Altruism the Pretender

Joe said, “Jane, did you hear about all those people starving in that town in China? The Red Cross is asking for donations. We should do something.”

Jane asked, “Why?”

Joe replied, “Altruism says we should help others, and these people are others.”

Jane: “You mean they’re strangers, about whom we know nothing. Are we supposed to pretend that nothing is something, that unknown strangers are known friends and loved ones?”

Joe: “Yes! You’ve got it! Altruism is all about pretending! It’s about pretending that you love a stranger, pretending that you care about millions of people you will never meet or know, all the while pretending that you’re not pretending!”

Jane: “What is good about that?”

Joe: “Who cares about being good? It’s the pretending that counts.”

Jane: “Why?”

Joe: “Because everybody approves of you, and you need approval.”

Jane: “Who is ‘everybody’?”

Joe: “Others, strangers, people you will never even meet.”

Jane: “How do we know if they approve of us or not?”

Joe: “We don’t. We have to use our imaginations.”

Jane: “So, altruism is about approving of yourself in your imagination for helping total strangers.”

Joe: “Yes. Pretending, using imagination, is the essence of a morally good life.”

Jane: “But why do we need approval?”

Joe: “Hmmm. Now that I don’t know. Just pretend that you do.”

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