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The Selfishness of Selflessness

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posted on Apr, 9 2009 @ 08:04 AM
I apologise for taking so long to respond and then some more for not having done this in alltogether more friendly 'cooperative' ( hehe) tone.

Originally posted by Illusionsaregrander
I disagree that Welfhard is projecting his own selfishness outward on this issue.

I was wrong of me to not be more specific in stating that we as human beings are more likely to think that others are as we are; it is after all the basis of social interaction to project how we feel and would react onto others. That is why people find the world to be as they believe it to be and why the original poster is apparently willing to admit to his less than 'stellar' expectations of the rest of humanity. In my experience good people, that means the vast majority( as moderated by their means or absence of them) don't stop trying to be charitable and cooperative because their efforts are not being reward as soon or as they may have expected.

I think we are using the term selfish, and selfless much more broadly in this argument than people do in common discourse.

I think it's the other way round as in common discussion selfishness is a distinctly bad thing and also presumed to be at least partially self destructive. That's why religions are all based on selfless action thus in my opinion attempting to once again co opting our natural tendencies. Always strange how faiths make themselves out to be the origin of morality or civil/moral standards of interaction when even the earliest records of human beings shows our social nature; perhaps wild dogs ( who bring food to their injured and sick till they get better or die) believe in God too?

The average person would consider it selfless to give your lunch money to someone on the street and do without that day. We are taking into consideration things like whether the "selfless" individual is actually expecting some reward.

I think the question should rather be 'when' they expect any kind of repayment in kind? Helping out in close social of family groups is naturally more likely to be as good for you as it is the group but there are plenty of apparently 'selfless' action where the reward 'scheme' isn't in any way distinct; perhaps we instinctively know that we may derive a long term reward but who's to say when or if at all? . Sure we can say that guilt or a other emotions come into play but there are many ways to express such emotions that might be more obviously rewarding. I think it's very simplistic to say or suggest that all of our actions are in fact selfish or self interested based on what has been said so far; it certainly doesn't seem to be knowingly so in terms of planning.

Did they get a good feeling from the act? Do they believe they will be rewarded in heaven or by "karma?" Was someone watching them and they now look good or noble in that persons eyes? Stuff like that.

So shouldn't this lead us to ask why people get 'good feelings' when they help others, believe they will be rewarded when they die (which they do their best to put off for as long as possible) or find it necessary to impress others with their acts of charity? Let's rather ask why it seems to be our nature to inspired/impressed when we observe the charitable/self sacrificing acts of others? Why don't the vast majority of us , if we were selfish( knowingly or unknowingly), reject such acts as 'selfish' or worse? Why do our leaders get away with lying to us again and again and again and again if we were not inherently trusting that they were mostly unselfishly trying make things better for everyone?

Commonly, we dont consider people who do things superficially selfless "selfish" but then we dont commonly go very deeply into that question.

Oh i think the majority is mostly taken in by superficial deceptive shows of 'selflessness' just as they are taken in by the sworn statements and declarations of those they attempt to elect to better their communities. Perhaps you can see a way to argue that the problems of the world are due to people being entirely selfish, instead of just being very much misrepresented in government, but as far as my reading goes actual polls of the world population just consistently shows that people are by no means being represented by their so called elected officials. In fact we should ask what planet their from.

We actually are not "all" about that, it isnt all about the good of the group. It is in large, "what is best for me" and the fact that we are social of necessity means that "what is best for me" often is the same thing as "what promotes the competitive edge of my group."

Well perhaps it is time we deal with example's then as i can't seem to think of obvious critical examples where the good of large majority of the group ( lets say tribe/nation, it becomes more interesting on tribal/national interaction levels) diverges significantly from that of what individuals may expect at that moment in history. It seems to me that it is normally the minorities that have wildly diverging expectations or 'needs' that creates societal upheaval and all that unsociable behaviour trough their uncompromising stance. But perhaps you have good examples?

I dont think selfishness is commonly considered to be bad for the individual and the group.

I can't think of a single instance where someone has been called selfish without ill will being intended. Being called a selfish person is always used in a derogatory fashion where i come from but perhaps in the more 'evolved' capitalist societies, where self determination at the cost of everyone else is acceptable, it may be considered a compliment or somewhat acceptable?

I think it is most commonly considered putting ones own interests ahead of the interests of all others.

