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.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new essays.