Column on Tiger Woods Dishonoring Himself

Tiger Woods Dishonored Himself

Tibor R. Machan

So Tiger Woods apologized for his "selfish behavior." Of course, what he did was to dishonor himself, his human self that is, not benefit it at all. Indeed, this allegedly selfish conduct of Mr. Woods has produced a few hours of sensual pleasure at the expense of his very own happiness at home, millions of dollars, a stellar reputation, etc., and so froth. Nothing really selfish about it, if you think it over responsibly.

Dr. Nathaniel Branden, the well known psychologist and reported father of the self-esteem movement in his discipline–he wrote The Psychology of Self-Esteem back in 1969 (Nash Publishing)–wrote a wonderful book in which this stuff about the alleged selfishness of cads like Woods is ably cleared up once and for all. The very apt title of this work is Honoring the Self (Bantam 1985). It discusses extensively and brilliantly just how the concept of the human self became debased in modern intellectual history.

Consider, for example, what the world famous ancient Greek philosopher Socrates told his pupil Crito (in his dialogue Phadeo) about the way his students could best please him–meaning live up to his ethical expectations–namely: "follow my old recipe, my friend: do yourselves concern yourselves with your own true self-interest; then you will oblige me, and mine and yourself too." The reason Socrates believed that following one’s self-interest is morally proper is that he held a view of the human self that included honorable attributes, traits the development of which would make for someone who is practicing the highest virtues. Human nature, for Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many early thinkers–some of them those detested "dead white males"–amounted to having the potential for excellence, even greatness. While this did include generosity and liberality as praiseworthy ways to be, it was, first and foremost, a matter of being rational, of thinking about one’s life and acting by the guidance of that thinking rather than haphazardly, recklessly. That’s the way to living a successful human life!

It all changed with the very influential English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, not to mention the Italian Niccolo Machiavelli. For these thinkers people were mostly potentially bad, power-seeking, driving by untamed passions like brutal animals in the wilds. Even the influence of Christianity enhanced a lowly view of the human self, what with the stress on original sin, on how once Adam and Eve tasted the apple of the tree of knowledge, they became sinners and we have all inherited their sin and need to be purged of it (e.g., by being baptized).

Then came, a bit later, Sigmund Freud, the notorious father of psychoanalysis for whom deep down we are all driven by a death wish and by other unsavory motives. No wonder the human self acquired a lousy reputation. How could something so constituted act for oneself and exhibit any virtues at all? By such a conception of the human self Tiger Woods and members of the Mafia and all the other vicious people are indeed selfish. They are servicing, after all, something loathsome. This modern idea breads one of the most prominent views in our time, namely, rank misanthrope, hatred for humanity, including oneself.

But is this idea right? Are people by their basic nature evil and loathsome? No. They have to become either good or evil but have no predilection toward either to start with although at first they are mostly innocent, gentle and lovable–just recall most any baby you have met! And if they are taught to acquire pleasant attributes rather than detestable ones, these babies are very likely to grow up pretty nice, if not out and out admirable.

Sadly, the dogma of the mean and nasty human self is widespread. Among other things, it aids and abets those among us who are eager to rule others, who spread the lie that it is only with their intervention that people can be made likable. (Politicians and the clergy love this idea!) In fact, however, Tiger Woods was anything but properly selfish. He caused himself immense harm, as well as those who loved or even just liked him. Shame on him.

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