This is an analysis of altruism I wrote to a school newspaper, slightly modified for E2 :

Altruism. It is a noble concept- an idea that nearly everyone would agree upon as a Good Thing. I am not going to dispute its meaning, but its worth and to some extent its validity. Many people swear that giving is the greatest good, a virtue above all others. That sounds wonderful in principle, but some part of me just doesn’t accept it. Before you start to conclude that I am an arrogant, selfish elitist, please take heed and consider my following words.

Why do people give? Some do for the sake of friendship, others simply because they feel it is right. Regardless of one’s own motive, does one not give in order to receive? Whether it is to gain a meaningful bond, or to fulfill the requirements of your moral code, or simply to generate a positive emotion, the harsh reality is that a profit always exist for the giver. Thus, the sacred, admirable selfless act does not truly exist.

The counterpoint to the prior claim is that of all selfish acts, giving without expecting anything in return is the least selfish, and therefore still the most virtuous. To those who stick by this belief and live by it, I am going to present an alternative approach to live virtuously that hopefully, just maybe, even a priest can accept.

Some are obsessed with activism. They push the grim truths of wretched humanity found across the globe into our little secluded world. Indignantly they try to expose this suffering to the community and are perplexed and utterly dumbfounded as to why we don’t do something about it. The non-activists see this raw injustice in every gory and loathsome detail, and their spirits are moved, but they do not act. Perhaps some fear to, or others just don’t care. Why do their souls not twist and cringe in agony, and why does their every limb not feel compelled to help those who are in need?

The answer to this seeming flaw in human nature is quite simple, but not easy to accept. Every person on this earth has their own individual interests, or their own “niche” in society. Whether one wishes to be a doctor, a librarian, an activist, or even a priest, their intentions are still individualistic. The beast of capitalism aside, all these roles serve society- they give, and the only thing they expect in return is their own personal gratitude for a job well done.

The key to understanding why altruism is limited is this: To follow your individualistic needs is fundamentally to give without expecting anything but personal gratitude (remember that any giving always involves at the least an emotional gain). There is virtually nothing a person can do that will not somehow benefit another. Even if a person commits unjust acts, do others not learn from it? Thus, if your individualistic ideal is to be activist in the pursuit of altruism, so be it- but consider that it may not be mine, although I will still contribute to society the way I want to.