Monday, December 19, 2011

The Idiocy of Selfishness

It will be recalled that Ayn Rand, who was apparently so insecure as to be unsatisfied with the name with which she was born but was otherwise exceedingly self-involved, wrote a book of essays which she decided to call The Virtue of Selfishness after the assasination of President Kennedy (she had another title in mind before he was murdered--she was planning to castigate him as a fascist).  Having first redefined "selfishness" in the most self-serving manner to fit with her thesis (quite appropriately, of course) she proclaimed it the source of all good.

Obfuscation can sometimes be pleasing, but there are limits to it which even a lawyer like myself must acknowledge, and this bit of sophistry on the part of Rand has always struck me as particularly sad.  But I think it even sadder that selfishness seems to be the source of much we think and do.

Now I must struggle to be clear, here.  To a certain extent, we must always be self-regarding.  That is our nature.  We are for example very concerned to continue to live, and thus much of what we think and do is devoted to doing so.  This is unremarkable.

But our self-absorbtion can be mystifying when it is considered that the place we hold in the universe is incredibly small.  Consider the vastness of the universe, and then consider that we indulge in such fantasies as a creator of that universe who is vitally concerned with our well-being and success; indeed, who even has much the same goals and desires as we do (if not the same form)--who even became one of us for our salvation.  And astonishingly, when we are compelled to conclude based on the evidence that we are not the reason for all things, and have no purpose on which the rest of the universe depends, we despair or are miserable, and believe our lives are worthless.  Apparently, our self-love is such that we believe either the universe is all about us or it serves no purpose whatsoever.

There is something comic about our pretensions, and you would think that would cause us to reconsider our wants and needs in the context of the rest of the world, and the others who inhabit it, before we die and are forgotten.  But we seem incapable of doing such a thing. 

Much is said today about our sense of entitlement, but it strikes me that none of us understand that this sense is the basis not only for the demand for jobs or benefits but also for claims that we have certain rights and liberties that cannot be violated, and that others should act in a manner or think in a fashion we deem appropriate.  The self-righteous are full of self-regard.  We have more to fear from the Pharisee than the beggar.

A realistic appraisal of our limitations and acceptance of our unimportance in the grand scheme of things can be sobering, and we have need for the sober in these times.  Neither the giddy nor the weepy are of much use to anyone but, possibly, themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment