Why Self Interest is the Root of All Evil

by TessaSchlesinger

During the past thirty five years, narcissism and self-interest have become the norm. They are slowly and efficiently destroying not only civiliation, but humanity

From time to time, someone will appeal to my self interest. “But if you do it this way, people will like you.” “If you write it this way, you will win the competition.” “If you stop doing that, you will get more followers.” “If you behave in this way, you will gain respect.” “If you sell that, I can pay you 10% commission.” And so it goes. Throughout my life, I have had one response to this. I have done exactly the opposite to what was requested or suggested, often sabotaging my own life in the process. Why is that?

There are two reasons. The first is that by appealing to my supposed self interest, they have suggested that I have a lack of integrity by putting my own well-being ahead of the well-being of the rest of humanity, and the second is that they are trying to manipulate me by appealing to my ‘self-interest’ so that they can get what they want. In reality, it’s their own interests they are serving, not mine, and not humanity.

Manipulating Others by Appealing to their Self Interest

My parents owned quite a large store and it was my pleasure and enjoyment that when I needed pocket money, my father would make me work for it. Sure he provided me with the job, but although peers received a monthly allowance, I was expected to work for my pennies.

My jobs would be anything from filling envelopes with monthly accounts to standing behind the small goods counter and serving customers. So I grew up loving to serve people (sales).

Imagine my shock when, in the 80s, sales management trained one in manipulation. For that is what it was. If someone says no, don’t respect them enough by accepting their decision. No, one must ‘find the objection by probing.’ And if there’s no logical reason for them to have the product, then find an emotional one. Perhaps one could appeal to their darker side – wanting to be better than their neighbors, greed, etc.

Ever had a boss try to tell you to do something? They’ll start off with a compliment, and when they think they’ve flattered you enough, then they’ll ask you to do something that you normally wouldn’t consider. Of course, if you’re the sort that succumbs to flattery, you’re dead in the water.

Can the interests of an individual nation be reconciled with humanity's greater good? Can a patriotic, nationally elected politician really give people in other countries equal consideration?

When is Self Interest Unethical? When the few benefit at the expense of the many

Self interest is unethical

Ethics are rules that enable human beings to live together in a state that leads to the greatest chance of survival. This is called ‘the greatest good.’ Behavior and actions of individuals which lead to many people in the group becoming angry or jealous, or any other negative emotion often results in violence. When violence erupts in a small community, it breeds fear and distrust. This negative affects the ability of the community to flourish.

Remember the fiasco in 2008 when many people lost their homes, their shares, their jobs, and their self respect? Well, that was the result of many people serving their own needs, i.e. self interest!

For the most part, when one does something for one's own advantage, somebody else loses.
Self interest is doing something for one's own advantage
Self interest is doing something for one's own advantage

Doing the Right Thing NOT the Self-Interested Thing

Do the right thing not the self-interested thing

There’s a reason that all religions discouraged self-interest. They encouraged doing the right thing rather than the self-interested thing. Sure, sometimes when one did the right thing, it turned out to be good for oneself as well. But over the medium to longer term, when everybody is being led by self-interest, what one lands up with is a fractured community, with those with the strongest self-interest living at the expense of those who are more giving.

For instance, if CEOs did the right thing, they would pay a livable wage to their employees. Sure, they would earn less, but they would still survive and they would still have more than their employees. The end result would be a stronger group of people, thereby enabling a greater chance of human survival. 

Of course, sometimes doing the right thing also plays into one's own interest, and there's nothingwrong with that. It's when self-interest benefits oneself but not the larger group that it is evil.

Milton Friedman's ego gets in the way of understanding the question. He belittles, interrupts, purposely misudnerstands, and distorts the question.

The Argument between Self- Centeredness and Self-Interest

Self Centeredness vs Self-Interest

Some have been convinced that self-centeredness is the issue, not self interest, and that without self-interest, people will do themselves grave harm. That is simply not the case.

Essentially, at this point, people do not want to know that self-interest works against the social contract because it would mean that they would need to give up their own self-interest.

As defined earlier in this piece, the only time self-interest is okay is when one is doing the right thing for all concerned and then it benefits oneself as well. When one is self-interested in any way at the expense of someone else, is becomes evil. And for the greater part, self interest is generally at the expense of others.

You show me a majority of examples when self-interest serves the majority of people.

