The term Pathological Altruism has been bouncing around in the alternative media for a few years now, and how especially Westerners have been afflicted by it. Pathological Altruism is the psychological malady of mostly caring about people you only know as abstract concepts and have no actual connection with, such as starving Africans, poor Muslims or the oppressed gay community. On the other hand, you’re not supposed to care about your own, your nation’s or your neighbour’s well-being. To do so is either meaningless, or even racist.
I think at the root of this phenomenon are two factors: self-loathing and the feeling of inability to affect the world in any significant manner. The West has been wallowing for decades in White Guilt due to its transgressions in the past. I agree that the West’s contemporary history has a lot to be ashamed of, from imperialism to world wars to socialism and capitalism/consumerism. However, bitching and whining how evil we are isn’t going to solve any problems, looking at our mistakes and rectifying them will.
So much of the West is afflicted by self-loathing, and on one hand we like to flagellate ourselves over our real and imagined sins, but on the other we like try to alleviate them with imaginary good deeds such as giving money to charity. Yet giving isn’t really doing anything. You’re not acting in the real world, most likely you’re just pressing a button or clicking a mouse and numbers are transferred from one bank account to another. Ultimately then this whole self-loathing thing is meaningless. The only thing it does is make us miserable.
Helping others is noble, I’m not bashing that, but I’m saying we’re really not helping others. Either we’re just throwing money away, or giving emotional support to some random “humanitarian” campaigns (Kony 2012), and your emotional support doesn’t mean much. Let’s take an example from the Japanese tsunami/earthquake/nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011. All the world felt sympathy for Japan and everyone donated money. Here in Finland too there were Red Cross workers standing at street corners collecting money, and I assume Finland wasn’t an exception. It’s nice that people care about Japan, I certainly do since I lived there for a year, but ultimately your emotions are worthless. What makes a difference is action, such as the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, in the Fukushima disaster. A few hours after the disaster occurred the Yakuza sent trucks with food, water and blankets to help the people who were suffering. Supposedly they even were the first to give aid to the people, not the Japanese government, the Red Cross or any professional organization that should do it. This means organized crime is actually more moral and humanitarian than any of your ideologically correct organizations, or the bleeding hearts of the West. Of course, if you live in Europe or America you can’t just drive your car there to help people in Japan, and that’s the point; your emotion is meaningless. If you cannot physically help the Japanese, how about physically helping someone within range.
Our generation (I was born in the early eighties) is the TV-generation. We’ve learned to be passive observers, instead of active actors. I think this is for two reasons: we’ve used to watching TV, playing computer games, voting at the ballot box, paying money to get what we want, and expect someone else to do it. My grandfather and his generation fought in the Second World War, but my generation plays games and watches movies based on the war. My grandfather’s brother built a house for himself to live in, but we just buy or rent a house someone else built. The second reason is that we feel the world is already so crowded with institutions, formal ways of doing things, and laws that there isn’t room for us to express ourselves. If you want to affect society you’re expected to join some political party and become part of the system. You want to be a musician, you have to prostitute yourself to the record companies. Thankfully this is changing thanks to the internet and Youtube and all that, and people are more able to express themselves by themselves, but we still have these institutions in play.
So how are these things connected to Pathological Altruism then? Since we feel self-loathing, we neither want to take care of what’s good for us, and alleviate the feeling of guilt by emotionally and ideologically supporting all sorts of benign-sounding efforts without actually doing anything about it. We’re also used to being passive, so we unconsciously prefer to support causes on the other side of the world so we can say we are doing the right thing, but as we are physically so distant from the starving Africans we don’t actually have to anything about it. Countless times I’ve seen Westerners be morally outraged by the human rights violations committed by China or North Korea, but when it happens in the West, most people just ignore them, because deep-down they realize were they to admit Western governments are just as reprehensible (possibly even more so) than those authoritarian or post-totalitarian regimes, they’d have to do something about it. And toppling tyrants isn’t easy, safe nor enjoyable.
Deep down Pathological Altruism is a psychological method of keeping the status quo of emotional complacency, yet deluding yourself you’re actually doing something.
Even Japan’s Infamous Mafia Groups Are Helping With The Relief Effort: http://www.businessinsider.com/japan-yakuza-mafia-aid-earthquake-tsunami-rescue-efforts-2011-3?IR=T