Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Educated Self-Interest

It occurs to me that, one of the things needing more thought and discussion is the subject of self-interest-- in particular self-interest as opposed to selfishness. If you listen to some right wingers talk, you'd think that all we should care about is what best serves us and ours. Is that a good way to look at the fact that we live in a community and we cannot escape sometimes being invaded by those we might have preferred to fence out?

I think of the frightening school shootings that happen every so often and most recently in Ohio. No matter how we raise our children, how we try to keep them safe, we can find our world totally disrupted by someone else. Someone, who doesn't give a damn about us and ours and shows it by a violent act. Can anyone, no matter how much wealth they accrue really live in a bubble?

The Ayn Rand philosophy, that permeates a lot of the right wing, sounds as though the only logical self interest is selfishness. It espouses the view that we should only care about what benefits us directly. There are those convinced that it is a sound philosophy for life. What needs exploring is what does educated self-interest actually mean?

Rand called for a philosophy, illustrated in her novel Atlas Shrugged with her hero John Galt, that indicated taking care of yourself was the most important thing you could do. Charities, any of the things that puts another ahead of yourself, are wrong. I saw a good YouTube where Christopher Hitchens was asked about this and took that view apart rather brilliantly, I thought.

Basically he was saying that we don't need to be taught to be selfish. That's inherent in man. Babies must be selfish as it's how they will survive by having others do things for them. What they must be taught as they grow is that the world does not revolve around them. One article I saw recently said a selfish attitude in the young doesn't really disappear until around 33. I don't know about that, but I think the real issue is to figure out what self-interest means. If we think it means doing everything just for us, we are missing the point.

Educated self-interest means we can see the actual results of something which might seem to be outside of ourselves but impacts us anyway. If we think that all we need to do is, what serves us, we don't grasp the interconnectedness of life.

Tribal living probably made interconnectedness more obvious than the way we live today. The consequences of our living only for 'me' in a tribe is we die ourselves when food isn't gathered and shared. Bad behavior in a tribe is immediately noticed and cannot be hidden. The consequences of being destructively self-centered in today's world may not show up for a long time. We may think we are gaining by a me-me-me attitude, but I think eventually it rebounds on us.

An example is how we see quality education. If I didn't have any kids in public school, no grandkids there, why should I care? Generations before knew it was not only a way for the young to rise up a level from where their parents were but also was a bulwark for our society because it makes a better environment for us all to experience. Caring about those schools is what you could call educated selfishness. We care because it will impact us and we see that.

When I saw Santorum say that sending off our children to college was dooming them to lose their faith and it was Obama's plot to get them educated and be atheists, I could hardly believe it. But then it's hard to believe a lot of what he says. Is this guy mentally deranged or just saying what he believes 20% of Americans and a lot of them Republicans believe?

If children go away from a home where education was not stressed, where exploring of ideas was not permitted, when they get to college, they might find a lot of facts that disturb their previous ignorant comfort zone. But it won't be college that did it. It will be knowledge. Literally it sounded as though Santorum thinks educated self-interest to him means ignorance.

People can go to college and come out of it stronger believers in their religion than when they entered. It all depended on what their faith was based upon.

When I favor health care for all, it is because I see that as better for me. The idea that some suffer with ailments that could be treated or die prematurely for wont of the right medicine, does that make me happy? Not hardly. So an educated self interest would mean we'd like all health care to be good and available.

I don't disagree that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. But that's not an either or. It's a not getting the cart in front of the horse. It is educated self-interest and understanding that caring about the quality of other people's life is to our own good also.


Tabor said...

Being your brother's keeper is a very mature approach to life.

MerCyn said...

My brother-in-law has been a right wing fundamentalist Tea Party nut for years. I always thought he was the most selfish and self-centered person I ever met. He never outgrew the baby/toddler me-me-me syndrome and it's-all-about-me thing.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I can not say it better, Rain. Thumbs up. We need to be considerate in our own practice of freedom that what we take will not hurt another. In our big population we can not put personal influence on how others eat, yet eventually bad choices may end in us having to pay for the care of the slovenly. What we can not do personally for our huge population, the government must dictate our healthy choices for the youngest and most vulnerable of us. For eventually a large weakened sick generation will be the end of all freedom.

Rain Trueax said...

These comments are why I think the discussion needs to be about what educated self-interest means. To me it doesn't go so far as to stop people from smoking by law for instance. Or mandating a lower weight or they pay a fine. Or a lot of other ways we could invade people's privacy. The discussion over what it means is going to be bigger if we ever really have health care for everyone. How far do we go with mandating someone live what someone else considers a healthy lifestyle? Do we force say vegetarian parents to feed their children chicken or fish and on the issue would go. Considering seriously how far our self-interest has a right to go when it takes away other people's freedoms, that's a biggie.

And I still say that what we are talking about with those school lunches was profit for a fast food operator who provides the food (healthy or not) and then can force every child to buy it or have the government buy it if the family is not able.

I am quite suspicious of invasions of our freedom for the 'good' of everybody else. It's why there needs to be discussions as to what educated self-interest really is.

When another school was invaded by a youth with a gun, it brings up questions of mental health evaluations and on go the questions.

Kay Dennison said...

I loved this post!! You really got it right!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think that your "educated self-interest" is my "enlightened self-interest" or, "self-Interest rightly understood" (Tocqueville 1835).

