Tibor R. Machan
Hardly anyone will dispute that most folks who chime in about ethics consider selfishness wrong. There have been exceptions in history and some of the most prominent ethical philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, can even be said to have been ethical egoists or at least ones who championed the moral virtue of prudence as a vital one for living a good human life. But after some significant changes in how human nature began to be understood, being selfish or self-interested–or even prudent–started to be scoffed at, treated as a moral liability, not worthy of praise but of blame.
Of course, even after this, using one’s common sense showed that being selfish is what most of us are, normally, routinely, and quite benignly. When folks awake in the morning they proceed to begin to take good care of themselves before reaching out to help others, for example. (Just as that announcement would have it on air planes, first help yourself and then others in case there’s loss of oxygen.) But apart from such common sense support, selfishness gets little respect (other than perhaps from psychotherapists who usually don’t advise their clients not to care about themselves!).
So while selfishness is widely opposed by such official moralists as priests, ministers, politicians, and pundits, most people will choose to be selfish instead of selfless. And by this they do not intend to be mean toward others, only to put themselves first on the list of their priorities. And in that spirit, even if in opposition to the moralizers, I want to give support to the virtue of prudence or even selfishness (something only Ayn Rand had the courage to affirm in her book by that title). I am not interested here in developing a full blown morality or ethics only to point out that in times of virtually daily disaster stories from all corners of the globe near or far, it is a very good idea to keep being focused on what will benefit one’s life, how one can stay well and happy rather than distressed and frightened.
For one thing, "follow my old recipe"–to quote Socrates in a similar discussion–when it comes to checking out the daily news. Once having gotten through the half hour or hour long newscasts–via TV, radio or some other source–and having perused the newspapers and magazines, all of which have a pretty predictable tendency to be filled with reports of horror and misery, one should spend maybe at least a half hour checking out TV’s best offering, namely, the Travel Channel. I do.
The Travel Channel, you see, reliably reports and depicts only good things happening everywhere. Be it Iceland or Greece, from which only bad news has emanated lately, or California, Louisiana or New York City, when the people from the Travel Channel go there they will unfailingly bring their viewers good news. This would be news of wonderful beaches, great hotels, opportunities for quirky adventure, the best cuisine, outstanding shopping, health and fitness options and similar positive things everyone can use, or at least use to learn about, when the official news reports from every mainstream source give us virtually nothing but heartache.
I have for a long time assumed that the practice of official news outfits of any sort is to try to scare us to death, to make us pay attention by telling us that we are all doomed, no matter what, no matter who one is. The politicians, of course, love this because they can then proceed to offer their magic to have it all fixed for us in a jiffy, never mind that it is mostly lies and more lies.
So there is, as I see it, a severely negative bias in the news. Just consider, as a test, that even if there is a horrible plane crash someplace or a bomb scare, thousands of other places are safe and millions and millions of people get to where they wanted to go without a hitch. But this is never mentioned on "the news," perhaps understandably. But it does produce major distortions in reports of how the world is doing.
So as a corrective, one needs the discipline and personal initiative to seek out some good news, some antidote to all the reports of crises. A little of this is achieve when one encounters advertisements, of course, since ads also focus on what is good about life, hoping that this will stimulate some interest in the products and services being offered for sale. The bottom line, though, is simple. Make sure that you know of good stuff, that as much as possible you make room for it in your life.
This is my pitch for rational selfishness today, even while I know that it is not the full story. But I recommend that it be a significant portion of it for everyone.