The following were two comments on an Objectivist forum under the topic “Rights” of disabled individuals and my subsequent response to it detailing what I jokingly refer to as a brief ‘crisis of faith’ in Objectivism as relates to those unable to care for themselves:
whatever the political system, people such as you’ve described live at the “mercy” of others. The real difference is whether such help comes forth voluntarily, or whether people can be forced at gunpoint to [provide] “help”.
To which a reply came:
If I understand you correctly, if no one volunteers assistance, severely disabled individuals are left to fend for themselves under the Objectivist viewpoint? This would be my understanding of Rand’s description of a “true” capitalist system.
And the following is my response to this old posting:
I had an issue with this and objectivism for a short period of time. But as is usually the case, I fell back on the advice of Rand herself:
“Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand
In actuality, I hadn’t really looked to closely at the premises. Or at least hadn’t broken them down enough. So I strove to do so.
What I came up with among a number of things included some of the following:
- life has value
- no one wants to suffer
- limitations both persistent and transient can exist to limit ability
- limits on ability can prevent someone from fulfilling even their most basic needs
- not fulfilling one’s basic needs leads to suffering
My first epiphany in that re-examination was #1. Life has value. Even the disabled or less capable can provide value to others through living their lives. People recognize value in others, which led me to another conclusion:
6. any decent person does not wish another to suffer
Why? Because any decent person at least perceives that life has value and can therefore identify with the value in the lives of others. And most people have experienced some form of suffering, and can therefore also identify with the consequences of suffering in others. This leads to another conclusion.
7. helping others in whom we identify their value, provides decent people with value in return
As others eluded to, people with family members will help the disabled in their families out of love. People will help their friends out of friendship. People will help strangers out of a sense of compassion and the aforementioned identification with their suffering. There is value to be found in helping others, and many people find it all the time. This made me realize, I had underestimated the compassion of people.
But of course, there was still one big sticky in my head. I tend to draw such concepts out to extremes to test them under the best and worst case scenarios. I imagined a condition where even the able were faced with limitations that made it difficult to help others. Say a global disaster or a full blown nuclear exchange – something way out there! There may exist some very extreme scenario where even the compassion people have in finding value in being charitable will be limited by their ability to meet even their own basic needs. What of the disadvantaged then?
Do you see what I saw? Based on my prior conclusions that people find value in charity, and that I underestimated the compassion (ability to find such value) people have, do you see what suddenly hit me?
Try to imagine the scenario I described – a situation sooooo bad that even the most capable cannot provide for themselves. Cannot do so soooo badly that they are unable to even consider compassion in helping others. Can you even imagine a scenario where no one – absolutely no one is able to express fundamental human traits like compassion? If we ever really really reached a situation that terribly and incredibly bad, who “should” survive it? The most capable or the least?