I put my money where my mouth is in being "my relative's keeper"; but, I also object when a person with a $40 manicure walks in to a non-profit seeking help with her bills. You see, I've never in my life had a manicure of any sort. On the other hand, I have a friend who thinks that $40 manicures and $40 pedicures are important to her life.

If we could all agree on such things, wouldn't things be simple?
Cop Car

Rain Trueax said...

I've never had a manicure or pedicure either, cop car. And now I am thinking as a point of pride, I never will ;)

I think this is an issue that takes some thinking which is why I think it takes education or as you said enlightenment. There is a difference between thinking how things go for my brother impacts my life-- and deciding hence I can mind his business for him.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

From another angle, consider the fact that chain food sellers supplying schools, pharmeseudical and insurance companies benefit monetarily from leaving children's lunches unhealthy. A larger number of sick children will for the rest of their lives spend more in health care and drugs. These industries might try to reinforce people's fear of change.
The fact is if health care is left as is, we definately fail as a free country. If we put in place common sense rules, it will be a minor nuisance. The mishaps that will occur can be corrected because we have checks and balances that will be in place to modify rules as needed. In order to have fairness, our citizens must become aware how some businesses use fear to make us believe we will loose freedoms if choices are regulated. The reality is the unetical practices from which a few get rich is the menace not more government regulation.

Rain Trueax said...

I don't have a problem with educating. I have a problem with forcing especially given how they change their minds constantly as to what is good for people. Statins were good. Now they increase odds of diabetes and memory loss. On and on it goes. I think the country is full of educating right now. People just don't choose to do it. I would oppose a health police that not only invaded our schools but our homes. What is healthy for one person might be disaster for another.

It's not about inconvenience. It's about one person dictating to another what is healthy-- which can change from year to year. No thanks.

To me to understand we are all interconnected doesn't mean we have to become the regulator over other people's food choices. I don't think that would go over well. Offering education is fine. I think that's happening now.

Making sure the food that is in the store is safe, that's government business also. After that, it's up to us. If people cannot even be convinced to stop smoking, there is no chance there will be a food dictatorship happening.

Lefties should concentrate on other battles they might win which means their own health and their families and I believe means offering health care for general problems (that doesn't mean everybody gets everything) and education for what is good. BUT since when you go into a grocery store, I'd guess 90% of what is there is packaged food, it's not going to change fast-- and the party that tries to dictate food choices, will soon find themselves out of power.

I think Mrs. Obama has gone at it well with educating and serving as an example. That's the ticket, make people want it, not look down our noses at them. And definitely not regulations that cannot be enforced.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

The processed foods supposedly for convenience is not good for us. realistically, the only way to reduce these is not to buy them. And the only way to accomplish more eating of fresh foods is through example and education like First Lady Oboma is doing?

Rain Trueax said...

I think the answer is education and inspiration; not a legal requirement or even banning such. It's not that hard to cook from scratch.

Our first lady is doing what Laura Bush did with literacy-- trying to inspire. I admire what she does to encourage gardens, natural foods, and exercise. She's been crucified by the right wing for both which is so typical. And a lot of prepared foods are laced with corn syrup to make them more flavorful, I guess, but also more fattening. I just don't want the government enforcing such. Inspiring is good.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I like to say that I've never met an unemployed economist or a poor Libertarian. The concept of free markets and individualism sounds like a great idea. But in the words of Yogi Berra: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice."

A lot of people who claim they are "self made" minimize or outright ignore the advantages and help they have had along the way. Public education, college grants loans or scholarships, wealthy or influential benefactors to grease the skids for them.

Having worked in the public sector (Welfare, Food Stamps and Unemployment) these free market individual responsibility folks are also the loudest to demand public assistance when fate or foolishness knocks them off their pedestal.

When Noam Chomsky was asked what he thought of Free Markets, he replied - "I think they are a great idea; we ought to try it sometime."

P.D. said...

Hi, I smile at yr name because itwas also my father's. His last name was day and he got the nickname "Rainy" from serving on the clipper ship "The Raines".
Being a transplanted North Westerner I will read your rainy day thoughts with interest. It's a tiresome 9 months we have of rain but I like the slow quietness. In nice months Seattle is competitive: Blue Angels, Festivals, outdoor bar parties, yatiya.

joared said...

I left a long comment previously, but for some tech reason (my error, I suppose) it didn't go through. Will repeat some of my thoughts.

On behalf of educated self-interest vs selfishness you make an important distinction in my humble opinion. These references shed some light on Rand's idea, fwiw if you're unfamiliar with them. Difficult to understand how some can continue to practice Rand's selfishness, but her Institute survives in Irvine, Calif., -- conservative Orange County close by our L.A. County borders.

Rand's book "The Art of Selfishness" was an interesting read to me years ago when I was into examining some philosophies. I'm always interested in related stories of those who surround a group's guru, and presumably practice what they believe.

In this instance reading Rand's follower, Nathaniel Branden's account of those early years -- he became a prominent psychologist -- and then his wife wrote her own perspective, provided some idea of how being selfish impacted their life with Rand.

Another of Rand's disciples was Alan Greenspan who ultimately was thought to have guided this nation's financial policies with great acumen -- before the great financial collapse.

Michael Shermer (not associated with Rand clique) has written an interesting article about Rand: "The Unlikeliest Cult in History."

Rain Trueax said...

Thank you for coming back with it Joared. It added some interesting information that I hope others will think about as it's a subject that needs a lot of discussion-- in my opinion

Anonymous said...

My opinion of Ms Rand is that she was a great writer - not a great philosopher.