October 31, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson
I came across an article where a son told the story of his mother and father joining the Peace Corps. The article described how they left well-paid jobs behind to go to Africa. It ended with “…joining the Peace Corps made Mom and Dad pretty cool.” (Outside magazine, Oct 2013, “Mom And Dad’s Excellent Adventure” by Eric Hansen)
From what I gather, many Americans considers joining the Peace Corps cool. It’s something they ideally would like to do if it weren’t for being in the middle of a career and having family responsibilities (mom and dad’s kids in the story were already grown up).
I’m sure some join the Peace Corps in pursuit of an exotic adventure. But for a large majority the Peace Corps fulfill a desire to “serve”, to “do good”, to “give back”. And the more you give up in order to serve, the more you’re willing to sacrifice, the more cool it is. After all, what’s cool about an unemployed PhD in Bosnian Literature with nothing on the line joining the Peace Corps? No, way more cool is to give up a successful career to “do good” in a “country in need” for a couple of years.
But why is it cool to serve, to give up something to go to a remote corner of the earth? After all, if you really want to maximize your impact on the third world, stay in your corporate job for the multinational company that is relentlessly looking for new ways to increase profits by offering more value for less money. You’re far more likely to have a positive impact on people around the globe being part of an organization that develops, manufactures and sells a higher yield crop, a cheaper car, a new pharmaceutical drug, a more durable fabric for clothing, satellite tv service, online shopping solutions, and so on. But no, that’s not cool, at least not in comparison with giving up everything to serve in the Peace Corps or some similar outfit.
Why is it not cool to be part of corporate America? Because even though you’re sure to benefit people all over the world, directly or indirectly, you’re also pursuing your self-interest. Admit it, you’re selfishly in it for the money, for the chance of advancement, or simply because you like it. And the corporation itself exists to make a profit, the epitome of selfishness. Way not cool.
Yet, history shows us that altruism, the code of morality claiming that virtue consists of sacrificing your higher values to your lower values or no values at all, is a deadly poison. When we the people accept altruism, the morality of sacrifice, implicitly or explicitly, we will sooner or later get the rulers we deserve: The politician sacrificing more and more of our hard earned paychecks to support those “in need”. The environmentalist regulator sacrificing our comforts in the name of saving the planet. The pressure group sacrificing our freedoms for the benefit of its members. The ruler sacrificing millions of lives claiming “it’s for the workers,” “it’s for the peasants,” “it’s for the country,” or “it’s for the common good.”
Altruism has run its course. Let’s instead celebrate what’s truly cool: The entrepreneur inventing a new amazing product making a killing for herself in the process. The CEO turning around a company held for lost and being handsomely rewarded by the shareholders. The immigrant starting out with nothing, through hard work building a small business that is the pride of his life. The corporate cog-in-the-wheel that you will never hear of whose passion for her job is improving the products and services you buy every day. Every person selfishly pursuing his or her dream of the best possible life, while respecting the rights of their fellow men to do the same.
Let’s turn our backs on altruism, sacrifice and selflessness and embrace rational egoism and self-interest. Join corporate America, not the Peace Corps. Because altruism is way not cool.