Thursday, April 13, 2006

Selfishness

Ayn Rand believes that selfishness is a virtue. I'm guessing that Ayn was not forced to share one computer with her husband at home. In fact Ayn was all about sharing husbands and expecting everyone to comply, "objectively" of course:

Rand presided over their meetings and eventually let the group read the manuscript of Atlas Shrugged. By 1955, she had begun to polish John Galt's infamous speech at the end of the novel, which remains the best summation of her philosophical views in print. Also at this time, she began her controversial affair with Nathaniel Branden. Other members of The Collective didn't know about it at first, but both of their spouses were told about it and expected to comply; their union was to be seen as rational and undeniable, like the love Rand's heros and heroines shared. Barbara was reluctant, but went along with it. Frank agreed to their arrangement but reportedly started drinking himself into oblivion.3

In 1968, the most devastating blow hit The Collective and its vision. Branden told everyone about the affair between himself and Rand, which caused them to have a personal and professional break which would hold until her death in 1982. Rand responded by publishing an article in her periodical The Objectivist which officially severed all professional and personal ties with both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.


But I digress. When two people's selfishness intersect, as it has today in my household, a subtle tug-of-war ensues. Both parties wish to vanquish the other and type triumphant. It is time to buy a new computer. This will happen tomorrow or next week and my sad, slow days of frustration, at least regarding the computer, will cease.

Selfishness, as I define it is doing whatever I want to do, when I want to do it, for reasons that are mine alone, using whatever resources I choose, spending any amount of time that is right to me, without considering the consequences for someone else. Me, me, ME!

Altruism could be considered the opposite of selfishness. Interestingly, I find it more difficult to define altruism. That about sums it up right there, but I'll give it a go anyway. Altruism is doing the best for others, when good for them, for higher reasons than myself, giving resources and time I would have used for myself, and taking into consideration the other's needs first. It's tiring just writing it. It should come as no surprise that Ayn Rand was 100% against altruism and called it immoral.

Mothers often enjoy mythical, altuistic status. It is ill-earned, I believe. While most of the mother-work is tough, the toughest in my mind, the way one completes the work matters more than the work completed. Scrubbing a pot through gritted teeth, hissing at the cherubic children and wondering what, on God's green earth possessed you that night you procreated Jr. does not equate altruism. Sadism maybe. Masochism possibly.

One can do for others and still be a selfish pig. For instance, "serving" the widows and orphans so you look good to others, is an example of selfishness not altruism. Driving to work, resenting the yoke placed upon your laden neck (also known as the ball and chain wife and kids) is not altruism, it is selfishness. You see, it is possible to serve only yourself while pretending to serve others.

So, today, think of one thing that doesn't benefit you, that you would like to do for someone else. Sit patiently reading, without resentment, while your spouse plays on the computer, for example--no complaining, no prodding, no eye-rolling. Bring your husband and/or wife a glass of water or coffee without being asked. Read an extra chapter of the book to the kids tonight for fun and enjoy it.

When slowing down, it can be quite depressing analyzing how few things we do out of the goodness of our heart. Perhaps I speak only for myself. This is called transference in psycho-speak. And generalization. I really hope I'm not the ONLY one who is this completely, annoyingly, superficially, selfish. Scientifically, it's definitely possible. Well, at the very least, you can have a better day, knowing there is at least one person more selfish than you. Did you get that? I managed to transform my selfishness into an altruistic act. Man, I'm good!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

No, Melissa, you are not alone. I pray all the time that God will teach me to "TRULY" love people genuinly, without any ulterior motives. Christians, especially are bad about sounding so spiritual and having the "right" language where things sound sooooooooo good. Ja, right! What's behind all that jibberish?

