Happiness versus Altruism

Not sure where I came across this headline recently:

Happiness is paying your taxes, study suggests

The study is over a year old, but the ideas in it (like most ideas) are timeless. I suppose we should note at the outset that this research on the subject comes from Oregon, a place not averse to taxing people (similar to the rest of America). From the article:

Contrary to the common notion that paying taxes can be a painful experience, researchers at the University of Oregon say the practice actually may trigger feelings of satisfaction and happiness.

“Paying taxes can make citizens happy,” Ulrich Mayr, a professor of psychology, said in a release accompanying the study in the Friday issue of Science.

Hmm, I wonder where the good professor’s paychecks come from… It might be wise to follow the money trail here, as in all things involving government and claims of altruism.

Mayr said the findings show people are willing to pay their taxes as long as they support good causes. The authors noted, however, that the results may have differed if people had been presented with a tax that seemed less fair or benevolent.

This is why it’s so important to make moral distinctions, which almost never happens among those who favor taxation. The main question is this: Is taxation voluntary or not? The answer is of course quite obvious, given all those people that have been made very unhappy by governmental “officials” who seek to lock them in cages for years simply because they didn’t want their wealth taken from them. Taxation is extortion, plain and simple. Otherwise, it would be voluntary, like charity and gift-giving, and one’s life wouldn’t be destroyed by thuggish people if one chose not to participate.

“People are, to varying degrees, pure altruists. On top of that, they like that warm glow they get from charitable giving. Until now, we couldn’t trace that in the brain.”

What exactly does it mean, in relation to one’s happiness, to be a pure altruist? Again, if we define the term properly in the context of a rational ethics of self-interest, it is nonsensical—for to be altruistic is to be selfless. An ethics of duty and obligations to others can’t spring from one’s own happiness.

However, if we do value our own health and well-being, we’ll likely become happier. And the happiness that we cultivate will likely lead to a life filled with benevolence as well as generosity. 

I was thumbing through a little book that a friend (who’s a therapist) gave me, titled intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other by Osho. Ok, so this book is chock full of the epistemological confusion known as Zen, even though oftentimes the intentions of the “mindfulness” philosophy are quite good (focusing on mind/body integration, for instance). But I was really impressed by one section, which is titled “Be selfish.” Osho wrote: “Selfishness is natural. Yes, there comes a moment when you are sharing by being selfish. When you are in a state of overflowing joy, then you can share. Right now miserable people are helping other miserable people, the blind leading others who are blind. What help can you give? It is a very dangerous idea, which has prevailed throughout the centuries.” “…I am not against sharing, but I am absolutely against altruism. I am for sharing, but first you must have something to share.”

Of course, the idea of forced sharing is beyond morally ridiculous—it is evil. No one, no matter what they call themselves, has a right to your property or a claim on your time and life. Things should be done in a peaceful society according to the trader principle, not the violent creed of savages. Yet people in governments throughout the world and those who support them believe otherwise, and they desperately want everyone to buy into their coercive scheme known as taxation.

The study by Mayr and his colleagues is titled Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, the researchers observed the brain activity of 19 women who were given a balance of $100 each. The researchers created the effect of taxation by making mandatory withdrawals from their account. The withdrawn money was actually sent to a food bank’s account.

Participants also made additional choices about whether to give away more money or keep it for themselves.

Talk about confounding variables! Taxation and voluntary giving are moral opposites, yet these researchers lumped them together. At least they openly admitted to the nature of taxation by “making mandatory withdrawals.”

The study found that two reward-related areas of the brain — the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens — lit up during the taxation test. These areas are typically activated when a person experiences feelings of satisfaction, as they do after having eaten a meal.

“The fact that mandatory transfers to a charity elicit activity in reward-related areas suggests that even mandatory taxation can produce satisfaction for taxpayers,” the study said.

Or maybe the feelings of satisfaction came from the denial of personal responsibility that taxation fosters. Once the dastardly deed of extortion has been done, then it’s all up to the faceless bureaucrats to do “good works,” right? I suspect that these research subjects, like most people indoctrinated by governmental memes of blind obedience to “authority,” had pretty thoroughly integrated the ethics of “civic duty,” which relates directly to the selflessness of altruism. In other words, as long as one is perceived by one’s peers and the “authorities” as having done the “right” thing (i.e., allowing money to be extorted from them for the “greater good” or “general welfare of society”), then everything’s ok, then one is a “good person.” This just goes to show that explicit ideas about altruism and subconscious premises about the virtuousness of (coerced) sharing can create false-self feelings of satisfaction. Such feelings are not much different than a drug user who just got his fix. This is not about living consciously and authentically.

Does anyone seriously believe that a happy person of self-esteem would feel satisfied after having their money extorted from them? Thus, in order to hide to this moral contradiction, extortion must be given a different name, as well as connoted with being virtuous (“paying one’s taxes”). Obeying “authorities” is seen by “others” as important and beneficial. Disobeying “authorities” is unacceptable and frowned upon by “others.” Of course, this moral con game is exposed once one understands that “authorities” are merely other people, biologically no different than oneself. We must always be aware of the anatomy of slavespeak.

When the participants voluntarily gave the charity more money, the activation area was larger — a finding that, according to the researchers, sheds light on why people make donations.

“These transfers are associated with neural activation similar to that which comes from receiving money for oneself,” the study said.

Making donations is an entirely different ethical action than allowing one’s money to be stolen for an allegedly good cause. The former fosters particular values that one wants others to achieve voluntarily. The latter is morally and politically contradictory (unjust) and therefore can only lead to further destruction of individual rights, destruction of personal responsibility, and destruction of the pursuit of one’s own happiness.

Happiness is always about the individual, never about the collective (of individuals). The end never justifies any irrational, non-voluntary means to obtain it. If we are to live happier lives as reasoning beings, it must be within a more respectful social context than the one that we experience presently. Outside the contrived context of the psychological and neurophysiology laboratory, there are real people with real lives, lives that are adversely affected by people who desire to use coercive threats and guns to gain values. In order to live authentically, we must be honest with ourselves and others about such harmful interactions.

All psychologists should be yelling from the mountaintops about the deleterious nature of ethical contradictions and institutionalized injustice in society—that is, if they truly care about people’s happiness.


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