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JoeRedskin 07-22-2009 05:41 PM

Selfishness and Human Nature
 
In some of the healthcare threads, the concept of man’s innate selfishness was bandied about. This post started out as an addendum to one of my interminably long health care posts (Hey- In my defense, I was mocked for simply taking random jabs). I thought the concept interesting and applicable to a much broader range of concepts and, rather, than dilute an already lengthy post, I pulled this out and thought a new thread might be interesting. It’s offseason rambling but, hey, a little self-examination never hurt anybody. If no one finds it of interest, it will die a quick death. As I really haven’t read/examined Freud and the whole “Id/Ego” thing, I may be going over things that are much more well developed by individuals much more intelligent than myself.

Also - There is a real question at the end of all this so don’t think this is just some random lecture.

In much of the health care debate the role of “selfishness” was debated and assertions as to the selfish nature of man were bandied about. Essentially, it seemed to me that people kept asserting "People are inherently selfish" - whether it's in the id/ego thing or in the realm of spiritual/instinctual discussion. Throughout, the concept that, by nature, people are inherently “selfish” seemed generally accepted. i.e. – A person will inherently place their own needs/desires over the needs and desires of others even if doing so would be detrimental to others.

-- I disagree.

IMO - people are inherently self-interested [I]not selfish[/I]. Further, healthy self interest does not require that an individual place his interests above those of others. Rather, to me, self-interest equates more to self-awareness: knowledge that I exist and I am distinct. This self-interest, in turn, allows us to ultimately understand the needs of others. Aware of these needs and based on them, people often chose to place the needs of other above their own.

I believe all healthy humans past the age of about 2 have a strong dose of self-awareness - ask my 2 year old daughter she is in the "MINE!!" stage. In fact, my daughter’s instinctual behavior – claiming all things are hers and exhibiting possessive behavior of those things - would seem to be a strong indication of innate selfishness. Even at this young age, however, she is willing to share things that are “hers”. The sharing comes only after you acknowledge that it is hers to give. It seems to me that the acts of possession, rather than exhibiting an intent to place her desires above others, is an attempt to demonstrate to others that she has desires and needs. My six year old son, although entering his petulant phase, went through this “mine” stage also and emerged from it with consistent desire to place the desires of others above his own. My wife and I have always tried to nurtured this trait, but I would suggest he displayed both empathy and sympathy towards others at an early age and that it came to him just as naturally as did his desire to possess things.

In his desire to assist others who seemed sad, Aidan often chose an item dear to him, or one that would make him happy, as an offering to the sad person (I don’t believe him to be unique in this trait as I have seen it exhibited many other youngsters at that age). Further, although the people he most often choose to share with were family or friends, these “random acts of kindness” were not limited to individuals who would or had provided him love, support or gifts i.e. the actions did not appear to be driven by quid pro quo intent – in fact, he seemed blissfully unaware that some might expect to get a return on kindness given. Rather, the drive behind his actions appeared to be – “Are they unhappy? If so, they must need something. I will give them something that makes me happy even though it will make ME sad to lose it.” In these instances, it was his self-awareness as to what made HIM happy that influenced his choice on how to make others happy. Thus, rather than an exhibition in selfishness, his “mine” phase seemed to help understand the concept of need/want and the consequences when needs/wants were denied.

As adults, our self-awareness is much more heightened. We have a better understanding of our needs whether they be physical, material, spiritual, intellectual, etc. Likewise, I would suggest, we also have a more developed understanding of others needs. Rather than some instinctual “my needs take priority”, I suggest we go through our lives balancing our own needs against the needs of others and often choose to place the needs of others before ourselves. We make these choices because of our self awareness and the driving force in resolving these decisions is not “selfishness” - though it may be. I can think of many extreme and not so extreme examples of individuals making sacrifices without any hope, thought or expectation of recompense (either monetary, spiritual or other).

