None Are Selfless

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive.” Walt, Breaking Bad

“If I don’t buy a new dress so that I can feed my son, it’s not a sacrifice, as I value my son more than the dress.” -Alana Bush

“The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care. But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible.” -Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action

There is no such thing as an emotionally detached heroic act of selfless love. Everything one does is influenced by, and inseparable from, his perception of how the outcome of that choice affects the way he feels about his own integrity and quality of life.

All are not driven by the need for money and material gain. All are not driven by the need for prestige and professional advancement. All are not driven by the need for fame and fortune. All are not driven by the need for popularity and peace with others. All are not driven by guilt and shame. But all are driven by the desire to take the path that is most fulfilling and least unsatisfying to themselves.

The “sinner” and “saint” are not separated by their desire for reward. They are separated by the particular types of rewards they value. The sinner values the things of the world while the saint desires the intangible treasures of what he perceives to be a higher world. The man who appears to selflessly sacrifice himself for the world is a martyr by appearances alone. In reality, he is a long-term investor who, by denying himself the enjoyment of what he considers to be less valuable pleasures, is able to reap greater rewards like peace of mind, freedom of conscience, or the joy that comes from helping others.

There is always something at stake for the man who acts.

The man who tries to save a life is also trying to save himself from how he knows he will feel about himself if he refuses to do what he believes is the right thing to do. The man who serves others is also serving his own desire to feel the inner joy that comes from knowing he made a positive difference in another’s life.

One says “I am doing it all for God,” but no one would do anything for God unless it pleased him to do things for God and displeased him to not do things for God.

Another says “but surely I am doing it all for God because I am quite miserable in my life of sacrifice. I could easily have a life of greater comfort and convenience, but I abandon it all for the glory of God and the good of the planet. There is absolutely nothing in it for me.”

I would simply ask this man, “And how much peace would you feel at night if you went to bed believing that you were spending your life doing things that you believe are against the will of God? How much joy would you get out of all those lavish luxuries if you believed that you were selling your soul to obtain them? Surely your decisions are not detached from these considerations. Surely the man who claims to follow God is not neutral towards how it makes him feel, even if at a really deep spiritual level, to make the Creator of the Universe his first priority.

When a man does what he believes is right, it is because he feels most right when he acts in accordance with his ethical standards. In a word, he feels right when he does right and he feels wrong when he does wrong.

However we spin it, self-interest pervades the entire gamut of human action.

Even when you do things for others, you’re doing them for you

The tragedy of self-interest is not that it exists in everything we do; it’s that we have somehow been conditioned to believe that our acts of discipline, nobility, dignity, and creativity are cheapened and undermined by the fact that it is the nature of man to seek a profit of some kind from his own choices.

5 thoughts on “None Are Selfless

  1. “all are driven by the desire to take the path that is most fulfilling and least unsatisfying to themselves.”

    yes, I’ve been saying a version of the same thing for decades. there is no such thing as altruism….

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Life becomes so unnecessarily difficult and complex when we fail own up to the role of self-interest in our everyday choices. Liberating oneself from martyrs syndrome through such an understanding can add years to one’s life.

  2. While it is tautalogically true that all our actions are in the support of our perceived self interest, isn’t it interesting that culture assigns greater value to certain interests or motivators over others? God vs. gold, health vs. wealth, community service over self promotion, etc. I wonder how much more of Ayn Rand’s philosophy you find viable. Not that she invented the concept, but she certainly explored it more fully than any other philosopher I have read.

    1. “While it is tautalogically true that all our actions are in the support of our perceived self interest, isn’t it interesting that culture assigns greater value to certain interests or motivators over others? God vs. gold, health vs. wealth, community service over self promotion, etc.”

      Absolutely! I would go even further and say it is not only interesting, but also expected when one understands the role of self-interest in human action. It would logically follow from praxeological presuppositions that individuals and groups of individuals would extol as virtues those interests/motivators that seem to provide maximum satisfaction and minimum dissatisfaction. God is valued over gold, for instance, because of people’s beliefs about, or awareness of, certain factors like the limitations of wealth, the perishable nature of material goods versus the eternal value of spiritual treasures, etc. I would add, however, that culture is many and varied. There is not a single culture that represents humanity’s values. Some cultures may value God over gold, but some may not. Some cultures may value health or wealth, but others may not. Some cultures may prioritize community service over self-promotion, but some do not. It depends on what culture we’re taking up as our example. Either way, though, a cultures values are only a reflection of what the individuals who comprise that culture believe will best serve their self-interest. And this is not a bad thing. As I mentioned in my conclusion, the sad thing, at least in my opinion, is the commonly committed fallacy that our acts of nobility, charity, etc are somehow cheapened by the presence of self-interest.

      “I wonder how much more of Ayn Rand’s philosophy you find viable. Not that she invented the concept, but she certainly explored it more fully than any other philosopher I have read.”

      If you have any questions about my beliefs on any particular issues espoused by Rand, feel free to ask. My primary influence in the arena of Praxeology is the man I quoted above–Ludwig Von Mises. Ironically, many Econ Historians would argue that Rand was not insignificantly influenced by Mises in this regard. My personal influences aside, however, I should probably emphasize that I do not form my beliefs based on the philosopher, but based on the combination of my own research, reflection, experience, and experimentation. Sometimes that process will result in me acquiring beliefs that coincide with certain philosophers and sometimes it wont. I am not a fan of Rand or anyone else. I am simply a critical thinker who is blissfully engaged in his own pursuit and practice of “the good life.”

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