Ayn Rand: The Doctrine of Selfishness

Ayn Rand, evil to her core

There will always be people who try to justify their own greed and self-interest. So, despite 2000 years of Christian theology that taught people to do what was right rather than look after their own self-interest, when Ayn Rand, an insane narcissistic personality came along, it was the perfect excuse to focus on their baser natures. They were only to keen to forget about the common good for the sake of their own private profit. Rand taught that if everybody were self-interested, this would all work out for the good of mankind because, somehow, by looking after their own interests at the expense of everybody else’s interest, everybody would benefit.

That’s rather like saying, “If everybody used their cars to go to work in the morning, there would be less traffic on the road.”

Self-interest, as all religions and schools of ethical thought have taught throughout the ages, is a negative behavior because in the medium to longer term, it contributes towards the destruction of the group. The old saying is, “Nero partied. Rome burned.” That is what self interest does, and the greater the number of people driven by self interest, the closer the day of reckoning.

One of the characteristics of self-interested people is that it is inconceivable to them that there are people on this earth who have no self-interest. They will, therefore, be completely unable to comprehend good people.

"What is my responsibility?" all we ask is, "What serves my interests?" When incentives don't work, when CEOs ignore the long-term health of their companies in pursuit of short-term gains that will ...

My Negative Response

So, yes, when someone appeals to my self interest, I have two very strong emotions. The first is an awareness of a deep insult made to my supposed lack of integrity in that I would put my own interests above the interests of others, and the second is a deep resentment at an attempt to manipulate me for their own self-interest. 

The sad thing is that at this point, the little good there is gets lost in the mass of bad motives. Where once upon a time I would gladly accept a compliment, these days, the moment the flattery starts, I walk away - generally with contempt for the person giving the compliment. And the moment someone appeals to myself interest, I lose every ounce of respect for the person who seems to think that they're going to get me to respond positively to their request.

Updated: 04/30/2013, TessaSchlesinger
 
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TessaSchlesinger on 04/07/2014

Excellent definition.

frankbeswick on 04/07/2014

C.S.Lewis thought that evil involved the ego expanding at the expense of others.

TessaSchlesinger on 04/07/2014

Thank you, Nate. :) Always nice when someone sees the same thing. :)

NateB11 on 04/06/2014

Yes, you are correct about self-interest destroying the world. People with ever-growing egos and identities, trying to build themselves up are creating violence and deprivation, competition and struggle. Inevitably it creates division. The division creates war and poverty.

TessaSchlesinger on 04/30/2013

Thank you, Hollie. Your comments are always welcome. Doesn't Friedman's arrogance just blow your mind away? And, no, of course, greed is not instinctive, although some people would like to believe it is in order to justify their leaning towards it.

HollieT on 04/30/2013

Hi Tess,

Reading your page reminds me of the movie "Wall Street" Remember one of the most icon lines which came out of that movie? GREED IS GOOD! Greed became the new religion in the 80's, and now we're all paying.

I don't, personally, believe that greed is instinctive. Survival is instinctive, but there's a notable difference between the two. Maslow's hierarchy of needs illustrates this well. After basic survival/emotional needs are met, our other needs are not needs at all, but wants. Greedy and selfish individuals like Rand and Frideman are not as evolved as the rest of us. In which part of their lives have they had to worry about meeting the basic needs of survival, such as feeding yourself or your children, keeping a roof over your head? Their whole lives are about obtaining their hearts desire, money and power, then more money and power. Eventually these people will implode.

If we look to nature we will consistently see that the animal kingdom makes lots of sacrifices for their young, or their pack. Their success as individuals is wholly dependent on their success as a group. or a family.

Another interesting and well thought out page, there should be more of them on the internet.

TessaSchlesinger on 04/30/2013

Catana, you're actually the one that is defiing self-interest incorrectly. Have you actually looked it up in the dictioary?

From Dictiionary.com
self-in·ter·est [self-in-ter-ist, -trist, self-] Show IPA
noun 1..regard for one's own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.
2. personal interest or advantage.

Note that the first meaing is doing something for one's own advantage ESPECIALLY with disregard for others.

From Miriam-Webster dictionary
Definition of SELF-INTEREST

1: a concern for one's own advantage and well-being <acted out of self–interest and fear>
2 : one's own interest or advantage <self–interest requires that we be generous in foreign aid>

Again, the word is defined as doing something for one's advantage - not for one's survival.

