I'm continuing my reporting on the next installment from Conservative Estimate, the recently founded website that is devoted to demolishing Conservatism. Today, Alfred George begins his attack on the conservative Myth of Self-interest, showing that Self-interest is not a powerful motivator to excellence, as Conservatives believe, but merely a front for the vice of selfishness.
It is but a little step over the intertwining orange strokes . . .
At the end of yesterday's installment, Mr. George said that the Conservative Myth of Scarcity, was just the predicate for an even more pernicious and far-reaching Myth: The Myth of Self-interest. Today he begins to attack this next Conservative myth, showing first that it cannot be the case, as many like to think, that all human action is based on Self-interest. Then he shows that Self-interest is just a front for selfishness. And finally he demonstrates that Self-interest is not compatible with morality.
Mr. George begins by defining the Myth of Self-interest.
Everyone acts out of self-interest, but the combination of all these self-interested actions results in the best possible outcome.And then he goes on to characterize its appeal.
You can see why this belief is so attractive. It lets people imagine that they don’t have to devote much, or any, attention to the needs and desires of others. Indeed, for some people it has become more or less a doctrine of faith. They actually believe that they—and everyone else—have no other responsibility but to act for their own self-interest. Some other power—history, or fate, or God, or something they just don’t think about—is responsible for working it all out for the best. It’s sometimes used as an excuse for not having a conscience, or as a refutation of the whole idea of personal responsibility to others.Why is Self-interest not the basis of all human action? Because if you really believed this you would have to admit that you have no right to judge others, since they are only acting out of Self-interest, just like yourself.
Almost no one except self-centered adolescents without real life experience can live with this consequence. How many people do you know who can resist judging others, even if they espouse the Myth of Self-Interest? Yet if they judge others, they are contradicting the Myth they say they believe.Next Mr. George shows that Self-interest is not really different from selfishness.
This alone shows that this belief cannot possibly be true: no one can really live according to it without contradicting himself.
There is no real difference between self-interest and selfishness. The only distinction is that the Myth allows people to believe that the disgrace that attaches to selfishness doesn’t apply to self-interest. And that lets them admit to being self-interested while at the same time denying they are selfish. . . .An finally, Mr. George shows that the Myth of Self-interest is simply immoral.
The most significant effect of the Myth is that it frees up the conscience. Believers no longer need to apologize for being avaricious, combative, ruthless, intolerant, offensive, mean, or generally anti-social, because, after all, the theory requires them to battle for their selfish desires.
People who maintain that they actually believe the Myth and who try to justify selfish behavior by insisting on some theory of self-interest are really just trying to keep their consciences from bothering them. Indeed, the volubility of their arguing is usually an accurate indicator of how much they have done to make their consciences bother them.
The Myth of Self-interest is, in fact, completely incompatible with just about any decent system of morality that one could imagine. It is simply an abdication of responsibility for one’s actions toward others to adopt the position that the only law you need to pay attention to is the law of following your own interest. And it is utterly inhumane to insist that you are part of some vast but unidentifiable “system” of the universe that will adjust everyone’s selfish ends in order to come up with the best possible overall result. To believe this is to reject the notion that we are responsible for our choices.You can read today's whole post here.
Tomorrow, Mr. George will begin to relate the history of the Myth of Self-interest, to show how it has become confused with the the notion of "enlightened self-interest," and how it fails utterly as an explanation of all human behavior.
I'll be reporting back each day as a new installment appears.