Considering one's own interest and comparing that with those of your neighbours before choosing a compromise you think they will find acceptable or understandable may be wrong but isn't in many cases selfish; doing what would benefit you economically, or otherwise, that leads to others being hurt or economically disadvantaged is definitely selfish and normally. Basically this is why the current incarnation of capitalism can never be made to work amongst social creatures.

I think selfishness is commonly considered to be "good" for the individual, and "bad" for others. I think a lot of what we have been arguing here is that that is just too artificially simplistic.

What i am perhaps trying to suggest too subtly is that selfish actions can never be 'good' for a social creature; he may derive economic benefit, temporary security or the admiration of others but it can not and does not lead to a emotionally stable individual that is accepted by his community. That probably best explains why one does not meet happy selfish people?

How are our economies set up to benefit the group at the expense of the individual?

It's the other way round; the focus upon individual 'rights' , if they have economic power to gain their enforcement, comes at the expense of the large majority of human beings on Earth. Certainly in some countries the numbers who can enforce these rights are large but in the main they were created to defend the large majority of people.

If you look at human interaction, you dont see fundamentally cooperative creatures, you see creatures that are also trying to walk a line between getting as much benefit as they can, while giving up the very least they can.

Well i don't see that but what i do see is masses of propaganda and 'cultural imperialism' that attempts to create this new 'norm' you have apparently already accepted as intrinsic; the entire rest of human history not apparently playing much part in this conclusion. I see fundamentally cooperative creates that are limited by their tribal brains that are perpetually trying to create groups ( 'part of my tribe'& everyone else) so as to best make sense of the world. Our minds are not adapting as fast as the size of our 'tribes' have increased but we most certainly have loyalties to far larger groups ( people we could never all meet) than we ever had before. I think that says something about shared identities and cooperative behaviour as norm as i just don't see how the risk of dying for a nation of tens of millions ( plenty of others to die in your stead) can feature at all in the mind of a fundamentally selfish creature.

Look how unwilling people are to consume less in order to "buy American" or buy less crap from WalMart to support local business and higher local wages, etc.

They worked 8-10 hours a day at a job they overwhelmingly don't like so that they can ''buy American' to support the enrichment of the very same American corporations who own the factories of the Chinese made goods? Why would people who are mostly unhappy about how life is just passing them by ( Americans can't be happy as happy people don't keep falling for the same imperialist claims of foreign enemies; Americans think their real and to blame for their troubles hence their resentment) buy American instead of trying to fill the hole in their lives with as much cheap goods as they can lay their hands on? Sure you could probably convince a satisfied happy individual to support a local producer at some cost to himself but just how effective would even that be if the media of that town or nation kept telling that individual that he could feel even better if he just bought more and more 'things'? Why are we surprised that people have become rabid consumers when we know that drug addicts will compromise their security and prosperity to dull their emotional suffering for as long as they can?


posted on Apr, 9 2009 @ 08:18 AM

If you look at our actual behavior, we often act against our collective interests for short term personal gain.

Sure we do as we are not full time cooperative suckers either. I think this depends in great part on the resource availability and the level of independent action allowed. What is commonly called 'selfish' in our western resource rich societies is in my opinion mostly a expression of how we can allow each other more freedom of action when environmental neccesity isn't dictating otherwise to our social consciouness.

Either way self preservation must have, and still is despite the best efforts of some, play a large role in any decisions made as how else will cooperative tendencies gain genetic supremacy in any species?

My question is why have we been saddled with a economic system we did not want that plays on our every self preserving nerve? How does cooperative creatures find themselves in a world system led by uncooperative 'individuals' who do their utmost to exploit our cooperative tendencies to reinforce their destructive selfish aims?

I find it interesting as well that we tolerate "sociopaths" in our leadership. It doesnt make good sense at first glance.

Well we don't really tolerate 'sociopaths' ( i will presume you mean Psychopathy as was the normal meaning before it was extended to lesser antisocial behaviour) ) as much as we can't fathom how their minds work and why they keep failing to live up to the things they promised us to our faces. We all understand small lies but for the most part our minds can simply not accept that these individuals never intended to do as they claimed they would and that they gained our trust simply to abuse it; we don't tolerate sociopaths because we can't and don't understand how they can exist in the first place. More specifically why would a social animal such as ourselves be equipped to suspect that 'one of us' ( he sure manages to behave like one of us while we are around) isn't anything like us?

That it would be in our best interests to tolerate people who behave in hyper selfish ways and then make them our leaders. But we do, and we have done for a long time.

