Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, recently offered some advice to Americans:
We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.
This hardly needs parsing: in Mrs. Obama’s view, the great wealth-creators of corporate America–the people who design cars, manufacture computers, and discover life-saving medicines–do not help people. The real helpers are the ones who hand out welfare checks and change bedpans.That’s just run of the mill altruism, of course, but two points are worth noting: first, her statement was utterly non-controversial. Indeed, even John McCain would agree that Americans must sacrifice for the community–only he would say that we best serve our nation, not by going into social work, but by joining the military.The second is that this quote reveals the true meaning of altruism. Ayn Rand is often charged with misrepresenting altruism. Many people say, “Altruism just means showing kindness to others, not ‘self-sacrifice’ and ‘self-abnegation,’ as Ayn Rand claimed.” Well, here’s the proof that the proponents of altruism know and embrace its actual essence. Since it is obvious that Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, and John Rockefeller have been infinitely greater benefactors to humanity than Mother Teresa or the local kindergarten teacher, the only thing that would make the latter moral and the former amoral (at best), is the fact that the former benefited from the values they created, while the latter did not. In other words, what makes Mother Teresa and her ilk moral heroes is not that they “helped others,” but that they sacrificed their own welfare.