The New Altruism


IT is wonderful how often analysis proves our intuitive likes and dislikes to be correct. Now I have always disliked philanthropists and altruists without knowing why, and yet the reason is one that should be instantly obvious to any thoughtful man. The trouble is that they lack subtlety, and that there is no excuse for their “I am holier than thou ” attitude. Their altruism is all back end foremost, and that is why so many of them are regarded by a large section of the public as men who have not learned the difficult art of minding their own business. Instead of elevating those to whom they devote their attention, they make them feel mean and worthless, or else fill them with unholy wrath. Feeling that this was wrong, I investigated carefully and made the startling discovery that the true altruist helps his superiors rather than his inferiors.

Having a large and assorted collection of friends and acquaintances, I studied my relations with them, and found that when I felt called upon to advise a struggling brother, and elevate him to my own high moral and intellectual plane, I always felt personally uplifted and more inclined to reverence myself as a man, as Goldsmith so wisely advises. On the other hand, when circumstances made me realize that I was only a “ poor weak sister,” and my superiors came to comfort me after the manner of Eliphaz the Temanite, and Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram, whose name was no worse than he deserved, I noticed that they immediately began to swell out their chests and to feel better. Having observed this, it was not long until I discovered the great truth I am now doing my utmost to apply in conduct. I found that I could get as fine a philanthropic glow from permitting myself to be advised, and watching the beneficial effect on my adviser, as ever I did from giving advice myself. Of course I found it hard at first to give up the luxury of advising my inferiors, and still harder to submit to being constantly advised, but the subtlety of the scheme appeals to my artistic sense, and I look forward confidently to a time when I can meekly submit to having my finer feelings clawed over by such of my superior friends as I wish to help, and get all the strength I need myself from the consciousness of good work well and secretly done. Indeed I have accomplished enough in this line already to spur me on to greater achievements. One superior friend, to whom I have often listened meekly when he felt that I needed moral homilies, already feels so uplifted that he is about to take orders ; another who devoted himself to my financial affairs is looking forward to a successful career in Wall Street; and a third who has favored me with exhaustive literary criticisms has secured such a grasp on his art, and such confidence in himself, that he has already broken ground for what is to be The Great American Novel. If these men succeed, just think what a source of secret joy it will be to me to know that I am the cause of it all, and if they fail — well, I shall at least have revenge for all they have made me endure.

As for my inferiors, I by no means neglect them, as a hasty consideration of my scheme might lead the reader to suppose. No, indeed. I am gradually getting them all to consider themselves my superiors, an easy thing to do, by the way, and many of them are now uplifting themselves by lavishing advice on me.

But besides my inferiors and rapidly growing list of superiors, I have a few friends who are so comfortably self-centred that I have been able to discuss my altruistic scheme with them, and they seem to fear that I shall get into trouble. They hold that unless I take the advice that is tendered, I shall offend and discourage my beneficiaries, while if I take one tenth of it I shall land in a sanitarium, and have trustees appointed to administer my liabilities. That shows their lack of insight. The man that has once contracted the advice habit simply advises for the self-confidence and pleasure it gives him, and then goes forth and straightway forgets what he advised. Knowing this I feel privileged to do the same. Of course that is probably what I would do in any case, but it is a great satisfaction to feel that I have a philosophical reason for doing it.

Having explained briefly the scope and effects of my altruistic methods, I would like in conclusion to offer some advice to such readers as feel tempted to give them a trial; but to do so would imply that I consider them inferiors, and for that reason I must refrain. If any readers, however, feel moved to advise me as to how I might improve and amplify my scheme I shall be meekly delighted, and I feel that I may depend upon the courteous editor to forward their letters.