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Can This Widespread Human Condition, "Selfishness," be Good and Bad??

Updated on April 20, 2016

Love Thy Neighbour Above Thyself (If you can!)

I hate Selfish People, It Said.

This remark was found on a Facebook wall, and it soon garnered attention from watchers who approved of the sentiment.
Don’t we all, one thought.  Then he thought, but aren’t we all that way?  Then he thought, what is selfishness anyway? 
So he thought and he thought, not being particularly introspective; not having psychological texts to hand and too lazy to Google the dilemma.  What a paradox, he mused, we all say we hate selfishness and selfish people, yet we seem to be nearly all that way.
I wonder if there are more than one kind of selfishness, he thought.
I suppose one way to describe a disparity would be that one kind of selfishness only benefits an individual, but may disadvantage another.  He thought, what about sex crimes, sale of pornography, terrorism?  Someone’s getting a kick: self gratification or glory out of this, but someone else is surely suffering.  Perhaps, he mused, for the sake of argument, I’ll call this “nihilistic selfishness.”  He felt proud for remembering such a tricky word from somewhere.
Then, he thought, there is another sort of selfishness, isn’t there?  A sort that benefits one individual, but also others as well. Ha!  Making love, he exclaimed to himself, or at least having sex, that’s a supremely selfish pursuit, but, in a healthy relationship, two people are made very happy.  Or in inviting a friend to lunch, the giver and the receiver benefit by feeling good, especially if the food’s great.  Or a mother’s love for her child…I think….he pondered, I’ll call this “altruistic selfishness,”
There must be a third stage, somewhere between these two, he thought.  Just the individual satisfying his needs above those of others, but not causing any suffering to other members of the human race.   I mean, how many of us indulge ourselves and spend hundreds of pounds or dollars on clothes, beauty treatments, our car, etc., but only put a few pence in the poor box on Sundays, or count out the tip in restaurants like Ebenezer Scrooge paying Jacob Marley‘s weekly pittance.  That’s selfishness, no?  But as practised by most of humanity and considered the norm.  So we’ll call this “everyday selfishness” 
But the question still remains, why are we all like this, why don’t we give away most of what we have to others, especially when it is excess to our needs. 
There can be no doubt that extreme nihilistic selfishness is criminal insanity, whatever the ideological motives.  It may be a war, as terrorists maintain, but war itself is arguably the neurosis of the state, except perhaps in the case of emergency defence.
Behind all selfish acts, many argue, is survival, the strongest and most self-serving being the one’s most likely to survive; be able to secure top breeding mates and therefore promulgate the species.
Are the terrorists then, copying some spiders, and the mantis which eats their spouses after copulating, because how can you say you are benefiting the species as a whole, if you are denying the rights of individuals within it by crippling them, or taking their lives?  Like terrorists do when they sacrifice the innocent to forward their own political ends. 
Take religion.  We are supposed to have faith and accept all sorts of individual and mass suffering here on Earth, because it is part of God’s greater plan and, ipso facto, for the greater good of mankind.
What specious claptrap, yet…it is only Darwinism carried to the nth degree.  And based on blind faith rather that observable scientific fact; and perpetrated by a Supreme Being, rather that us on ourselves.  I mean, so far, have we seen any Almighty Plan doing much good around this tired old spinner?  A billion corpses, victims of religious wars and persecution throughout history, were they able to produce disembodied vocalization, would shout “Bullshit!”  I am sure.  Perhaps we should coin a new word to describe the above, I mean, these nuts often act in what they fondly believe is for the good of all.  We might call this “Selfness, rather than selfishness”  The law of, as a famous British comedian some years ago proclaimed to a straight guy, drowning, “F---k you, Jack, I’m inboard.”
We say, “If you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after anyone else.”  As an excuse for satisfying me first and you, second. 
Or “Nice guys come last.” as an excuse for being “nasty” in the process of self-gratification. Or, “Treat ‘em mean; keep em’ keen.”  Usual referring to how a man should behave towards the mate he wants to imbue with a feeling of undying affection for him. (Sadly, women seem to respond to this technique, perhaps they would be better following the lead of the spider and mantis!)
And we continue to expect better behaviour from our contemporaries, while continuing the self-serving behaviour for ourselves!
Women say, “All men are bastards” (The ones they lust for, that is).
Men lament, “All women are bitches.” A role which women unfortunately sometimes tend to relish.  (“I’m a real bitch towards him!” Smiles).
And we relieve ourselves on Facebook, writing things like “I hate selfishness!”  Perhaps we should add, as we purchase our third pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, or our new Aston Martin
“But I can’t bloody well help being this way.”

Jimmy Choo shoes:  Is it selfish to want several pairs of these?
Jimmy Choo shoes: Is it selfish to want several pairs of these?
Or this as well as your daily drive? 2009 Aston Martin
Or this as well as your daily drive? 2009 Aston Martin


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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Im just watching the woman of my dreams, Julie Andrews in the magical Mary Poppins: it comes on every year and I try to watch it, for her and the fantastic Dick Van Dyke, they are both still alive, Julie is still gorgeous at 78....those lips! Also writing a hub on Salt


    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Sorry to learn that you are unable to make sense of the Bible. Perhaps that is a failing that extends to other books and written works as well. I was reading the Bible in the traditional old English and understanding it when I was just 15. It was written for ordinary people to read and understand, not just rocket scientists and intellectuals.

