>Is it right to put our own ‘higher pleasures/happiness’ before other’s who are more desperate?

>We all buy extravagancies we don’t need, from wii’s and x-box’s to cars and widescreen t.v’s. Yet we also all know that there are people suffering and dying in the world who don’t have the basic requirements (food, water etc). The basic idea is this – I always wonder how people can live their lives the way they do and still believe that they are good people when they know this, and could give up what I will call their ‘higher pleasures’, to help others more desperate.

At the moment my personal answer is that those of us who believe they are largely good are either stupid or ignorant. Of course we do the occasional ‘good’ things, however none of you (us) will do something as trivial as buying one less bottle of vodka for a party, or one less dvd, and instead give that money to charity (even if it means saving the life of someone wev’e never met for food or water, because thats about the equivelant cost).

It can also be said though, that as individuals we can only feel our own happiness/sadness etc – which makes it more potent than other peoples. For instance you can hear on the news that 5000 people have died – and when asked if they would trade their own lives instead, most people would say no.

Personally I believe that we are a lot more selfish than we are willing to admit, and are often only prepared to help those who share the same blood (if, for instance, it means carrying on our genes) or those who we know well, and I can’t see how any other answer would coup d’etat mine, but responses are welcome. But we can’t kid ourselves that we wouldn’t go to Hell if it exists (which it doesn’t). As always you’ve been a wonderful audience, now stop being selfish – peace out.

11 comments

  • >How do we define needs and wants? Robin says that "we all buy extravagancies we don't need". Yet what do we need? Do we need expensive things? Most people would say no. But do we need to live? Of course most people say yes. Why? Not because the world will fall apart without them but because they WANT to! Taking this further, do we need to be happy? If we only live because we want to then what is the point in life without happiness?So the problem is this: what do we need in order to be happy? Of course lots of things contribute to happiness and I am not going to attempt a list here. But one important thing to note is that material things e.g. money, do increase happiness. Now economists often take the view that Robin seems to promote i.e. we can achieve happiness if every person has at least set 'A' of material possessions. But the reality would form a far more complicated formula. I believe that happiness is relative. This is backed by theory and data (though unfortunately, or conveniently depending on your viewpoint, I can't remember where to find this data). Yet if this is true we would have to add a kind of interest rate on money when we move from one place to another to account for socio-economic status. Hence one less drink at a bar may in fact actually adversely affect that person's happiness more than the benefits that money would bring to others. I realise this is a bad example but I am merely responding to the given example and hoping that you understand the gist.I am not justifying the radical inequalities of today’s world. Vast change is essential. Having the right to pursue, and the ability to achieve happiness should be an essential human right. But we must get the balance right. All the evidence backs the idea that increases in money and material things only increase happiness up to a certain point, and in fact can cause deterioration in happiness eventually. Some people fix this at a world average of around $16,000. I say it is relative to your situation, the affluence of your family, neighbours and friends. So are we selfish to aim for higher than this relative level of sustainability? Of course we are selfish, at least in part. No one disputes that. Our entire economic system (Capitalism) is built on selfishness, greed, avariciousness and competition. As Robin correctly says, we do subconsciously treat our own emotions with more importance than that of others, just as a historian stuck in a particular country and time period suffers from the bias of his experience. We all aim to make ourselves happy and so we should. No matter how much those people around you love you they will not fight for your happiness more than you are able to, simply because they cannot be around you all the time. So an element of selfishness is crucial. Even if you believe you want to live solely to help others I am afraid that you need to be psychologically balanced and able to cheer others up. Both of these require happiness.

