Selfishness, Cruelty, and Greed are Good
One that's solely its
own, not used anywhere else - and is fatally, weird, gruesome, and
backwards, when you think about it.
History and human nature say exactly the opposite is true:
Don't believe me? Very good.
I'll make my case, and
you be the judge.
We're instructed, maybe indoctrinated, to believe that to be aggressively self-interested is what is good - not just for us, but, strangely, for everyone.
Economics teaches it, psychology teaches it, business practices it, culture celebrates it, politics institutionalizes it - (North) America is built on it. (Hence, we're told to "take responsibility" and "be self-reliant individuals" and so on.)
We fight the system -
norms, bosses, codes, rules - if we want to genuinely care about
anyone else but ourselves.
These are just some of the self-evident failures of morality as aggressive, naked self-interest.
These things enrage us as much as they aggrieve and frighten us. They cannot be good, we are realizing, deep in our bones, these days. But those failures hardly stop there.
When you think about it, almost every single one of (North) America's catastrophic problems can be traced back to this fatal error in moral judgment.
These, too, are all
reflections of the epic failure of the weird and strange morality of
By definition, "morality" is a concern for what is good for others. To call self-interest moral, then, is to say that immorality is moral. Just think about it, with any idea of morality you like - use any great moral mind, from Jesus to Aquinas to Kant to Rawls to Sartre.
That's because morality is best defined as simply my answer the question "is this good for you?", not "is this good for me."
That's the only way that the human good can ever really grow, isn't it? And yet, there is only notion of morality in human history that calls selfishness moral - and that is modern day America's.
But simply calling immorality moral does not change its consequences or effects - they remain the same: good becomes bad.
And so the result of (North) America's weird moral philosophy, is immorality on an epic, absurd, almost tragicomic, scale.
Do you think that's
unfair? Or do you see all that around you in everyday (North)
America - at work, in the economy, in culture, in life, in
relationships, in play, in the kind of people we are told to admire
If I ask the average European, is greed good, they'll laugh at me like I'm a dolt - but the average (North) American will probably hem and haw over it.
In an equally strange and bizarre way.
The idea was that if I act as selfishly as humanly possible, and you do too, then I will have to serve you, and you me. Thus, the greater good will somehow come from all of our combined egotism.
Now, this is only possible in one way:
But the problem with capitalism is that I can all too easily tilt the playing in my favor.
If I'm rich enough, I can make it possible to indenture or own you, with debt, with property rights, and so on.
Which, of course, is more or less where (North) America is today:
The philosophy of pure self-interest has failed catastrophically - instead of producing some kind of fantasyland of the greater good, where everyone's happy and free, it's produced something like a feudal society, all over again.
The good has been
minimized by the capitalist morality of pure self-interest, not
maximized - Marx is laughing...
Where did freedom, liberty, happiness, and prosperity really come from? Not from self-interest - from people investing in one another.
Once upon a time, society was kings preying on nobles who preyed on peasants - and in this mode of social organization, no collective action was possible at all - in fact the point of it was to prevent it:
It wasn't until people came together and invested in one another that great things like cities, universities, libraries, laboratories, parks, hospitals, schools, vaccines, and antibiotics were all had.
Those things caused prosperity to explode, because they cultivated and expressed people's creativity, intelligence, reason, knowledge, passion in ways no one person could do alone.
Remember how morality as pure self-interest can justify everything from rape to murder - and you probably thought I was stretching it?
Yet that's exactly what happened for centuries in (North) America, under slavery. It was perfectly moral to abuse slaves - it was considered the best thing for them, in fact.
What was immoral was not
to abuse them, punish them, hurt them. Then your fellow slave-owners
would laugh at you. The moral horizon of (North) Americans, in other
words, was stunted from the very beginning - by the idea of that
what is good is raw, unrestrained self-interest. It is undoubtedly
in my self interest to own a slave - but it can never be genuinely
moral, in the sense that it is good for anyone else.
The idea that a man should be free from any interference from his neighbors, and never have to invest in anyone else, is the precise kind of morality that a slave society will develop, because it is how one can go on treating people as property, to be whipped and lynched when they are not productive.
You do not have to invest
in people if they are not people at all - but the human good
cannot grow that way, because we are doing no good for one another.
Today we call them "self reliance" and "individual responsibility" and so on. But they are still, at heart, the broken, ruinous morality of the slave society - in which I am indifferent to the suffering of others.
They've failed catastrophically - as we've discussed - because they were bound to.
Now, the question remaining is why should we be genuinely moral beings - beyond the reason that society will prosper?
And the truest reason of
all for morality, curiously, is to fulfill our own nature. (North)
America is learning, too late, that human nature doesn't accord with
its own fatal, childish moral philosophy of immortality.
We suffer, mightily too - we feel angry, enraged, afraid, sad, we grieve and mourn - because happiness, like unhappiness, is a kind of emotional resonance.
That is why morality matters, my friends - nobody is Zarathustra...
Happiness and unhappiness, at the end of the day, are not ours to possess, own, or acquire: they are shared between us, because they are like rivers flowing through us.
That strange yet undeniable fact of human nature is what makes love possible, grief necessary, and life meaningful.
And so to be immoral is
never to realize one's nature, and to stay distant from happiness,
meaning, truth, and beauty. That is to live in the deepest kind of
ignorance there is.
History - precisely and exactly the opposite:
And that is the lesson
that (North) America is learning the hard way...