Selfishness gets a bad rap.
Socrates argued that whatever you choose to do, you did so because on some level you decided it was the best option for that moment. Even options that seem bad for you were the best at the moment, because they fulfilled your want or need to do something bad. This may seem cheap, even tautological, but what it really says is that everything--from our brightest moments down to our dullest--is an unavoidable manifestation of our self-ness.
Popular psychology has pretty much worn conversations of self down to the bone, which is problematic because it over-emphasizes the significance of past experiences. Sure, the past builds who we are, but just because you know someone's past doesn't mean you know their future. Thus, the past does not necessarily restrict the future. So I am going to simplify the definition of self to "awareness of a unique capacity for proactive reflection and reactive reflection." Sounds odd, however the concept of self is more than just your memories and your aspirations. It is your identity that is developed through engaging the present moment, whether or not you proactively initiate the engagement, or an outside stimuli does. Thus, when dealing with self-ness it is important to keep in mind that we are talking about more than just a name tag on a chest, but the phenomena of one's being. It is both your permanence and your changeability. This is significant because Socrates' argument is based on our every action representing a choice directly derived from our self, whether or not we are conscious of it. Our selves are thus revealed all the time, not just in moments where we subjectively believe they are revealed.
The act of developing and feeding this self can accurately be described as selfish, however it is a concept that is wildly misunderstood because it has acquired a toxic social mutation. It has lost its neutrality, and when it is spoken in public arenas it is assumed to be a bad thing. I remember trying to make an argument years ago how selfishness could be a good thing, but my poor communication skills combined with their snap judgment of selfishness rendered any argumentative validity moot. Still, selfishness, even from a biological standpoint, means nothing more than doing something to increase your welfare (well-being), either actively or passively at the cost of others. Before you say it is negative due to the "cost of the others", think of our actions as function of the limited resources of time, and commodities. Since we only have so much time in our lives, and there are a finite amount of commodities, it is impossible to do things--at least on a net-gain level--to increase everyone's welfare all the time. Competition is natural. So if I choose to do something today that is going to help me reach my goals, which somehow makes it harder for you to reach your goals, it does not necessarily mean I am a bad person, nor that you cannot reach your goals, just that we are competing over similar things. My selfishness may not be aimed at lowering your welfare, but instead at increasing mine, creating a hard-knocks scenario. Thus, when we affect others' welfare in costly ways, it does not necessarily mean every selfish act is detrimental or wicked. It may just mean that reality is challenging, and life sucks sometimes.
Thus, questions of whether or not we are inherently selfish are valid but extremely limiting, because they infer the premise that selfishness is inherently wicked. The term is definitely biased, because if you turn the scenario on its head you will find no one inquiring whether we are naturally unselfish or altruistic. I suspect there is a religious root to selfishness's stigma since Western religions--especially Christianity--are cynical and suspicious of man's ability to think and judge for himself without the guidance of a higher power. There may be other contributing factors to selfishness' toxic mutation, but it has been packaged as a hoarding, wicked concept, regardless of whether the accumulation of resources is good or bad for the self or others.
Since we have a self, and engage the present moment, we can't avoid being selfish. This is just another way of stating Socrates' argument. Our self-ness determines our self-ishness because it manifests our will. As you know, our wills can manifest in a myriad ways, creating an unlimited amount of combinations of costs and rewards, so selfishness is too vague of a criteria to use for moral and ethical evaluation. This tells us that we can be just as proportionately or disproportionately selfish as we can be unselfish. It is just that altruism and charity are heavily marketed Christian ideals, so the snap judgement made about them is that they are inherently good for everyone involved, despite the common knowledge that enabling is harmful.
Tolerance and discrimination are hot buttons words of modern culture. This means we're hyper sensitive to them. One thing to point out is that they haven't always been popular. Hate-based intolerance and discrimination were once the standard, so no one reacted to them with shock and disapproval. What's happened though is that our culture has become so sensitive to these concepts that it has disproportionately highlighted certain nuances, drawing us away from their actual meaning.
This boils down to tolerance and discrimination adopting ulterior meanings since around the time when human rights were being--rightfully so--enlightened. These concepts are at base tools of determining boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, yet they now have heavy social and moral implications.