  • >Sorry I rambled on a bit so this is continued from the previous comment:Some people believe they are intrinsically less selfish than others, but in that belief lies the proof that they are not: they derive happiness from pride and arrogance. I myself think that I sometimes act completely selflessly. But can I be sure? Of course not, for everything I do that seems selfless makes me happy or proud. The classic argument against selfishness is altruism i.e. a soldier may give up his life for a comrade during war. If we were all completely selfish why would this happen? Indeed why would we be so drawn to civilisation, making friends etc if our sole being was selfish to the core? Some people argue that is a Darwinian trait that helps our species to survive. I think there is more. Firstly, why do we derive happiness and pride from putting other before ourselves? Secondly, you could hate the idea of a certain action but do it anyway for an idea or principle. Now you might draw pride out of that or you might not. But nevertheless our conscious minds have the ability to think of selfless actions. Perhaps this is evidence of Marx’s proposition that civilisation and culture can actually change human psychology?Perhaps I am getting off point a bit. It is not right for us to believe that we are more important than others and therefore put our higher pleasures before the basic needs of those who suffer. In fact if it is possible to establish a truly minimum level of life: shelter, water, food, clothing and warmth for all (which it is if all rich Governments are prepared to donate a certain amount (though I believe more than has been promised already is needed)), then we should be prepared to go without for a while in order to achieve this goal. But we cannot attribute too much happiness to money. If this was the way the world worked then the rich would be happier but they are not. The world, particularly the rich countries, would be a great deal happier now than they were 60 years ago when they were poorer. But this is not the case. Hence while fighting to increase the wealth of the poor and give them opportunities like we have, we should not forget ourselves, nor our supposed higher desires. For if you are the only one in your family, group of friends, business etc without a TV, and you actually really like TV, then the detrimental impact of not having that TV will be worse on your happiness (and that of those around you for sad people make people sad) than the potential gain of giving a few pounds a week away. Basically, it depends on how you define higher desires. If those desires have higher costs than 99% of your population can afford then perhaps you should re-think the purchase, and instead donate more to the poor (this could produce more happiness anyway). But if what you desire is more expensive than what 70% of the world’s population can afford, and yet 99.9% of the people in your country have one then perhaps you should buy it.In summary I have to say that Robin seems a little too pessimistic for me. For while he would be right to say that most of us will not sacrifice a little to help a lot, some people do! And yes I do know this for I have seen people make sacrifices and even made them myself (though I have to admit they could be bigger and more often). What about people who give up high flying jobs to help the poor? What about the billionaires who give away half their wealth? What about the common housewife who asks that her husband buy a Christian Aid or Oxfam gift for starving children in Africa instead of for her that Christmas? What about those millions of poor immigrants around the world working as cleaners, waiters etc? These immigrants in fact give a great deal more money to poor countries (through giving money to their families etc) than all the rich countries do.

  • >I gave up 20 minutes of looking at pornsites to contribute to this debate, how can you say i haven't sacrificed for the good of others?In fact the world may just owe me a brownie point for such selflessness. i'll remind st.peter when i'm in the queue at the gates.I agree with one of Rob's (it's robert not robin, right?) conclusions. People who think they are largely good are either stupid or ignorant.However, it is easy for good people to feel they are 'more good/gooder' than others by account of their selfless acts and thus take pride in their actions that way.a stupid remark i'm about to put forth is the perception of delivering happiness, be forewarned.Someone forego's a bottle of vodka (€10?) and donates that money to charity instead. I believe that administration costs can be in the region of 40%, meaning about €6 gets to the needy.However, the gross margin (profit) on the vodka would probably only be 10% (€1) which goes to the rich (presumptively) owners. €9 is therefore spent on the supply chain, re: shop employees, drivers of distribution trucks, factory hands at the bottling plant, makers of the raw material, etc.So (and i repeat my statement that this is a bit of a stupid point) you have to ask yourself is €6 going to the poor better than €9 going to the regular workers?Sure, they're mainly idiots who spend it on ipods and non-essential items instead of healthy food and other anti-obesity curatives, but that's their own stupid choice. Maybe the poor in the third world are spending a percentage of their €6 on whores and cigarettes?Ok, so that rather silly point was to highlight why people think their selfless effort is automatically more contributory to the alleviation of poverty than through another means.Obviously fervent capitalists have already hijacked this logic for their means (re. that shit 'trickle down theory' of the late 80s early 90s) but does the most good acheived have to equate to the most enjoyment sacrificed?That's enough for 1 post. i'll give someone else a turn before continuing the debate as this is a large topic.

  • >Here's a classic, laugh out loud stupidity from Christiaans website,http://last-straw.net/offset-your-international-flight-with-the-life-of-one-african/it's like a sub-genre of this debate, two rights don't make a wrong, or do they?

  • >Lol, thanks for sacrificing so much of your porn searching time. You're like a modern Mother Teresa.Robin is the one who posted up the question. I'm Robert. Not quite sure which of us you agreed with tho coz it looks like a bit of both.It's a good point to raise about how much money actually gets to the people on the ground, and you couldn't be more right in criticising the 'Trickle Down' theory. For those of you who don't know the theory says that any money within a poor society is good because it will eventually 'trickle down' to the poorest in society. Of course common sense will tell that this is ridiculous. It has never been the case in any society in the world, ever! Many of the richest nations on Earth house the poorest people on Earth too, and no nation is without poverty, nor has there ever been one without. However this does not mean we cannot change things. The problem with this question is that although it has good aims i.e. to get everyone thinking about what they really do and how much more they can do, in reality only the few have the 'nice' personality that makes them help others. But this should not be the case. We have taxes because we know that if everything was done by mutual agreement then someone would eventually refuse to pay for repairs on their road, or for the rubbish to be collected. There are many people (also speaking to all non-voters) who say 'it doesn't matter, someone else will take care of it'. This is exactly why I aplaud the UN target of getting rich nations to donate 0.7% of their Gross National Income. Such funds, all given at once (i.e. annually from the government rather than a hundred chairities with higher admin costs), to one central body who has the big picture in mind (UN), and coming from taxes so the costs are equally spread, is the best way of doing things. Many nations look likely to fail in hitting the target date of 2015 that they agreed to! But if we did achieve the target then there is a possibility that we could at least extinguish extreme poverty (where people don't have enouh money to survive). Personally I believe the funds need to be a little higher, not as high as the Marshall Funds given by the US after WW2, but high enough so that we might both create a truly minimum quality of life in terms of material matters, and that we could keep some additional funds at the World Bank for environmental and economic emergencies.Achieving, and possibly surpassing the UN's aims (UN corruption should also be tackled) could achieve both goals: It would tackle poverty, and it would allow the not so rich people not to feel guilt when they buy that bottle of vodka.As for that link, I agree that James Lovelock is missing the point. The highest carbon producers are places like the USA, China, Australia, Russia and Europe. Did you know that averaged out an American uses 600 litres of water a day, a European 300 litres a day and an African only 2.5? Developing nations are increasing their carbon use as they grow, and there are fears that their booming populations will one day mean that they will be the big carbon polluters. But the figures don't back this assumption, for as a society gets richer its birth rate declines. Indeed after abour 2060 the population of the rich world is forecasted to decline due to birth rates avergaing less than 2 to two parents. What we need to do is not cut population size in Africa (though family planning is good for other reasons) but help make the third world richer through environmentally friendly means. This would lift the quality of life in the world, boost happiness, boost economic wealth for all due to increased trade, demand and supply, and lower the population anyway.

