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I'm continuing my reporting on the next installment from Conservative Estimate, the recently founded website that is devoted to demolishing Conservatism.

Last week, Alfred George began to examine the Myth of Self-interest, the belief that everyone acts out of self-interest, but the combination of all these self-interested actions results in the best possible outcome. He showed that Self-interest cannot be the fundamental motivation for human beings, that it is just a synonym for selfishness, and that it has an undeserved respectable reputation because it is often confused with “enlightened self-interest.”

Today Mr. George shows that people who believe this Myth are miserable, whether or not they know it.

Let us skip over the swirling orange design to discuss his argument.

Since the Myth of Self-interest is so unfounded, as Mr. George showed last week, one would think that few people would be inclined to believe it. On the contrary,

there are plenty of believers who are quite pleased with themselves for having understood the deep secret that the suckers have failed to comprehend—the power of complete selfishness. Unfortunately for them, nothing is harder to break, nor more certain to be smashed if ever broken, than self-satisfaction.
Such people will become isolated by their selfish behavior:
Most decent people do not like to be around someone who treats them badly. Those who do are self-debasers, whose adulation could not really satisfy the needs of such an arrogant “strong” personality, since it is the adulation of a weakling who doesn’t know the Great Secret of being totally selfish.

Indeed, the only person who could possibly have a relationship with a die-hard believer in the theory of Self-interest would be another person who is in on the Great Secret. But a person like that would be totally selfish too. As a consequence, the two of them would never be able to form any sort of bond that didn’t debase the other in their own eyes, because as soon as the one of them did something for the sake of the other, the recipient would lose all respect for the giver.

When is it possible for such people to learn that behaving as they do makes them isolated and miserable? Only when their self-satisfaction is smashed:
Only when they come to see that their habit of selfishness always leaves them feeling empty and unsatisfied. Only when the ache of loneliness or the sting of dissatisfaction becomes more painful than the pleasure of self-satisfaction at knowing the Great Secret. And if that never happens, then they remain the same predominantly selfish and self-torturing people until the day they die.
A miserable life: that is the wages of living according to a lie.

You can read the whole post here:

Tomorrow Mr. George promises to discuss why believing the Myth of Self-interest makes friendship impossible, and how it poisons life unnecessarily.

I'll be reporting back each day as a new installment appears.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Did you watch them babies on (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magick Maven

    "60 Minutes" last night? Very interesting. A curious mix of fairness, altruism and fear of the other even in people who's age is measured in months. Gaga was right. We were born that way.

    We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

    by PowWowPollock on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 03:55:14 AM PST

  •  Selfish, self-interested human beings (4+ / 0-)

    can get political power, and they can form groups that pursue policies that work against the common good. In Federalist 10, James Madison gave a name to such groups and he said that the principal design goal of the Constitution was to control their effects. He call them factions, and he defined them thusly:

    By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
    His "scheme of representation," as he called it, was designed to control factions. Here, he revealed the heart of his solution, and by extension, the heart, the dangerously diseased heart, of our republic: the power of the People is to be delegated to a small number of citizens by means of elections. He explained that this delegation of power could have two results. Here is what he said about the first one:
    The effect of the first difference [delegating power to a small number of citizens] is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.
    This proposition is many things. It is highly desirable, highly contingent, and highly unlikely. It depends on getting just the right people—wise, discerning, patriotic and just—who will do the right thing. It seems natural at this point to expect, to hope, that Madison would launch into an explanation of how his system would put the right people into office. But he didn’t have such an explanation. Instead, in the very next sentence, he said, “On the other hand...”
    On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.
    So the nature of our government depends entirely on the nature of the men who control it. This is starkly clear, but Madison’s statement is virtually unknown. I will wager that almost no Americans are now, or have ever been, acquainted with this important warning—I will double the bet by saying that no American at all can recall any national politician ever making reference to this essential point in any campaign speech. Madison’s system did not provide protection against factions gaining power—he said so himself.

    Of course Madison was right in general. If we elect men who are wise, who can together seek and find the true best interests of the nation, who are patriotic and just, and who will rise above temptation, we will have a government that works for the People. But, “if” is not good enough. By Madison’s own admission, the new government had to control the effects of faction—if it failed to do so, it would perish. His scheme of representation would work if, and only if, we put the right kind of people in office.

    So, selfish people can be miserable and mean, and they may not have many friends, I really don't know. But they still can get political power and they can still make life miserable for others. Our problem lies in our political system. Madison did not have a way to control the adverse effects of faction and they have done great harm to society over the years. We need to find a way to finish what the Framers started. We need to find a way to control the effects of faction.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 05:04:16 AM PST

  •  Really?? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "people who believe this Myth are miserable whether or not they know it".

    I am not sure how that works. If someone is happy in their life of self interest how can we say they are miserable, when they aren't?

    I think there is also the issue that some people who believe the Myth have determined that treating other people in a thoughtful and fair manner is in their self-interest.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 06:57:31 AM PST

  •  Unalloyed self interest is counter-survival (0+ / 0-)

    but it is an inherent human trait.
    It's not the only human trait.
    Sharing is also inherent in us.
    It's the balance between Me and US that determine's our characters and keeps our society functional.
    Socialism needs capitalism and vice versa.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:25:22 AM PST

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