In the News: Ayn Rand, Charity and The Veil of Opulence
by Kristin Miller
8 months ago
The U.S. news is brimming with discussions of compassion (or at least the terms often used to stand in for compassion). The choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate has the media all abuzz about the beliefs of the woman he called a major political influence -- the ever-controversial Ayn Rand. Then, on Monday, August 20, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a study on the charitable giving habits of the United States. Both sides of the political spectrum immediately seized on the results to suggest their beliefs and programs are on the side of good.
It doesn't seem to matter how much Paul Ryan still adheres to the ideas of thinker Ayn Rand; his association with her philosophy shorthanded as "The Virtue of Selfishness" from the title of collection of her essays, has excited a storm in the media. Of course, the debate might very well rage only among a very few who spend time parsing the words of Rand in dueling Op-Eds . (See: Forbes 'Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: Now That's the Ticket" and The Huffington Post's "The Secret of Paul Ryan's Love for Ayn Rand.")
But Rand's ideas on charity are controversial. Rand stated her views starkly in a 1964 interview with Playboy magazine and echoed in TV interviews one of which is replayed on this weeks' edition of On The Media.
My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue. —From “Playboy’s 1964 interview with Ayn Rand
It is the perceived lack of compassion that also has Paul in trouble with the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops who critcized Paul Ryan's budget cuts to social welfare program. As The Washington Post reports, the bishops sharply repudiated the Ryan budget plan’s cuts to hunger and nutrition programs that aid poor and working-class Americans, calling the proposed cuts 'unacceptable,' 'unjustified,' and 'wrong.'"
GIVING AMERICAN STYLE
A new study, "How America Gives" from the Chronicle on Philanthropy shines a light on the nexus between religion and charity. The study, which allows you to track the giving by income level and zip code, was also immediately seized upon to prove political worthiness of varying views. (See: CNBC's "The Rich Are Less Charitable Than the Middle Class: Study Shows"and "Study: Red states give more to charities than blue states,")
NPR parsed the numbers with input from the scientists for top-line and more subtle findings. Red states do indeed have higher rates of charitable giving in high correlation with the role of religion in the area (Mormon states have the highest rates). And yes, the rich do give at a lower rate than do the middle class. But, there's another interesting finding. The more diverse the neighborhood economically -- the higher the rates of giving by the upper income groups.
Which leads to the question: Is it really possible for many Americans to be unbiased in their compassion? Can the privileged really walk in another's shoes? That's the question posed in a provocative Op-Ed by philosopher Benjamin Hale in The New York Times called "The Veil of Opulence." Neff updates John Rawls theory that justice and fairness are blocked by a "veil of ignorance" or an inability to see outside our own circumstances, with the notion that our opulence prevents us from following the golden rule as we see the world from where we WANT to be:
"Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions. Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs."
What do you think? Can we put ourselves in the place of another? If we can't see the poor are they truly with is? Does faith matter? Is there a virtue in selfishness? Tell us on Facebook.