Selfishness Vs Altruism – The False Dichotomy


In my last post, I wrote about how I measure different political ideals against reality. I pointed out that everyone is selling the same package wrapped differently.  In today’s post, I am writing about why I think people pick different sides, even if the ends are ultimately the same.

Everybody has an idea of what they want.  We all have our own sets of ideals that may overlap. In fact, political figures bank on there being mass overlaps.  In the United States, a presidential hopeful is looking to find enough overlap to tip the scales to their favor. Yes, I know a president is elected through the Electoral College and not by popular vote. My point is that it’s still very necessary to determine commonalities in voter values to appeal to them.

So, people vote based on what they think they’ll get.  Sure, most people realize they won’t get exactly what they want, if anything, but there’s no doubt that most people try to maximize what they think an elected official can get them.  Although this explanation is more watered down than a pitcher of grape Kool-aid, I’ll dumb it down further by saying people don’t vote against their own interests.

Whose individual interests are best for everyone? Are there any values that we all can agree upon?

A savvy entrepreneur who runs a successful business is more likely to vote for a candidate who promises legislation that helps them become more profitable than vote for legislation that would damage their business. They may favor candidates that offer a gold paved road to a freer market.

Suppose a consumer perceives that they are being hurt by that business. They will more likely favor a candidate that promises they’ll protect them from that big, bad legal entity.

For the above example you can swap in taxes.  A business will favor less taxes for itself while a consumer may wish the business to pay more because those taxes help them in some way.

Here’s another example.  Those seniors who rely on Social Security benefits have a very good reason to support the continuance of the program. This is true even knowing young people that are currently paying in might never see a dime.

On the other hand, those young people have a very good reason to decry being effectively robbed by Social Security.

To beat my point to death, let me address dying.  Someone could that we all agree we don’t want to be killed, then I must point to the fact that not everyone avoids death. In fact, there are laws criminalizing suicide.

It doesn’t really matter what the proposition is.  No matter what the government creates or abolishes, some people will benefit at the expense of others (even if just perceptively).

The fact of the matter is we all seek after what we think makes sense for us.  It’s quite evident that many interests run counter to others’ interests.  This means that we each seek things according to our wishes against the wishes of others.  Even if I gave wholly of myself, this would run counter to the ideals of others. In this regard, how is altruism not selfish? How can any of you possibly be 100% altruistic?

This brings me to briefly touch upon the idea that perhaps certain things are more moral than others. While I plan to go into more detail about morality in another post, I will say now that it’s quite obvious that everybody has a different idea of what constitutes moral, which bring us back to everyone thinking what they want is what’s correct.

At this point I realize we are now stuck with the question of how can we reconcile our own inherently selfish ideals while we continue to villainize others who are also doing the same thing?  Personally, I’d rather choke to death than to imbibe the hypocritical poison of the masses.

While I cannot condemn my enemies outright, I must not step aside for them either.

Are you ready to shrug off your yoke of hypocrisy?


Jason Sorrell
Posted on October 22nd, 2012

I am convinced that there is no such thing as altruism. Altruism is a social construct which allows people to redefine their inherent selfishness and their urges to feel good about themselves, inflict their will on others (it goes WAY beyond enforcement), and feel that they are somehow better than someone else. We are selfish, end of story. If I can find a way for you to be selfish within my definition or for my purposes, we arrive at altruism.

If I do you a favor or give you a gift, it makes me feel good, or at the very least better than I might feel if I did not do the favor or provide the gift. That inherent condition is the fallacy of all altruistic arguments. Ultimately, the altruists motivation is their own need to feel good. Feeling good when we give some thing of ourselves to someone we care about is instinctual. It helps build and re-enforce bonds of friendship/family and within our immediate circles can strengthen the whole group’s ability to deal with threats and tribulations.

Feeling good when we do for someone who we have no contact with, no ties to, and will probably have nothing to do with is a matter of conditioning that instinctual urge to stretch beyond its natural parameters. It is a sociopolitical ploy meant to motivate those who would normally be disinterested in an issue to act in accordance to the wishes of their masters, or a lever to motivate one social class against another. A city has several very practical reasons for dealing with the homeless, for example. Homeless people can be disruptive to business, and a city runs on the tax revenue generated by business. Homeless people often suffer from various mental problems, or have little regard for the social conventions most people adhere to. The general populace prefers not to engage directly with the homeless, avoiding those places where they might congregate, hurting the businesses in those areas, and again reducing tax revenue. The list of pragmatic reasons only goes on.

Unfortunately, most people are disinterested in pragmatic reasons for a city to do something, especially if it will effect them in an immediate financial manner. Convincing someone to invest in managing the homeless situation so that they will benefit in the long-run is a hard-sell. However, if you give them an immediate pay-off (they will be better people for demonstrating their kindness and concern), they are more willing to buy into your idea.

I concede that in a world that was in fact every man/family/tribe for themselves things would be harsh, at least at first. The population would be culled as the millions of people unable or unwilling to fend for themselves find all the resources dried-up. Unfortunately, until we do choose to stop deluding ourselves about our natures and throw off the yoke or our sociopolitical masters, the situation in the mean will continue to degenerate.

We cannot hope to be more until we can accept and appreciate who we are.

Posted on October 23rd, 2012

Lehi, your political truth depresses me 😛

But seriously though, this is a great post. Honestly, you can’t win for losing. No politician really cares about all the people, (or if maybe they do, most are so out of touch with the everyday person their visions are useless) and most people don’t think far enough past personal gains to effectively look at the ramifications for the rest of the country.

Posted on October 24th, 2012

“Feeling good when we do for someone who we have no contact with, no ties to, and will probably have nothing to do with is a matter of conditioning that instinctual urge to stretch beyond its natural parameters.”

True, some deliberately exploit that tendency and attempt to expand its application. But the contraction or expansion of one’s “circle of care” or loyalty is largely dependent on stress. When one lives in a time of great hardship and lack, the circle of care contracts to oneself and one’s very closest family. When one lives in great abundance and never experiences great trouble, the circle of care expands to include people that normally wouldn’t have fallen within that realm. (Generally, a person who has only been provided for and never provided tends to underestimate the cost of caring for others. Thus, young people tend to be liberal.)

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