  • >By the way for any Brits or ex-pats, if you think we should be aiming toward happiness not wealth then please sign this petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Aim-Happiness/If you're nor British but like the idea then I would encourage you to start a similar petition in your country. I would be glad to post up the petition on this site.

  • >I meant Robin's point about people who believe they are fundamentally good to be either ignorant or stupid.

  • >So then what? You think the question is invalid because there is no right? Or do you think the 'right' thing can be done even so? If that's the case then what is the right thing?

  • >Well first, i think that the way we view 'doing good' is often simplistic. In the same way that the idea of 'goodness' itself is overly simplified.But that is slightly off-topic.Next is the idea that we NEED to sacrifice something in order to contribute something. It is the 'ends' which is important and not the 'means', in this situation.Therefore, my ability to put the needs of desperate people does not neccessarily sit at odds with my enjoying of higher pleasures.However if it is a case of this or that, then ok, i know i would give to the desperate. But therein lies part of the problem.Real life situations are hardly ever like the movies where there is a climatic point where the hero must choose the right thing or the selfish thing, as the movie transcends into slow motion and the music swells.Instead the consequences of choices are obscured by the multiple possibilities and multiple outcomes. Given that the question could be rephrased as "Is it right to be a selfish dick?" then the answer is in the question already. Therfore you have to explore more the reasons for being a dick.NB; 'right' being defined as the accepted definition of being good, and 'selfish dick' being the accepted definition of being bad.To answer specifically your question Rob;Correct, i do not believe there is such an objective thing as 'right'. Only subjective perceptions instead.

  • >Your points are all fair and accurate. But, although I recognise this is not what you're aiming for, you could use these points to argue for doing nothing. The concept of righteousness is subjective as you say, but this does not mean that people cannot and do not agree on certain courses of action. By fobbing something off as a subjective matter of opinion we essentially fob life and existence off. Hence I say that we must put forward our own subjective opinions, while maintaining an open mind and respecting the opinion of others. Did you know that Plato once said he preferred to be corrected than to teach? That way he learnt a lot more.So we can agree that change is needed, and that most people tend to believe the 'right' change to be somehting that diminishes extreme poverty and gives more people Maslow's 5 basic needs: food, water, clothing, shelter and warmth. Now, based on your opinion of what right is, what can we do to better the plight of those "more desperate" than ourselves? And yes I realise this is now a different question.

  • >I just found the happiness formula advocated by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, Schkade and Seligman:Happiness = Your Biological Set Point + Your Life Conditions + The Voluntary Activities you do.Let me explain. Everyone is theorised to have a biological set point. On average this makes people happy around 60% of the time. But as you well know some people are naturally happy more often and some people happy less. This is because their set point is different. This explains why the phrase 'time heals all' was invented. It means that even after depression people often return close to their original level of happiness after a couple of years. Indeed this is true. It is also a justification of drugs, and one that I back. If your happiness set point is too low then there should be no reason for you not taking drugs such as Prozac to equal out this balance. The problem with drugs obviously is that we don't know exactly how they work. Otherwise a lot more people would be using them, and a lot more doctors backing them.Your condition of life is dictated by the things in your life that are constant over a period or your whole life, and henec you adapt to them. These conditions include the things about your life that you cannot change i.e. race, sex, age, disability, as well as some things that you can e.g. wealth, marital status and where you live.Voluntary things are the things you choose to do such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, taking a vacation or voluntary helping others.This does miss out ideas, perceptions and beliefs. And it is also difficult to measure. But it provides guidance and so is thefore not a bad formula on the whole.

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