Evil Rant

The Joy of Selfishness

"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."
      - Oscar Wilde

Humans are selfish creatures. Selfishness is the root of all human motivation (as explained in Concepts of Evil - Part One). Of course there are many who will deny this reality and opt for a more altruistic view of humanity. However, even many of those who understand that selfishness is an innate part of us all and who embrace it as such, often only look at it as a natural psychological element; something that comes to us instinctually, as a product of our own biology. Most people who understand the importance of selfishness still never seem to fully embrace it. It's as though they are reluctantly accepting an unpleasant reality, instead of rejoicing in a wonderful truth. To most, selfishness is something that's just "kind of there"; completely denied at worst and passively accepted at best.

I'd like to examine the benefits of approaching the idea of selfishness in a different way. To reframe it, not as something to be merely accepted or even embraced, but as something to be deliberately cultivated. What I'm suggesting is that we think of selfishness as a principle; a desirable human value.

Selfishness as a Principle

Some of you may be wondering: if selfishness comes so naturally to us, then what's the point of making it into a principle? The reason for this is that by elevating the concept of selfishness into a principle, we are giving it a greater and more deliberate status. When I say this, I am not so much referring to some sort of cultural status or perception, but status within our own, individual minds. Basically, we are placing greater importance on it and making it more significant to ourselves. We all hold certain principles and values, whether we recognize this or not. I tend to think that the more intelligent members of the population hold more deliberate or conscious principles. But regardless of whether your principles have been handed to you from some external source or you came up with them yourself, you probably take them very seriously.

You see, by reframing the concept selfishness into a principle, it goes from being "something that's just a part of being human... blah blah blah" to something that we should not only embrace, but work at. If selfishness is thought of as being a positive standard to which we should hold ourselves, it can become a very powerful and productive tool.

The benefit of viewing selfishness in this way is that it can streamline your decision making process in almost any situation and can become a powerful reminder of what is truly important. By making selfishness your core, all-encompassing value or principle, it can act as a psychological tool to help you stay on track and to circumvent any other values or principles which may distract from your goals and desires.

Here's a very simple example: Let's say you begin a conversation with someone and they express political views that completely appall you and that you are adamantly against. Obviously, if this is someone that you know and that can have a dramatic impact on your life, like, for instance, your boss; it would probably not be in your best interest to get into a heated argument with this person. But even if this is someone that you don't really know and you're reasonably certain that this conversation won't escalate into physical violence; is debating this topic really going to lead to your personal happiness and satisfaction?

Let's assume for a moment that you don't genuinely enjoy that type of drama and the answer is no. There's still an excellent chance that you will feel the urge to defend your political views and attack the other person's. How do you justify betraying your ideological loyalties by not speaking up and verbally defending them? Many people would probably come to the conclusion that it's just not worth it; and that is correct!

In that sense, their biggest priority is there own, selfish concerns. The objective result is ultimately the same as it would have been if they had adopted the selfishness principle. However, what went on in the individual's mind may have been significantly more haphazard and inefficient. We all have a tendency to want to internalize ideas and concepts that we're fond of and have a natural tendency to take it personally when we feel that those ideas are being threatened. We hold a certain loyalty towards them. But when we make selfishness our core and most significant value, that loyalty shifts to a value which is always aligned with what really matters; ourselves! It can help to train us to automatically cut through any other expectations or concepts that don't lead to what we truly want. Selfishness becomes the principle to trump all others.

Simple, Yet Effective

The thing that caused me to ultimately come to this idea was my desire to have a practical philosophical view that was simple and effective. You might say that I take an engineering approach to philosophy. My criteria for ideal philosophical views is that they have to be logically applicable to all situations, have to be simplistic enough to use quickly, in any situation and cannot, in any way, contradict reality (especially the realities of human psychology). Basically, I want an approach to life that "just plain works".

Lack of continuity with reality is one of the things that really turns me off about ideas concerning morality and goodness. These things always seem to lead to hypocrisy, double standards, confusion, frustration and other inefficient situations and feelings (and as you know, inefficiency is the great enemy of engineering). It seems to me that the only truly effective way to avoid hypocrisy is to align your standards and values with reality to the extent as to make hypocrisy virtually impossible. Having selfishness as your core principle accomplishes this task very nicely (not to mention the fact that maintaining any standard that doesn't ultimately serve your purposes is, by definition, pointless to begin with).

In my opinion, all principles and standards should be viewed as tools whose value is determined solely by how effective they are when used. But just because selfishness is your core and most fundamental value, does not mean that you can't have others. The trick is to make all others an extension of this most basic one. Selfishness becomes the root and the other principles or values that you hold are the leafy extensions of this base. Every other principal that you hold is dependent upon this principle of selfishness and should be tested against it to ensure uncompromising compatibility with your core value.

Note that humans tend to naturally base their other values and standards on selfish concerns anyway, but normally the process is much more convoluted and not nearly as deliberate or calculating as what I'm describing. For most people, selfishness or self interest isn't a desirable standard in and of itself. It's a neglected, subconscious foundation on which they carelessly and awkwardly pile their other principals and values.

Don't Worry, It's Natural

Selfishness is the personal standard upon which to judge all other personal standards. In a way, this idea is very intuitive. But it can also require a great amount of diligence to execute properly. On its basic level, it means consistently asking yourself the question: "Is what I'm thinking or doing really what I want and really working according to my own desires and best interest? And if not, then why the hell am I doing it?!"

The expectations placed upon us by other people or groups of people, can sometimes seem unreasonable, but it is often easy to give these other, less fulfilling standards and values the benefit of the doubt and just go along with them, complacently. Sometimes we can forget that we actually have a choice. After all, one of the chief functions of societies and cultures seems to be to dictate people's principles and values for them. By instilling in yourself the idea that selfishness is your key principle, it becomes that much easier to view other standards and principles in a different light. Because of this, selfishness becomes the most admirable view that you can have. You begin to see a kind of nobility in it; an honesty.

It's not God's principle, or society's principle, or your employer's principle, or your family's principle; it's YOUR principle! And it was designed with the express purpose of serving your own best interests; whatever you feel those might be. The biggest complaint that I could see that someone might have about this approach is if they genuinely believe in human altruism or that we're all somehow connected on some kind of spiritual level. My response is, "good luck with that" (and yes, your desperate need to believe that true altruism can exist in humanity is nothing more than a result of your, very unrefined, selfish desire).

Some people might say that this approach won't work because [insert any conceivable and most likely overly complicated argument in which this idea could backfire, here]. We must remember that by its very nature, the selfishness principle is designed to work in the individual's own best interest. That's its sole function. It's simply a matter of applying it properly to any given situation. And of course it always pays not to act in a way that seems too "blatantly selfish". So if selfishness isn't working for you, this doesn't mean that it doesn't work; it just means that you're not doing it right. Selfishness is ultimately one of the most pragmatic, honest and gratifying of all human attributes.

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- False Prophet

May 7, 2010