"Know thyself" is still the best advise! Thanks for your honesty. We're all in the same boat, I do believe! :-)
vj

Anonymous said...

l believe the flaw in Rands "The virtue of selfishness" is that her definition of selfishness is lacking. Some people are so self absorbed, that they are like black holes, absorbing and sucking the life force(mental energy) of everyone around them.This is not the same as rational healthy self interest. Her failure to make the destinction is as silly as her claim that only physical force exists, ie verbal violence does not exist. This implies she has given herself the "perk" of verbal force. But her basic point is correct l believe. lf u are a married person, u can be friends with people of the opposite sex, but the best of your time effort, concern, money, etc belongs to your mate. Likewise the best of your time concern effort belongs to u and not to other people. Otherwise u are guilty of mental adultry. This correct order of priority is what Rand calls selfishness. Also this mental adultry is what so called christain churches call "genuin" love or truely loving people. This is a case of people with the minds of overgrown schoolyard bullies making their evil attitudes, that is exploit, dominate, dominate, exploit, the reference point that everyone else has to submit to. That is everyone should allow themselves to be exploited and dominated, and this is "true, genuine" christain love. What a con, what a con, and millions are deceived like the previous comment shows. Only when eg calling for an ambulance for another person, should a person be thinking about "giving and expecting nothing in return", but otherwise u come first and your relationship with those around u should be based on the trading principle. Ayn Rand has it basically correct.

Regards John Brown

Anonymous said...

Rand shared husbands, was bossy etc. lf you describe any person by immediately describing their mistakes and weaknesses, with no mention of good traits and deads, you are painting the wrong picture about that person. Being a intelligent and well educated doctor, you know this. Naughty,naughty,shame,shame. lts so easy to character assasinate a dead person who cant fight back.This reminds me of the fact that some of the commanders of Hitlers death camps had doctorates. lt seems that aquiring a good character is harder than aquiring letters after your name.

Dr. Melissa said...

Anonymous, the reason why Rand's "husband sharing" is important is because it illustrates quite clearly the limitations of her main philosophy: Selfishness is a Virtue.

Her selfishness interfered with her husband's selfishness and her lover's wife's selfishness. What does one do in this circumstance? Some one had to sacrifice their selfishness for this to work, for Rand to have what she wanted. It is a looooong stretch to say that her selfishness was good for her husband, don't you think? Perhaps it would be okay with you if your wife/husband/significant other screwed with your best friend because it was best for him/her?

John Brown, Ayn Rand's actions toward her husband and her lover's wife were just as you describe: "overgrown schoolyard bullies making their evil attitudes, that is exploit, dominate, dominate, exploit, the reference point that everyone else hast to submit to." She exploited their love and their loyalty for her own ends.

Contrast Rand's philosophy with Christianity: Love your neighbor as yourself. The presumption is that we love ourselves and should extend the same courtesy to others. Treat others how we wish to be treated. Since most of us dislike betrayal, that would mean abstaining from betraying.

Now, some people believe that being a Christian means being a doormat--a perpetual abuse victim. But someone who truly loves another will not put themselves in a situation to be abused, not just for their own safety, but because being an abuser (tyrant, bully) diminishes that person as well.

If Ayn's mistakes and weakness weren't so intimately tied to her core philosophy they would be irrelevent. But since her life's work centered on these very situations, her adultery, her bad DEEDS, is not only relevent, but imperative to bring to the argument.

I have read Atlas Shrugged, her manifesto. It is an extension of Maslow's humanistic theories (and I have read Maslow's work). My problem is that I think her philosophy is flawed and when it comes down to it, sophistry.

Christy're said...

Melissa--I just want to add that I agree with you wholeheartedly. I didn't comment because I thought you said it so well! Also, your definition of Christianity as self-respecting and expecting the same of others is spot on.I am a religion scholar and it is AMAZING how much people misinterpret Christianity--and how often Christianity is perverted in emphasis in order to justify a redefinition of morality. Selfishness is good because altruism leads to abuse? Not quite, but that's a very slick way to misinterpret altruism in order to justify selfishness. What we need to do is reclaim Christian terms from those who would pervert our values to justify abolishing them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I am missing something here.
John Brown said, "millions are deceived like the previous comment shows".

Previous comment was mine...what am I being deceived about...spell it out in plain language so I can understand you.
vj