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Ayn Rand had once stated something along the lines that these individuals often purported to be acting selflessly by joining this organization but that it was often a facade for the purposes increasing occupational or educational goals later.(Having peace corp listed on your resume is pretty much akin to having an Angel stamped on there). This however, I feel does not address this issue sufficiently. What is the overall perspective on the matter of the Peace Corps and the individuals who join it given that the motivation for improving one's own career prospective is not always the case. Should this be seen as purely an altruistic system and therefore denounced in favor of other forms of achieving the same goal (helping those in developing countries)?

asked Nov 30 '10 at 22:22

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦

edited Dec 01 '10 at 11:33

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Ayn Rand's view of the Peace Corps was strongly negative. More than once, she referred to Peace Corps members as "those selfless little altruists," an expression meant to be pejorative. There are three main references that I know of in the literature of Objectivism where Ayn Rand expresses her evaluation:

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Chapter 12, "Theory and Practice," p. 137.
Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, chapter titled, "The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy," p. 127.
Ayn Rand Answers, p. 119.

Considering copyrights, the relevant excerpts are too lengthy to quote verbatim here. Interested readers should look them up. The essential issues are:

  1. The Peace Corps is not a proper function of government.
  2. The Peace Corps and its actions are altruistic.
  3. Altruism is destructive of man's life.

It is sometimes claimed that altruism can be egoistic, as, for example, in "bolstering one's resume" by citing one's Peace Corps accomplishments. The above-noted reference in Ayn Rand Answers mentions this. I maintain that such an approach is a perfect example of a principle that Ayn Rand concretizes in detail in Atlas Shrugged: the sanction of the victim. By sanctioning altruism, one sanctions one's own destroyers. A typical, conventional employer who nominally apologizes to altruists might well say to a young job applicant: "Your involvement in the Peace Corps is all well and good, and our company definitely endorses social responsibility and giving back to the community, but please explain how your Peace Corps experience is relevant to enabling you to perform productively in the position you are seeking in this company." Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged surely would not care one wit about Peace Corps work as a job skill in his company. See, for example, what he says about his brother Philip's job qualifications.

Most employers tend to look for the "three C's" in job applicants: competence, cooperation, and commitment. Peace Corps work may demonstrate at least two of the C's in "humanitarian" work, but would likely have limited or no relevance to competence in performing productively in business and industry. Peace Corps work, for most young students, is more likely to be a hindrance than a help -- a major distraction from developing relevant job skills, depending on exactly what kind of role one is seeking in business and industry, and depending on how clearly one understands just how deeply destructive of man's life altruism really is, both for oneself and for any altruistic employers one may seek to aid and abet.

answered Dec 06 '10 at 01:44

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Ideas for Life ♦

I can think of several nonselfless reasons for joining the Peace Corps As you point out, some do it for the resume factor. This is not unlike those who enlist in the military for purposes of job experience, resume factors, and other benefits. This sounds to me like an objective benefit for all parties. Some do it for the pleasure of helping others to improve their lives. A friend of mine spent two years in the Peace Corps after his retirement. He worked in a position very similar to that he had filled in his career. As a result of his work, a number of communities now have reliable electrical supply. He is quite proud of this achievement and does not consider it to have been selfless nor altruistic. Some do it for job training and experience. Depending upon the assignment, there can be real life training for future careers. Somewhat analagous is my volunteering in Habitat for Humanity where I have learned a great deal about home construction and used this knowledge in renovations on my homes. I did not receive any carpentry training in medical school and residency so this training has been quite valuable to me. Some do it in order to have a couple years maturation and experience before embarking on careers. For many, this experience is more valuable than the traditional one year or so bumming around Europe or elsewhere. Finally, some consider their work completely selfless and altruistic. I suspect that many of them tire of the experience very early and do not find much reward from the Peace Corps experience.

As far as national altruism, I believe that the benefits to the US from Peace Corps volunteers are invaluable for our national reputation. It is one hell of a lot less costly than sending an army and more likely to be received with gratitude.

answered Dec 01 '10 at 22:00

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ethwc ♦

I was under the impression that Objectivism opposes government programs such as the Peace Corps because they are not involved with the protection of individual rights. Those aspects of government that Objectivism holds are legitimate are involved with the use of retaliatory force to defend individual rights. The Peace Corps (which I believe is financed with tax dollars, another Objectivist no-no) is hardly concerned with the protection of individual rights.

(Dec 01 '10 at 23:43) Michael Labeit Michael%20Labeit's gravatar image

Two issues with your comment. 1. Most of my response was directed toward individuals who participate in the Peace Corps and whether they do so simply for resume padding. 2. Protection of individual rights can be effected in a number of ways. In nations where education, nutrition, and hygiene are poor governing powers are virtually always suppressive if not worse. With improved education, nutrition, and hygiene, citizens begin to demand more individual rights. My impression of the Peace Corps is that most of its projects are directed toward these type activities.

