It is often assumed that people are selfish. Especially in modern times, since we are expected to want more money, sex, success, new technological gadgets, and a lot of people do want those things. But most of them do not want them out of selfishness, but because they feel obliged to want them. It is the collective which imposes these artificial needs onto people, and makes you feel like there is something wrong with you if you do not.
I wrote about this stuff in my e-book Concordia ab Chao, which can be found at the bottom of the blog, over 3-years ago. I am not particularly proud of the very amateurish way I expressed myself it in the book, but I stand by most the basic ideas I highlighted back then. Anyway, let’s get back on track.
Many of the desires we have nowadays have been made up by the masterminds behind consumerism. Sure, we all want sex, money and success to some extent, but we are trained by society to want more than we need. This is hardly a revelation to most people, but the solution isn’t to go to some pseudo-spiritual retreat where you learn to let go of your selfish desires. We should rather embrace our selfish needs, which simply are the things we need.
Selfishness is not a negative thing, nor does being selfish necessarily mean it will create conflict with other people. Selfishness is merely acting according to one’s nature. Is a wolf selfish if he wants to catch a rabbit to feed himself? Should we tell him to stop living as a wolf should because it hurts the feelings of the rabbit? Conversely is the rabbit selfish in an egotistical way if she escapes from the wolf and leaves him to starve. Should we tell her to stand still and fill the wolf’s stomach?
We become confused by consumerist values and ideas not because we are selfish, but because we are too empathetic to what other people expect of us. Sometimes we simply have to say “no” to things that are not in our best interests. It may hurt someone’s feelings, but so what? If those people truly care about you, they’ll understand.
I call it False Selflessness when you do something that potentially harms, because it you believe it helps somebody else. A fine example of this occurred in Texas couple of months ago when a Yoga studio had to cancel its Bollywood-themed party because someone thought the party could be offensive to South Asians. I’m not sure if any South Asian was offended, but simply because some nebulous entity somewhere in the constellation of Eredanus might feel offended something we shouldn’t do anything. This hypothetical thing that may or may not happen is more important than things that actually do happen, since I’m pretty sure a lot of people felt offended, hurt or disappointment by their party being cancelled. But no-one wants to be the bad guy and point the obvious.
Another thing I’ve heard here and there is when people justify the insane policies of governments and their corporate cronies: “It’s good for the economy.” And therefore you should shut up and sit down. First objection is, are we sure the policy is good for the economy? Second, which overrides all else is: why the fuck should we care if it’s good for the economy if it’s clearly bad for human beings. But we don’t want to be selfish, we don’t want to upset the economy.
For the last couple of decades it’s been fashionable for Westerners to be concerned about people suffering in third world countries. Feed those starving African children! Free Tibet! Support Palestine! Compassion and hatred of injustice is a good thing, but alas many people are content feeling an emotion of compassion for the less fortunate, donate some money to charity, and watch a Help Aid gala on TV for some Noble Cause™. Sorry to break it to you, but those things do nothing. If you really care about an issue, I suggest you actually do something about it. Like Ken O’Keefe and Max Igan, they actually went to Gaza and did something, instead of simply feeling an emotion that makes them feel spiritually higher, or give money to some global organization.
I call this Emotional Consumerism, although I’m sure if it’s really an accurate description but it sounds funny. It’s about caring about a distant cause that you cannot, or will not, do anything about… partially because it is distant to you. It gives an easy way out. You can think of yourself as noble, but since it happens over there and you are here you cannot be expected to fix it. And should you try to fix the problems in your own country and neighbourhood, you’d have to get your hands dirty, so you’ll manufacture an excuse of self-sacrifice and not caring about your own well-being.
How is Wanting an iPhone selfless?
You might be wondering how False Selflessness is connected to the stuff I mentioned in the beginning about wanting consumer goods. It’s all tied to the same basic phenomenon, or the same emotion: trying to fulfill the expectations of somebody else. And usually not even an actual person, but an abstract concept like starving African children or South Asian who might be offended. You want iPhones and knickknacks because you are told they are the status symbol for a successful person. You want to give money to people you’ve never met, because that’s what a good person is supposed to do. But they’re not the thing you want to do (with the small exception of the people who actually have done something). A few people actually go to Africa to build wells and stuff, which is great. The rest of us who don’t, we shouldn’t flagellate ourselves because we are not as altruistic as them, since actually it would merely be a manifestation of our envy of seeing them as better people than us. Both the False Selflessness and consumerist desires are based on envy and the need to be socially accepted by an abstract entity.
You have to find what is good for you. Don’t feel constrained by a nebulous measuring stick that is always out of reach, especially since we don’t know who made those standards in the first place. I’m sure J.R.R. Tolkien did selfishly what he wanted to do. He didn’t prostrate in the ground, asking The Collective what is generic and inoffensive to do. His books have inspired countless people from all walks of life for over 50 years. I’m sure anyone can find plenty of examples of when people did exactly what they wanted, and it ended up befitting others. That’s just how life works.