Self-Interest and Other-Interest

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Ilya Shambat

Aug 2, 2022, 7:48:05 PMAug 2
Some people believe that the worst things one can be is selfish. I seek to contend with that view.

In the Soviet Union, people were taught to sacrifice themselves for the collective. They sacrificed themselves; the fruits of their work wound up in the Swiss bank accounts of bureaucrats. They had sacrificed themselves for absolutely nothing.

Seeing such things, Ayn Rand went so far as to say that selfishness is good, and that altruism and self-sacrifice are evil and something that only a tyrant would want. She made the error of mistaking a value for the abuses of the value. That value of altruism was appealed to in order to impose totalitarianism does not mean that altruism by itself is equivalent to totalitarianism. There is nothing totalitarian about the Salvation Army. And the most authoritarian settings I’ve been with were not altruistic organizations but for-profit companies in the Midwest.

How do we deal with all this mess? Through reason. From the perspective of the self, the world consists of oneself and other people. Benefiting the world therefore means benefiting both other people and oneself. Benefiting oneself is defined subjectively. Nobody should be forced to the consumerist definition of self-interest. People should be free to define their interest for themselves.

Someone once told me that people who want property are competent and the people who don’t want property are incompetent. This makes no sense at all. Why would a competent person be more likely to want property than an incompetent person? I know of someone who lived all his life in poverty but was an excellent teacher and guru who made a vast difference in many people’s lives. There are many ways in which competence or incompetence can work out. But for people to be under pressure to acquire things they don’t want or need and define such things as rational self-interest is completely wrong.

It is most certainly important to contribute. It is also important to be in charge of one’s life. Nobody should be denied their right to do with their lives as they please But one needs to do whatever he can to be of good use to others. Don’t sacrifice to find your work in Swiss bank accounts of the bureaucrats. Don’t force people to over-consume. Benefit others and benefit yourself.
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