Let's deal with tolerance first. Tolerance is used to describe the amount or limits of variation something can handle. For example, machined engine parts have certain heat tolerances. If an engine gets too hot, the oil can't lubricate and parts seize. If it gets too cold, the engine may also seize, should a lack of antifreeze be present. This type of tolerance is much simpler to understand because it applies to physical objects. There exist equations and formulas to specifically identify the tolerances of the objects, which we can't apply to concepts because they don't have specific physical manifestations we can use as points of reference, or what differentiates them from other concepts. This is why I think of our modern mistreatment of tolerance (and discrimination) as a product not of obscurity or complexity, but of us humans not completely ferreting out their meaning.
Tolerance inherently applies to multiple things crossing boundaries. Boundaries are crossed every single day multiple times a day, or as my teacher has said a million times, not only is conflict unavoidable and overlapping, but conflict makes up our reality. Entities and objects are constantly battling for space and resources, because that's just the flow of nature. So the fact that boundaries are constantly in conflict merely indicates the ongoing relationship of things within reality and that tolerance (and discrimination) are as natural for thinking beings as any other choice. Not that this process is inherently morally good for bad. This observation may sound trite and banal, but moral judgments are attached to tolerance as a matter of course.
Removing affects requires active intervention. Practice aloud, being conscious to avoid adding them. "The chair can only tolerate so much weight." Explain why objectively, avoiding subjective descriptors. Here's another: "The water supply can only tolerate so much runoff being becoming contaminated." Why? The purpose of such exercise brings tolerance into the forefront, allowing us to engage in more common conversations neutrally. The more we practice with it, the more we'll be able to detect the boundaries of those conflicting things, and won't feel so compelled to append subjective moralisms. Tolerance in itself is just a concept, but when it becomes morally charged through socially-compounded campaigns, we lose sight of the root of the concept.
Now let's move to discrimination. This one is even more charged. The term discriminate originates from the Latin discriminatum, which means to separate, or recognize a distinction. Huh? That can't be all it means. Well that's what the root of the word means. Again, socially-charged affects have weighted this concept down so much that telling someone you discriminate between cooking with extra virgin olive oil and light virgin olive oil will likely return looks of disapproval. But negativity has nothing to do with your discrimination, since each oil has different properties which are more suited to particular cooking tasks. Discriminating one over the other simply recognizes distinctions and acts accordingly.
A significant factor to discrimination's mutating is through the addition of the word "against." X is a bad person if they discriminate against Y. See what just happened? The distinguish nuance of discriminate was mutated through adding against, and since our culture is hyper sensitive to discrimination in any sense right now (hot button issue), then the affect experienced through adding against becomes wrongly merged with the core meaning of discrimination itself. Now, even when against is eventually separated, discrimination retains the negative, reprehensible tone. Even telling someone you strongly discriminate between skiing on real snow versus artificial snow will get you some suspicious looks. As in, "What's her problem?" Even though the texture of the two is different, the sheer fact that you discriminated is viewed by our modern culture suspicious behavior. Use a different word--distinguish--and you'll be welcomed and maybe even asked for advice. But use that hot-button word--discriminate--and saddle up cuz you're going for a ride.
So tolerance has slate-clearing exercise, does discriminate? Yes, although since discriminate is even more of a sensitive word in modern culture, the exercise has to be at least said aloud--so your ears can hear your words--but preferably in a conversation with another willing participant. Since discrimination is a cousin of tolerance in that they both apply to the boundaries and limits of categories, start by naming physical objects in a non-judgmental way. (I'm not advocating relativism, just temporarily suspending judgment to allow your mind to remember that discrimination isn't innately repulsive, reprehensible, or destructive). Here's a hint: If the word against comes into the conversation, you're not wiping the slate clean. Something like: "I discriminate between window X and window Y, because although they look and function similarly, the seal on Y is much thicker." When you excise and disqualify moral judgments and subjective qualifiers, you're forced to be more objective about the reality that's presenting itself. Clearly we get the impression the person buying windows will probably buy Y, but not because of any affect they brought into the store and applied to the windows. Based on evidence presented, the discrimination was made, because it fit a lifestyle that the thicker seal facilitated.
