These two historical figures came from very different backgrounds and disciplines, and their views couldn't be more opposing when it comes to humankind's ability to be truly altruistic.
The Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary defines altruism as "feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness."1
Ayn Rand 🚬
The obvious heavyweight in this reasoning, she possesses international fame, and is practically a demigod to many of Silicon Valley's millionaires. I would even dare to bet a significant chunk of Hivers with massive HP embrace some of her ideas and philosophies.
Russian-born and multilingual, she was raised by a privileged family, and studied at the Petrograd State University in St. Petersburg before emigrating to the US.
She achieved major success when she authored The Fountainhead, a fictional book praising individualism through the story of an architect unwilling to compromise. This book is engrained in the political culture of American conservative and libertarian movements.
Now with a bit of fame on her side, she published Atlas Shrugged, which truly sent her into the mainstream, appearing on various talk shows and programs in the USA after it's release. It's hard to summarize this work, but it involves a dystopian future where the most creative from the private sector rebel against a welfare state and retreat to build their own ideal economy.
She's embraced by many in the USA because there her philosophy supports/parallels things like manifest destiny, the invisible hand, hedonism, and atheism, concepts embraced by many of the world's elite. She's adored by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Vince Vaughn to Hugh Heffner and Donald Trump.
In a nutshell American-style capitalism encourages individuals to focus on self-interest and greed as the driving force behind the economy. This fundamental belief assumes the human being is most motivated to look out for itself and it's nearest genetic relatives, of course that assumes you agree with Richard Dawkin's Selfish Gene Theory.
A PEAK INTO HER MIND
George R. Price 🧬
Much lesser known, Price was born in the USA, but moved to London in his 40s, initially working in theoretical biology. His career and trajectory very much aligned with the principles of Ayn Rand.
Price had a founding hand in evolutionarily stable strategy, central to game theory, and made major contributions to kin selection via his own equation, the aptly named Price equation, and the theory/science of natural selection.
Just by reading his achievements alone, it would appear he would agree with much of Rand's concepts, and that is very true. However, Price had a major religious awakening which completely changed his life trajectory. He converted to Christianity, but being the scientist he was, he wanted to convert fully and wholeheartedly.
He was so troubled by the realization of his life's work and theories that he wanted to prove himself wrong by showing that human beings could be truly "altruistic," even excluding the tendency to be altruistic to one's own genetic kin. He did this in the most poignant way possible, giving away nearly all of his possessions.
He lived among London's homeless, and even invited them to live in his home, along with alcoholics. Troubled by his equations and theories plus his lifestyle, the two sent him into a very deep depression, and he eventually became a squatter after being evicted.
It is now I should remind you that Price was living like this while managing a busy career and workload. Ultimately in what is an almost surreal death, he committed suicide by clipping his carotid artery with a pair of fingernail clippers.
A PEAK INTO HIS MIND
"Can Human Beings Be Fully Altruistic"
I guess this question is very subjective, but George R. Price's later life is in a way, a testament to the falsehood of much of his scientific work and legacy. I feel he purposefully lived his later years altruistically and without genetic bias just to prove to himself there was still hope for humanity.
For this knowledge, he paid the ultimate price, and we should not take lightly his life nor the manner in which he took his own life. In this modern age, many random acts of kindness often are often purposefully documented on social media, making me question the altruistic nature of said deeds. But I do not believe in altruism, I know it, not only from studying history, but also seeing it in person in various corners of this planet.
Ayn Rand remained famous and relevant until her death from heart failure in the early 80s. She and her works remain popular, perhaps even more popular since her passing. She was adulterous, often abused her partners verbally and physically, and until her death maintained some very controversial views, even stating European colonists had the right to develop stolen native-American land.
So, what do you Hivers think? Do you think human altruism is possible or not? I'd love to hear your thoughts on why or why not?