Oakley defines pathological altruism as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm." A crucial qualification is that while the altruistic actor fails to anticipate the harm, "an external observer would conclude [that it] was reasonably foreseeable." Thus, she explains, if you offer to help a friend move, then accidentally break an expensive item, your altruism probably isn't pathological; whereas if your brother is addicted to painkillers and you help him obtain them, it is.
As the latter example suggests, the idea of "codependency" is a subset of pathological altruism. "Feelings of empathic caring . . . appear to lie at the core of . . . codependent behavior," Oakley notes. People in codependent relationships genuinely care for each other, but that empathy leads them to do destructive things.
Yet according to Oakley, "the vital topic of codependency has received almost no hard-science research focus, leaving 'research' to those with limited or no scientific research qualifications." That is to say, it is largely the domain of pop psychology. "It is reasonable to wonder if the lack of scientific research involving codependency may relate to the fact that there is a strong academic bias against studying possible negative outcomes of empathy."
In other words, not only is the road to Hell paved with good intentions, it's enabled by evil liberals who are too twisted to see what they are doing (or too emotionally cauterized to care) whereas brave, noble conservatives believe in personal choice and FREEDOM and stuff.
In other words, the theory becomes an awesome justification for Randian selfishness by allowing the less fortunate to crash and burn in their attempts to better themselves. Even worse, helping people is actively evil, enabling them to fail and waste your time and resources.
Pretty cynical worldview, even for wingers.
Pathological altruism is at the root of the liberal left's crisis of authority, which we discussed in our May 20 column. The left derives its sense of moral authority from the supposition that its intentions are altruistic and its opponents' are selfish. That sense of moral superiority makes it easy to justify immoral behavior, like slandering critics of President Obama as racist--or using the power of the Internal Revenue Service to suppress them. It seems entirely plausible that the Internal Revenue Service officials who targeted and harassed conservative groups thought they were doing their patriotic duty. If so, what a perfect example of pathological altruism.
Oakley concludes by noting that "during the twentieth century, tens of millions [of] individuals were killed under despotic regimes that rose to power through appeals to altruism." An understanding that altruism can produce great evil as well as good is crucial to the defense of human freedom and dignity.
And with such a binary worldview, you can't lose. Just dismiss your critics as despotic murderers whose good intentions are really genocidal fascism, and you can't lose. Of course this applies to Obama and his supporters, and it hits all the lizard-brain pleasure centers of the right. They'll love this, it's the new Bell Curve or Liberal Fascism of the decade: altruism is really the most evil force on Earth.
Ayn Rand beat all these fools to the punch decades ago, but who's counting?