From freedictionary.com

1. Selfish or excessive regard for one's personal advantage or interest.
2. Personal advantage or interest.

From: Oxford dictionary
Definition of self-interest noun one’s personal interest or advantage, especially when pursued without regard for others.

These are all the main dictionaries. To have self-interest means you put your interests ahead of others, and they are at a disadvantage because of it.

.Your quote:
"As long as you accept the current universal equivalency of self-interest with greed, selfishness, etc.,"

My Comment
And as long as you continue to ignore what the word has meant for a century and still continues to mean as evidenced by all the dictionaries above, I guess you'll go on believing in self-interest. I'm almost willing to bet that someone told you that self-interest was a good thing and you were at an age when you didn't question it. Possibly you've lived your entire life believing that self-interest wasn't harmful to others.

Self-interest is absolutely and utterly not a biological imperative. It never was and it never has been. Survival is, yes, but self-interest, as defined by ALL dictionaries is not survival.

TessaSchlesinger on 04/30/2013

Catana, you're actually the one that is defiing self-interest incorrectly. Have you actually looked it up in the dictioary?

From Dictiionary.com
self-in·ter·est [self-in-ter-ist, -trist, self-] Show IPA
noun 1..regard for one's own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.
2. personal interest or advantage.

Note that the first meaing is doing something for one's own advantage ESPECIALLY with disregard for others.

From Miriam-Webster dictionary
Definition of SELF-INTEREST

1: a concern for one's own advantage and well-being <acted out of self–interest and fear>
2 : one's own interest or advantage <self–interest requires that we be generous in foreign aid>

Again, the word is defined as doing something for one's advantage - not for one's survival.

From freedictionary.com

1. Selfish or excessive regard for one's personal advantage or interest.
2. Personal advantage or interest.

From: Oxford dictionary
Definition of self-interest noun one’s personal interest or advantage, especially when pursued without regard for others.

These are all the main dictionaries. To have self-interest means you put your interests ahead of others, and they are at a disadvantage because of it.

.Your quote:
"As long as you accept the current universal equivalency of self-interest with greed, selfishness, etc.,"

My Comment
And as long as you continue to ignore what the word has meant for a century and still continues to mean as evidenced by all the dictionaries above, I guess you'll go on believing in self-interest. I'm almost willing to bet that someone told you that self-interest was a good thing and you were at an age when you didn't question it. Possibly you've lived your entire life believing that self-interest wasn't harmful to others.

Self-interest is absolutely and utterly not a biological imperative. It never was and it never has been. Survival is, yes, but self-interest, as defined by ALL dictionaries is not survival.

Guest on 04/30/2013

Individual survival is a basic, *biological*, instinct. That's self-interest. I keep saying that you have to go beyond that, but you seem to ignore that. Yes, in some cases, people sacrifice themselves for others, and in some cases it's necessary. But species can't survive on that basis. As long as you accept the current universal equivalency of self-interest with greed, selfishness, etc., we have nothing further to discuss. Psychology isn't even considered a viable science, and "schools of thought" is a good clue as to why. There's no *science* to interpretation, and that's mostly what psychology boils down to, or there wouldn't be so many schools of thought. Its schools of thought are as valid as arguments about theology.

BrendaReeves on 04/30/2013

Cantana, I think maybe the self-interest you're talking about is really self-care. We have to take care of ourselves as well as others. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. As an example, if we work for a living, then we can help other people out who are less fortunate. Here's an example of abuse: I sold Mary Kay cosmetics at one time. The senior supervisors pressured all the representatives to buy as much product to sell as we could knowing that we weren't going to be able to unload it quickly or at all. MK comes out with Holiday products that simply don't sell very well, but we were encouraged to load up on the product.

Congress gives themselves a raise every year while denying it to millions of others working for the government and on Social Security. Republicans want to do away with SS and medicare completely. These people are not living in reality. They're oblivious to the fact that many people will be out on the street when they are forced to retire. Before SS a person had to work until they dropped dead. My great-grandfather worked in the coal mine until he was 95 years old which is when he dropped dead.

The medical industry rips off Medicare and the public by marking products and services up to where they are making outrageous profits. There used to be usury laws in the U.S. Credit companies couldn't charge people more than about 14% on credit cards. Then the politicians let them in their pockets. Now these companies are charging 30% interest.

If those in power don't wake up, they are going to have a revolution on their hands very soon.


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