And yet people all over the world keep struggling and shedding blood and tears to make their governments more and more responsive and less and less selfish. I don't understand how you have reached the conclusion that we either want sociopaths in control of our societies or knowingly pick such individuals come election time. Why would they have to lie to us about everything they plan to do ( as we always seem to want exactly the opposite of what we get from them) if 'we' believed we needed them?

I theorize that this is because a group lead by altruists would be lunch for a group lead by sociopaths.

I theorize , and observe in practice, that a group composed of sociopaths would destroy each other , their little country, and perhaps much of that around it in short order as they all scrambled for power in the absence of the basic social understanding that others of your type are generally acting in your mutual interest. The reason sociopaths , like parasites, can exist at all is because there are such a abundance of 'hosts' that never figures out they they are being exploited without compromise or reward.

I think it is in our selfish interests when competing with other groups to have the most selfish, and ruthless people lead. I think in the past it has provided survival benefit.

If they were leading ants perhaps that would be OK but how do soldiers and civilians react during times of war when they discover that their lives are being thrown away without care or plan? It is most certainly not in our interest to be led by 'people' ( and i use the term loosely as psychopaths lacks a conscience that could differentiate between what others want or need; essential they lack what allowed us to become highly intelligent and social in the first place) who don't know what other people want. Would you want someone to lead you who had no internal mental process by which to discover what others might truly want? Psychopathy is destructive and that's why it's strongly selected against at every level of social interaction. If anything it persists only because it is so intrinsically self obsessed with survival and the means that makes it possible.

It becomes less adaptive when your sociopaths begin colluding with the other groups sociopaths against all the people collectively, but when the sociopaths are at odds, it benefits you to own a few.

Which presumes that societies can survive the localized effects of sociopaths who don't really have little reason or means of seeing any side but their own. Sure they know how to collude and destroy each other when in direct competition but why should we or would we choose them as leaders in the vain hope that 'we' enter into their thinking at a higher level than cost/loss ration analysis? Do you think people would knowingly and contrary to the evidence submit to such a system? If so what do you think humanity has been struggling against the last ten odd thousand years? What has it all been for if not for representative leadership that presumes a leader who agrees with what society thinks is best for it?

I am always surprised when people basically tell me that this is the way the world is supposed to work and somehow what the majority who fights for survival on a daily basis actually 'wants'.

Just another one of those depressing beliefs i am happy not to share with such a large proportion of 'intellectuals' all over the world.


posted on Jul, 26 2009 @ 05:19 PM

Originally posted by Welfhard
................If you are the type to 'selflessly' help out everyone you can in the community and one day a tornado strolls through town and destroys only your home. I would imagine your grateful community would come together to help you out, maybe even build you a new home. They'd certainly give you a shelter in the mean time.

Some people work hard to earn the title of "Good" person because good people “deserve” to be protected and saved from unfortunate circumstances. People are motivated to be ‘good’ and while many aren’t, nearly all would like to be.....

my friend W, has created another great thread, a testment of all those stars/flags garnished....we all should listen to his wisdom here....OT thinks he is on to something!

Self-less-ness is a good Lord has said...or actually the bad-dude follower Saul of Tarsus...3
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, 2
Who, 3 though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 4
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; 5 and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

to the Philippians.....

All ATS-ers should read the entire thread for more and flag pls!

posted on Jul, 26 2009 @ 06:02 PM
Every person simply reaps what they sow. Really, there is no need to complicate things, because it is THAT simple. What goes around comes around, you get what you give etc. It's a simple law. The original post is meaningless, imo. Seflessness in a person simply attracts selflessness in others...

posted on Jul, 26 2009 @ 09:09 PM
reply to post by OldThinker

I'm surprised you had nothing to disagree with. The point of this thread was not because the old "atheists have no morals" idea that really gets up my nose but it applies well all the same. My understanding of the human mind tells me that human behaviour is complicated but systematic and every action and interaction is conditional. It struck me that in this instance, there can be no such thing as a truly selfless act as the self plays either a direct or indirect role in the motive. But at the same time the definitions of selflessness and selfishness become ambiguous and suddenly don't seem so mutually exclusive.

For instance one may do so-called "selfless" deeds for selfish reasons. The question must be asked "Does motive count?"
Some people say 'yes', some say 'no'. The odd thing is that the only seeming difference is that the 'selfish' reasoning people are just aware of it, whereas the 'selfless' reasoning do what they do out of reflex/social conditioning - which is indirectly selfish.

All roads lead to Rome, it seems.

[edit on 26-7-2009 by Welfhard]

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