There is a debate raging in modern society over the value of self interest and competition. It was declared that “Greed is good” in a classroom on the campus of some self important institution of higher learning (They’re all self important, except maybe the Barefoot College). It is proposed that competition and self interest are the key to advancement, to the salvation of the human race, and to abundance. Unchecked self interest is the war cry of modern capitalism. Complicated and apparently logically sound economic theories have been written based on this idea. But they address the issue with an eye toward convenience and partial thought. I can destroy any argument for the value of unchecked self interest with one simple assertion.
Self interest as the overarching philosophy for how to live only works if the individual pursuing self interest will be directly affected by their own actions. That is to say, if the CEO of a company lives half a mile downstream from the river that his factory pollutes. If he has to watch his children play in the muck and grow a third arm based on his decisions, then it is in his self interest to stop polluting the river. But as long as he can maximize profit and live 200 miles away from his pollution, his self interest will be unaffected by his decision to pursue it. The world is a complex web. Not a simple cause and effect. Distilling any overarching philosophy in the comfy cozy confines of an academic paper does nothing to address the misery of the (usually some shade of brown-skinned) people that really pay the price for our unchecked pursuit of self interest.
It is in our self interest to reject the claims of the masters of the universe. We are many and they are few. And the most harmful, albeit logical rationalizations come from the most powerful and educated among us. They know that if we knew, there’s no way they could stem the tide of the millions standing at their doorstep.
We must burn the eloquently composed theses of the few and live according to the wisdom and common sense that even illiterate men and women innately know. Beware your education. The solutions to the problems of this world will not be executed by the people who caused the problems in the first place. It’s up to you. It’s up to me.
Just as we judge cannibals and witchhunters of the past for their incomprehensible behavior, so too will future societies judge us for our poorly considered acceptance of self interest as a viable means of… well… anything.
Ironically, our cooperative, foraging ancestors, primitive as they were, may yield an answer to our woes. Fiercely egalitarian and democratic, not in name only, but in actuality, they put the needs of their brethren above the needs of themselves. And when every single person chooses to pursue not their self interest, but the good of another, we will flourish.
And since its always the winners that write the history books, when group cohesion and the good of all finally vanquishes self interest as the dominant paradigm in society, there will be a chapter entitled “Unchecked Self Interest: The Death Rattle of Inequality.”
This is not another academic paper. This is a certain prediction. Etch it in the stone at the base of the nearest skyscraper with some bank’s name at the pinnacle. And do it before that building collapses under the weight of its own short sight.