Home » Philosophy » Ethics » Can ‘We’ Be Selfish?

Can ‘We’ Be Selfish?

I need to try this argument out, because I am being driven crazy by a pattern that has developed in my conversations with rational people.

The pattern is, when arguing about morality, to observe that I identify specific benefits to myself of caring for others. Those rewards (such as joy, a sense of purpose, and spiritual strength) are interpreted as evidence that I am simply being selfish like everyone else.

There are two points to be made here. The first is to assert the definition of selfishness. From OxfordDictionaries.com, we have:

lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure

In other words, to be selfish is to disregard the effects of our choices on others. When we are selfish, the survival and rights of others are of no consideration when we set out to acquire resources or satisfy our bliss. In fact, that lack of consideration is an important psychological element in preparing us to destroy others in the service of our self-interest.

The lie of selfishness is that acquisition of power and pleasure makes us better prepared to survive. Raw power can serve any purpose, but requires skill in the wielder. If we focus only on power, we never learn to channel it in acts of creation, because to create is to consume power. We are required either to share our power with those that have learned to create, or fall into the terrible abyss of acquiring resources through the destruction of the people that hold them. The latter course ultimately renders us powerless, because without people we have no means of converting the resources that we have accumulated into value.

The second point is that of the three benefits of caring for others, joy and purpose are entirely subjective. Only spiritual strength is a resource to overcome life’s challenges. But spiritual strength arises as a projection from those we serve. It is to assert “Yes, I want this person in the world.” That good will follows us around like a cloud, and pushes against the will of those that seek to harm us.

As that description makes clear, spiritual power is contingent upon our continued commitment to consider the well-being of those that affirm us. It is to assert reciprocally “Yes, I want this person in the world.” It is to surrender some of our spiritual power to them.

The proposition of “We” is that the individuals in mutually supportive communities enhance their odds of survival by distributing power. In that state, the selfish have no particular reason to target any particular individual, yet when we face difficulties we have the pool of distributed resources to draw upon. And when resources are plenty, our creative efforts are amplified by the inspiration of others.

Of course, there are no guarantees. What happens when the challenges facing the community overwhelm its resources? Who is going to survive? To the loving person, facing the loss of all that they hold most dear, the response is simply “Who would want to?”

The promise of religion, of course, is that surrendering the flesh under those circumstances opens the gates to a far better reality. The power we store in things is lost when we die. The power conserved in our spiritual relationships endures.

Why do we feel driven to believe that acting in our self-interest is selfishness? I think that rather the opposite is true: we have been so indoctrinated to believe that “greed is good” that we simply cannot accept that selfishness (the belief that only “I” have any meaning) is just a really stupid idea. Our self-interest is in nurturing a caring community. It is to submit the needs of the “I” to the “we.”

6 thoughts on “Can ‘We’ Be Selfish?

  1. Well said. Many people struggle with that concept because it is a paradox, it is circular rather then cut and dry. People do tend to believe they are acting in their own self interest when they are disregarding others, but that is a deception. Pursuing greed for example, refusing to be kind to others, etc. It is selfish, but it is also self destructive. On the other hand, letting go of yourself and giving to others can be fulfilling, joyous, and make your world a better place. What separates selfishness and non selfishness is how much self is in that equation.

    • Thank-you, IB. I am relieved that we see the situation so similarly.

      I’m not satisfied with what I wrote, though. There’s a spiritual aspect that I have trouble relating. Spirit loves variety of expression. It enjoys “hanging around” (kind of literally) creative people. That creativity may be so small as simply to affirm the things that we value in someone else. It is through this process that “goodness” comes into the world. The community becomes like a big bulletin board that invites collaborative spirits to join it.

      This story I heard in a radio interview with a Russian woman comes to mind. She said that when she and her husband were young, they had nothing. It was cold during the winter, and they didn’t have enough food to eat. But every night he came home and embraced her in a “cloud of love.” They didn’t feel cold or hungry. They were in love.

      The stupidity of selfishness is that it offends the sensibilities of those angels that keep and strengthen us in love. We are left with only the most crude forms of power.

      Ack! I’m about to have a Bill the Cat fit! I just drives me so crazy!!!!!

  2. It would seem that “I” versus “We” can be viewed as the human conditions’ struggle with the ego self versus presence. It’s that isolating mind construct that creates suffering and illusion through a seperation from our true essence of being. Eckhart Tolle studies can shed more light on the topic and help perhaps in the awareness of this conditioning. Ultimatley, thoughts are just thoughts, it’s how one reacts to them that causes the restlessness of the mind…Enjoying your blogs.

    • The mind (that is the ego) wants to believe it is some how special and some how separate from everyone else. This is the great illusion as the truth is we are all connected back to the unity of source. Thanks for reminding us…

    • I read that story as a child. I’ve since learned never to trust people that talk to me like I’m a jackass. It’s usually a posture intended to establish social leverage. Negotiating difficult issues always requires trust, something that cannot be established in the mind, where everything is evanescent. Fortunately, the heart makes possible things that the mind fears to realize. The most complete and structured statement of my philosophy is out at http://www.everdeepening.org.

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