Basu on Selfishness

 Posted by on 5 March 2010 at 8:00 am  Activism, Ethics
Mar 052010

The February 24, 2010 Undercurrent has just published a great OpEd by Rituparna Basu entitled, “The Unselfish Actions of Today’s ‘Selfish’ Men“.

In particular, she challenges the popular misconception that the irrational actions of men like Tiger Woods and Bernie Madoff were “selfish”. Here’s an excerpt:

By its most basic definition, to be selfish is to be interested in attaining something for oneself, to act in pursuit of one’s own needs or desires.

But observe what these men attained for themselves: Madoff will spend the rest of his life behind bars, his stolen wealth lost, while Woods, once the highest paid athlete in the world, has lost his endorsements, his reputation, and possibly even his family. Clearly, such were not the desired outcomes.

This raises a question: can these men, whose actions led not to their success and happiness but rather to their self-destruction, really be characterized as selfish?

(Read the full text of “The Unselfish Actions of Today’s ‘Selfish’ Men“.)

Basu is completely correct. Woods and Madoff were self-destructive, not “selfish”. Lying, cheating, and stealing are tremendously self-defeating behaviours (even if their practitioners might temporarily delude themselves into believing that they are “getting away” with some short-term illusory gains.)

The truly selfish person thinks and acts in the long range. This requires living according to rational principles, which in turn requires a commitment to cultivating virtues such as honesty, integrity, independence, justice, productiveness, pride, and rationality. This may seem counter-intuitive to those who equate “selfishness” with a willingness to violate such moral principles. But a deeper examination of the genuine requirements of the pursuit of long-range rational self-interest reveals that living according to these moral principles is essential for a selfish life.

For a fuller discussion of this concept, I recommend Dr. Tara Smith’s book, Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist.

On a related note, I want to observe that the Undercurrent writers are generating some consistently good current affairs and cultural commentary from an Objectivist perspective and getting this material in the hands of college students across the country for free.

If you like what they’re doing, here’s how to support them.

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