      If it truly makes you weary to discuss the Bible, then why do you include it in your hubs? When you do that you are inviting discussion on the subject. Why, too, do you mention your belief in atheism and evolution, etc., in your hubs, and especially in your comments, if it wearies you so when they are challenged? Again, you are inviting discussion about the very thing you claim to find boring and that you believe you have long ago known all of the answers about.

      For one thing, you mentioned The Almighty, and that is a reference to the Bible, so don't come back and say you didn't reference the Bible.

      Personally, I see your putting these things up for discussion and then making remarks about how weary it makes you to talk about them as a sign of shear unadulterated arrogance. When you make those statements you are demeaning anyone who disagrees with you and putting yourself up as the ultimate authority. Whether you intend it that way or not, that is how it comes off.

      I'm not trying to win any discussion with you Bobby. It is you who persists in arguing and you who wears blindfolds and keeps a closed mind.

      No one can prove a negative Bobby, and if you read my comment above over again carefully, you will note that I have not ask you to do so. Only asking you to consider things you and most other atheists fail to take into consideration every time.

      You wrote this hub and you included religion in this hub. If you dislike discussing it or having your absolute indisputably correct ASSUMPTIONS questioned, then leave religion out of it. By the way, assumptions are all but always WRONG. :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Ha! Your first paragraph gave me the tizzywizzles. For a start, I don't blame God for anything, neither do I lay credit at Heaven's door for anything good. For me, the Bible is unreadable, taken as a whole. No doubt there is some passionate writing and the Book cannot be ignored. (I get so weary discussing this). God-people are like smokers, those who do not have this belief just want to keep away from them - intellectually anyway. God did not create man, rather, the reverse is true, and all this blind belief in a Being rising from a series of inaccurate memories penned by men way after the events they discuss is just that: Blind Belief. Carl Sagan once replied to someone who said to him, "Don't you think in your gut that God must exist." Sagan replied, "I try not to think with my gut!"

      Let's stay away from theist/atheist argument, Au Fait: you can't win this discussion and I don't have to try and prove a negative.


    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      You really should realize that some interpretations of the Bible are just plain wrong and stop blaming God for the fact that some people, all of whom have a free will, but who were not created equally (not so smart as others, for example), interpret the Bible to suit themselves. They interpret it in a selfish way, you could say. That is why it is imperative that everyone read the Bible and understand it for themselves, so that other people cannot hold them hostage over it or mislead them.

      Would you simply trust your banker to manage your money without checking up on him/her now and then? You should not trust the interpretation of the Bible to other people either. Some are incredibly self-serving while others are just incapable of comprehending much of anything, much less the Bible.

      A good many of the world's troublew that you love to blame on religion are in fact caused by inaccurate, faulty, and downright wrong interpretations of whatever holy book some people believe in or instead choose to use as clubs to force people, ignorant of the contents of those pages, into their own self-serving molds.

      We all have needs to be met and that should be done in an ethical way. If we all look out for each other to a reasonable extent there should be no need to lie and cheat and steal to get our needs met. There is enough for everybody, but some people are never satisfied and some hoard way more than they will ever need instead of sharing.

      When the ship is sinking every lifeboat should be filled to capacity, but not beyond. Sinking the lifeboat would make no sense, but leaving the area unfilled to capacity is just plain mean spirited and selfish to the extreme.

      I don't believe selfishness is in everyone's genes. I think it is often learned, like racism and intolerance in general. Yes, some people are born selfish and without concern for anyone except themselves, but I think they at least used to be the exception. They do seem to be proliferating these days.

      Even if the majority of people act in a selfish way, that doesn't make it right. Just as discrimination against people because of their color or sex or ethnicity isn't right no matter how many people do it, stealing and hoarding is not right either.

      We are driven to procure our needs, but we do not have to hoard beyond what even our great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will need to sustain themselves, yet a lot of people do that in our world. They also steal from the poor only to waste what they have stolen on what I would call garbage.

      I know you don't think so, but I do believe there will be a day of reckoning, and when that day comes, I will be on my cloud with my binoculars watching from afar.

      I know what God did to an entire extended family because one of them stole what today we would call a minor object. I don't even want to think what will happen to these people who steal from working class and poor people causing them misery and even death in some cases.

      There are still a few people in the world who try to do what is right simply because it's the right thing to do. A pity there are so few of us, but count yourself fortunate if you happen to be acquainted with one of them.

      We have an interesting sky as the sun rises this morning here in North Texas. Hope you will have a great Sunday. If nothing else, you can appreciate that today is not Christmas and that should give you untold hours of pleasure. ;) xox

    • profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago

      Thank you...a face that has seen many moons I am afraid, but perhaps your culture has more love and respect for older people: they are despised here. Bob

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 7 years ago

      Selfishness is the driving force that motivates you.

      Food for thought?

      It is good that I can put the face to the name now, Bob. :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Yes, although that has pragmatic reasons as well as selfsh ones...Thanks for comment...Bob

    • profile image

      Denise Mohan 7 years ago

      Like the flight attendant says, "Please place your oxygen mask on before you try to help the child next to you."

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      For me, receiving and thinking of myself these days makes me nervous and is a sort of embarassment. I am far more giving than I once was, and yet, appreciation seems thin on the ground...perhaps it is too little too late..Bob

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

      This is a good bit of musing on the nature of selfishness, Bob. I think we're all born selfish. It's a survival mechanism in the first instance. We then learn to love and share through our connection with our parents and siblings, then later through our wider family and friends, and eventually through our extended community. A little self-interest is a good thing, but there always needs to be a balance.


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