man and woman is endowed with the power to lead his or her own life as they see fit. You can try to walk in someone’s shoes but you will stumble and fall based on their history, their personality, their spirit.
Take for Example….
The speeding car is headed your son’s way. The driver shows no signs of stopping and your son’s foot is trapped in small pothole. Would you just sit back and allow one of your top values to be vanquished by a reckless driver? This is where free will exists the most. You would have the opportunity to save the life of your child. If the car never stops and just runs you over, in no way is that sacrificial or selfless. It shows courage and self-esteem in the face of evil.
And, say that you are badly hurt or even killed in the act of saving your offspring. It is meaningful to know that your actions would not be in vain. The reverse would be true. Just gazing at your shoes as your son wails for help and you whistling and kicking stones instead of saving him would be a grave and irredeemable vice. The psychological toll that this would have on you would be devastating, given the sense that you actually did value your son but never had the moral wherewithal to aid him in this emergency.
Your psychic scars would fester and eat at you until you either went insane or committed suicide. No other way of dealing with such trauma would be able to save you from the onslaught of mental images playing over and over of how you could have saved your child.
Ethically, when someone decides to have a child, it is their selfishness that leads them to want to ensure that the child is safe, well cared for, and happy. Morality plays a major part in the development of the child, and the parents’ job is to see that their child receives the best attention and can trust his or her parents with aiding them in moments of danger.
Children need to be protected through their infancy to adolescence. It is not an oblation to the unknown and unknowable to provide and guard your children from hurt, harm, or hazard. It is not duty to see to it that they have clothes on their backs, food at their placemat, a bed to sleep in, and the chance to reap knowledge. To say that someone “had to sacrifice” for them to be alive today is an out and out fallacy. That care and attention was never due to duty but to love and affection. Duty holds that you must do something commanded by a spirit or a social worker. Duty requires the human being to stoop down into the realm of a bird who is programmed to feed its young. Man is not like that. He has the choice to let his child starve, go naked, or live under a bridge. It is the decision to care for a child that allows a true parent to survive in his or her own mind. Without the mental makeup, a parent will waver and have to relinquish their child to state agency or foster care.
But this doesn’t have to happen. In the scenario above, the parent could save the child and his or her own life. They would be relieved that they escaped certain death or disfigurement. The best way to understand the case of one child to another parent’s child is to ask whether they would save the neighbor’s child if he or she were caught in the hole as well or first or let their own child die. The selfishness in this scenario would shine through as the honest parent would say that they would decide to save their own child.
The Classic Scenario…
With your wife or husband being your highest value (allegedly), you ought to remember those sacred vows and never let go of the meaning behind them. So, say you both ran into some bad fortune and you couldn’t pay for the other’s chemotherapy. Would you sell crystal meth? Would you ask your neighbors for a few bucks each to form a pot? What would you do?
The answer ought to be quite clear: anything within reason and the law, which go hand in hand, usually. You would host crowdsourcing events. You would petition for news crews to show up at your door and drive more advertising for your budding business to start cancer treatment. How in the world could this be selfless? You’re providing for the top value in your life and you seek to have him or her well again. In no way is this a sacrifice. Actually, it is bravery. It is a kind of bravery of seeking out any possible way to keep breath in your loved one’s lungs. To let him or her rot away while you hoard piles of cash from the donations and spend it on a new car or other extravagant gifts would not be selfish. This would be an example of unselfishness.
Your top value would be relegated just so you can zip around in a new vehicle while he or she suffers and eventually dies. How in any way is that selfish if the true meaning of selfishness or rational self-interest is the attention paid to one’s own values? If you get the car and let your loved one die of cancer, that isn’t for self, that’s for irrationality. You never deserved to have a husband or wife if you choose to make a decision like that.
Now, say you’re the one with cancer. Do you expect your loved one to feed and care for you and to raise funds for expensive surgeries? Would you like it if they had just brushed you off and forgotten about you for a new convertible? You would find it despicable. It would be treason on the part of your spouse to never lift a finger on your behalf in your dire situation. They would be committing a wicked sacrifice just as you would’ve if you had chosen the wheels over the man or woman who took your hand in marriage. That is the basis of selfishness. To offer one’s entire being not as sacrifice but as a value to be traded over decades (presumably) is the ideal goal of a marriage.
The continuance of those living vows ought to bind a couple together and allow them to make decisions that are win-win, not lopsided for either party for any alleged reason.