After getting about halfway through Raymond’s book on the culture and dynamics of the open source movement, “The Cathedral & The Bazaar”, which is a set text for a course I’m studying at university; I began to wonder whether Raymond had read Ayn Rand.
He plugs free markets here and there, identifies capitalism as the rejection of coercive command structures, points out similarities between Lockean property rights (property as the application of improvements to resources) and the open source movement, and perhaps most tellingly, this:
“A large part of it[the explicit rejection, and simultaneous roundabout adoption, of egoistic actions by the open source community], certainly, stems from the generally negative European-American attitude towards ‘ego’. ”
-Raymond, Homesteading the Noosphere; Cathedral & The Bazaar, pp. 107-108
Then, in the very next paragraph, comes my answer:
“[I]f Friedrich William Nietzsche and Ayn Rand had not already done an entirely competent job (whatever their other failings) of deconstructing ’altruism’ into unacknowledged kinds of self-interest”
It is left to the readers imagination what those other failings are.
More importantly though, Raymond is describing the theory of Psychological Egoism: That all actions are egoistic actions, because they are chosen by the actor and therefore fulfil some desire of his. That is, if somebody wants to do something, even out of commitment to an altruistic cause, he is really only doing it to satisfy himself – therefore, there is no such thing as altruism.
This is a circular argument, and one that Raymond correctly pins to Nietzsche, but this isn’t Ayn Rand’s point about altruism at all. Rand’s point is more sophisticated, and has broader consequences, than Nietzsche’s.
Contra Nietzsche, Rand held that altruism actually exists. She went further and said that it was the root of evil.
Rand pointed out that altruism exists as a package deal. It lumps together situations where one trades a lesser value for a more important one, with situations where one loses a value or trades it for a less important one.
An example of the former situation is paying money to save the life of a loved one. This is often seen as an altruistic motive, but would more properly be classed as an ‘investment’. You lose the money, but you gain something much more valuable. In the same way that you lose money when you buy things from a shop, because the items you are buying are seen, by you, to be more valuable than the amount of money for which they were exchanged.
The latter situation is more difficult to identify, especially in the west, because in everyday life people tend to actually act in their self interest. One example would be toleration of foreign aid, it doesn’t really represent any value to most people in developed countries.
Another would be the various dictatorships that ask one to put aside all considerations for their own lives and families, and instead give their lives for their class, race, state, or religion.
On a smaller scale, forcing children to share their toys, the welfare state, and the monastery are also examples of true altruism.
Rand’s point was that the purpose for packing these two things together is sinister. People act in their self interest all the time when they go to work, support their families, buy things, even when they donate to charity (sometimes). But by labelling some of these mutual-value, egoistic actions as altruism (usually the ones that involve family or charity), the altruist is able to give legitimacy to the genuinely altruistic acts, which are awful.
Worse still, giving legitimacy to those genuinely altruistic actions causes widespread and unearned guilt about our virtuous, egoistic actions. Those actions which benefit all parties involved (such as trading money for goods and services) become the lesser, more base part of humanity – while those that represent net loss, or single party gain, are elevated to the status of holiness.
Rand and Nietzsche are worlds apart when it comes to altruism.
Edit: It would be unfair to post this without acknowledging that the collection of essays is, in general, superb. Raymond is a clear writer, a convincing historian, and a genuine thinker.