(Dec 02 '10 at 16:48) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

it sounds to me like a government version of salvation army. I don't see why it needs to exist when any other voluntary charity can pretty much do the same

(Dec 02 '10 at 19:08) Michael Michael's gravatar image

Michael makes a good point: if the PC were a private organization set up for people to voluntarily give their time and assistance to help people, I am sure this would be prefectly fine. The fact that it is a government charity places it in the same league as foreign aid and other collective do-good schemes (most of which seem to achieve the very opposite of their stated goals).

(Aug 01 '11 at 10:38) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Look at what the Peace Corps really is: an agency of government that takes tax dollars from productive Americans and uses that money to pay wages and buy equipment that's used to "improve" life in some generally far away place.

I view this as immoral primarily because it's government supported. If someone wanted to volunteer their own money, time, and effort to do something similar, because they valued some remote community, then that would fine and moral. But using money extracted through taxation to do the same thing is just pure altruism (the sacrifice of a higher value for a lesser one).

The fact that some Peace Corps workers get useful experience or "credit" on their resume is secondary; it's still immoral, because they are using someone else's resources to achieve those things. Remember, government is a gun. If I pointed a gun at you and said "give me some money; I'm going to go install an electric power plant in some poverty-stricken country," would your "good" intentions make your theft moral? Objectivism says no, definitely not. If I can't control my own property (money), how can I control my own life?

As a secondary issue, I would be surprised if Peace Corps programs work anywhere near as well in the long term as their sponsors like to claim. Providing benefits to people who didn't earn them, and often didn't even ask for them, is a recipe for disaster on many fronts.

answered Aug 01 '11 at 03:07

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

So...it's far away? That's why taking a teaching position in the peace corps is worse than taking a teaching position as a graduate assistant at a public college, or a teaching assistant at a public high school?

(Aug 01 '11 at 20:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Yes, although being "far away" is a secondary factor to the source of funds (I really mean far away in the sense of values, not distance). Is it better for you and those you care about to educate people in communities you value (such as the ones near where you live), or is it better to educate people in a community you don't value?

(Aug 02 '11 at 07:31) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

I don't see how "overseas" equals "not a value". You say yourself that someone might value "some remote community" (and I'm not even sure what "some remote community" objectively means). Many of the products I use every day were made, at least in part, in "some remote community". The installation of an electric power plant in some poverty stricken country is most certainly a value to me. It may not be as big of a value to me as laying fiber optic cable in my neighborhood, but that doesn't mean that someone is immoral for doing the former as opposed to the latter.

(Aug 02 '11 at 09:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As I said in my answer, if you value people in some far-away area, then it's certainly not immoral to do work that supports them; the primary immoral aspect of the Peace Corp is the source of funds, not the work itself. I mentioned the "far away" aspect because in my experience, many people who volunteer to do this kind of work do not in fact value the areas they're working in; more likely, they're doing the work for altruistic reasons or out of some sense of duty.

(Aug 02 '11 at 09:53) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

And the source of funds argument applies to police officers, military, rocket scientists, astronauts, teachers, fire fighters, hospital workers, judges, EMTs, road construction workers, etc.

(Aug 02 '11 at 10:20) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If a thief uses stolen money to pay you to be a teacher, is your job moral? Objectivism says that the end does not justify the means. There is a significant element of immorality in performing (or offering) a job that is paid from taxes. In a proper government, funds for jobs related to that government, such as police and military, should come from voluntary sources, not extorted at the point of a gun. Rocket scientists and the rest shouldn't work for government at all.

(Aug 03 '11 at 01:03) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

some of those you listed are proper functions of government (fire fighters, teachers, hospital workers, road construction workers and EMTs are not legitimate functions) and even then taxation isn't the best way to go about funding them. The peace corp is simply not a proper function of government. If it was a private organisation there would be no problems

(Aug 03 '11 at 01:03) Fareed Fareed's gravatar image

"If a thief uses stolen money to pay you to be a teacher, is your job moral?" Yes. At least, it can be. You haven't given enough information.

"The peace corp is simply not a proper function of government." No, it is not. Neither is, to simplify things by using one example, the fire department. Are all fire fighters immoral?

(Aug 04 '11 at 11:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image

By the way, for the Objectivist position on the morality of taking a government job, see "The Question of Scholarships" by Ayn Rand. In it, Rand says "it is proper to take the kind of work which is not wrong per se, except that the government should not be doing it, such as medical services; it is improper to take the kind of work that nobody should be doing, such as is done by the F.T.C., the F.C.C., etc."

(Aug 04 '11 at 19:06) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Rand also says there that a man's job is immoral if it consists of "propagating ideas he regards as false or evil". It's unclear to me if a Peace Corps job consists of propagating the idea of altruism, as opposed to, say, the idea of charity.

Leonard Peikoff has stated, on one of his podcasts, that the program is explicitly altruistic. But quickly browsing their website I was not able to confirm that. In fact, I read that "The safety and security of Peace Corps Volunteers is our highest priority." And even so, the question is whether or not volunteers are required to propagate this idea.

(Aug 04 '11 at 19:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Nov 30 '10 at 22:22

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Last updated: Aug 04 '11 at 19:26