Both tolerance and discrimination are concepts that apply to categories in conflict. Although our modern culture has created many human-rights campaigns that address and reduce hate-based intolerance and discrimination, we may want to let up on the reins a little and give these concepts back their lives.
Any device that is socially rewarded, incentivized, or popular should be treated with suspicion because it advocates social collectivism; what this means is that some people are left out, whether or not they want to be. That doesn't mean that every concept a society advocates is innately destructive or exploitative, just that the body in power produces goods or ideals that pertain to the most amount of people possible, not every individual. In other words, popular social ideals are inherently utilitarian. This is not a dig against society, or a call for anarchy, just an observation that when a body in power rewards certain things, the followers outside the social bell curve will not find the reward as rewarding at those in the middle of bell curve.
I was challenged awhile ago to change the way I communicate; my qualifiers, metaphors, gestures, etc. In other words, change my entire orientation of language. How could it hurt? I think I just wondered what point it would serve. When I think, my meaning is clear, at least to me. Isn't that the case with most people though? Since our meaning is clear in our minds we're led to believe our miscommunications probably don't originate there. If our thoughts were really that clear though, wouldn't we always find the right words for what we mean?
Recalling the most frustrating conversations I've engaged in, they've all been from either having to define the meaning of, or prove the validity of, concepts I viewed as given. These are the basic things that I give cursory recognition because I see them as building blocks to the larger, more significant points. Yet, when critiqued of these smaller components--once I get over feeling unduly nuisanced--I've found that they are more alien than the more "significant" concepts. That's not to say I mastered the more complex ones. Ironically, once the more basic ones were shown to be flawed, the rest of my observation or argument just seemed...irrelevant. It toppled.
Is that where I want to be? Is that where any one of us want to be? I don't think so. I think we at least want the words and sentences that come out of our mouths to have some relevance.
The search for relevance doesn't necessarily have to be ego-based, in that we don't have to strive for attention, or be seen publicly as the best at something, or stack trophies on our mantle to find it in our lives. The relevance that sticks with us is that which is derived from asking (or being asked) the annoying, frustrating questions without prescribing an outcome. Not just dismissing the question or bullshitting our way onto "more significant" matters, but really thinking about those basic givens as if they are the most important thing we'll think about today. Because you know what? They are. They give us an adaptable mental faculty.
Whenever those questions are asked of me (pretty much by one person--my teacher), it puts things in perspective through revealing that no matter the complexity I believe I'm observing, if I refuse to focus on the things I assume, not only will the product of my investigation not be complex or profound, but my ability to actually observe those complex things when presented to me will either be absent or severely stunted.
I've found that struggles with self-relevancy and finding relevant things to say are usually undertaken because we haven't quite acknowledged out what we know or don't know. Since our mental faculty is unpracticed we reach out and try and bring one closer to us. But habits speak louder than words, and if you're trying to hide, they're the first to betray you. Look at what you do, that'll tell you what you believe, what you think you know, and what you value.
Changing the way we speak--our metaphors, our cliches, our examples--jogs our mind, giving us the equivalent of mental shock. It's results can and will vary. However, the whole purpose of shocking our mind is to reveal what we so quickly dismiss on a daily basis. One of my favorite exercises--the "they" exercise--makes you explain who they are each time you use the word. If you keep up with it, it gets boring, not because it has nothing to teach, but because they usually points the finger at some general villain that is not attacking you, nor is capable of defending itself. The exercise shows that they--when used as stereotype--is a myth, despite all the talk about it being a "fact" that blacks rape, and whites can't handle being in power. Admitting our givens aloud often reveals how flimsy they are. Saying them in our heads beefs them up because it's safe in there and no one's asking about their weak spots.
The goal of changing the way we speak isn't to act like someone we're not, but to pick different sets of clauses out of the myriad possible. It's so easy to get set into our comfort zone that we don't realize there's a multitude of ways to say the same thing. Granted, different nuances will have different implications, however the meaning in our heads doesn't have just one way of being revealed. It has many. When we get stuck in our comfort zones we stop believing that to be true. Thinking about the givens and assumptions we make when we speak shouldn't make us feel ashamed or irrelevant, yet empowered because really what's happening is we're cleaning and improving the tools that allow other tools to come into existence.
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