Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Anne Hathaway on Doing What You Love Never Being a Sacrifice

Stuart K. Hayashi

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it.  But, as Amy Peikoff pointed out, a recent interview with Anne Hathaway seems to suggest that the actress understands an important truth about sacrifice.

In conventional language, people often speak of giving up anything as a "sacrifice."   If parents give up some leisure time they wanted for themselves in favor of spending quality time with their kids, lots of people call that a parental "sacrifice."  But, as Ayn Rand pointed out in Atlas Shrugged, it isn't.  It is not a true sacrifice in the circumstance that the parents value their children more than they value that "alone time."  They give up the "alone time," a lesser value, for their greater value, which is the well-being of their children.  Far from being a net loss to your life, this is actually a net profit in terms of long-range happiness.  When an entrepreneur gives up a unit of merchandise he values less, to gain the revenue he wants more, the net gain in value is a profit.  The same logic applies to this emotional tradeoff.

That is an important distinction, because to call that rational tradeoff a sacrifice is to conflate it with the very serious sacrifices that the collectivist leaders of our culture often demand of you.  When the advocates of collectivism call for sacrifice, they invoke some arbitrary duty of yours to abdicate your greatest values to appease some "higher good" that you actually value less.  When they demand that you give up your precious time to take care an adult relative that has shown you nothing but cruelty since childhood, for example, that is a sacrifice. You relinquish what you value more (your time) for something you value less (a cruel person with whom your sole connection is blood).

When you are expected to give up your time and possessions to that which you value less -- such as strangers or an endangered subspecies of bog critter of which you care nothing -- that is a sacrifice.    It's bad enough when people try to extract such sacrifices through social pressure.  But it's particularly grueling when the government imposes such sacrifices by the threat of physical force.  Remember that laws and taxes are ultimately enforced at gunpoint.

Naturally, people recognize that benevolent tradeoffs are necessary in life.  Sometimes you do have to give up important-but-lesser-values, like your time, to care for entities that you know yourself to value more highly, like your children.  When someone labels those necessary -- and still self-interested -- tradeoffs as sacrifices, that encourages that person to psychologically equivocate those tradeoffs with the real sacrifices: the arbitrary demand that you turn over greater values to lesser ones.  A true sacrifice requires a victim.  The very word victim comes from victima, which means sacrificial animal.

One might charge that such a distinction simply amounts to semantics.  A critic may say that the sacrifices I inveigh against are "undesirable sacrifices," whereas the benevolent tradeoffs I speak of, wherein someone spiritually profits by letting go of lesser values to gain greater ones, are "desirable sacrifices" or even "sacrifices that are profitable in the long run." I recall that religious-right conservative apologist George Gilder even states that when an entrepreneur makes an investment and pays off his business expenses -- all in the quest for future profit -- the short-term expenses amount to "sacrifice."  But that's silly; "ultimately desirable sacrifice" is a conflict in terms.  To say that an action is a "sacrifice" is to categorize it as undesirable per se.  Ayn Rand's interpretation makes more sense.

This brings us to Anne Hathaway.  Perhaps she does not agree with me, or would not approve of my interpretation.  After all, she even hosted a fundraiser for the 2012 re-election of President Obama. :'-( But I like her particular choice of words in this interview, beginning at the 37:51 mark:

Caitlin King, Associated Press, interviewer (referring to Anne Hathaway cutting off her long hair for Les Miserables):  "That's exactly what he's talking about; making sacrifices for the roles that you're passionate about.  Can you talk about those sacrifices?"

Anne Hathaway: "They don't feel like sacrifices when you're making them. I mean I love what I do for a living, and getting to transform is one of the best parts of it.  So I never think about it like that."

Incidentally, Anne Hathaway publicly praised The Fountainhead in 2005 (see here) and, despite some unspecified reservations, Atlas Shrugged as well in 2012 (here).