In that we are born requiring others to care for us, it may be that rather than an innate selfishness, we become aware at an early age of the giving by others. As we age and our self awareness grows, we recognize – at some level - the incredible acts of selflessness and sacrifice that were required to maintain our existence. Isn’t it possible, rather than innate selfishness, that through generations and generations of parental (and at the dawn of time, tribal) sacrifice it became ingrained in us that survival depends on giving? To me, the idea of selfishness and its effect on our decision making is much more easily transferred in society than that the concept of unrecompensed self-sacrifice.

I guess my question is this – and maybe there is a Freudian explanation: If we are innately selfish, how did the concept of “self sacrifice without recompense” come into existence? In that, by definition, such actions would be contrary to our most fundamental programming. How could we learn them? Again, if selfishness is innate, how could total selflessness ever be learned -- or even contemplated as a desired behavior?

My father taught me: Do good because it is the right thing to do, not for any expectation of a return. If he and I are innately selfish, what possible benefit to either of us was gained by this lesson?


Ramblings over.

CRedskinsRule 07-23-2009 09:11 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
First, I will use this thread inappropriately and ask how does the ratings work:

Typical ratings 1 star bad 5 stars great
but since bulletin boards have so many 0 stars, does 1 star mean hey give this a look, and 5 means wow, I need to share this with everyone; or doees 1 star mean this thread is so bad, I will actually take time to rate it with a 1 star?

ok

now that I have selfishly taken up your time to ask a purely self motivated question.

I thought this was a particularly insightful rant Joe, very well thought out (my response below, probably not so much).

I also think having kids opens one's eyes to the whole new dynamic of how we humans achieve independent competent thought. It is amazing to watch as they progress through varying stages and degrees of self awareness.

My sister has a book titled Nurture BY Nature, which talks of the importance of raising kids with an awareness of their core natures. Fact of the matter is this is hard because from the moment they are born they are shaped by the very essence of their surroundings. To your point about Aiden offering up his beloved toy, one can ask, does he do this out of his nature, or is it that he has for several years, been in an environment that models that core behavior. (Knowing you and your wife, I would say that the latter is true, and thus he only sees the world through those eyes). As he goes into school, and sees other ways to deal with self he may very well start to tend towards behaviours which are less in line with the selfless behavior you described.

Even within a family, one child may be raised seeing his Dad having a life philosophy of "you do right for no other reason as it is the right thing to do" and another child may never have seen that.

Going further, I think that the concept of the human nature can run the whole gamut. A person can at his natural core may have any shade of inate selflessness or selfishness, the extreme examples of Ghandi/Mother Theresa are easily balanced by the extreme selfish acts we here on the news, such as a man throwing a baby off a bridge, or out a moving car. Society's role is to help seek a normalization and balance of those two extremes. (One might say that society would be best if we all were Ghandis, but truth is for government and community to work there has to be some natural self interest, or else wolves and predators would abuse the rest of the society - the one cult that drank the kool-aid is an example of that)

I think an interesting side point on this would be what I think of as illusory selflessness. Using Aiden again, let's say that he has seen that when he sacrifices a favorite, he earns smiles and praises, maybe even ice cream, but when he displays an attitude of gee I am sorry that happened, he simply gets a pat on the back, both receive positive reinforcement, but ice cream beats a pat on the back ;). So he learns to set his self aside on the face of it, but it still has a root in self gratification. In adults illusory selflessness can even be used as a manipulative means of getting praise and satisfaction. (Note, I am not saying that was true of Aidan, merely continuing with him as a placeholder).

mredskins 07-23-2009 09:58 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=JoeRedskin;569387]In some of the healthcare threads, the concept of man’s innate selfishness was bandied about. This post started out as an addendum to one of my interminably long health care posts (Hey- In my defense, I was mocked for simply taking random jabs). I thought the concept interesting and applicable to a much broader range of concepts and, rather, than dilute an already lengthy post, I pulled this out and thought a new thread might be interesting. It’s offseason rambling but, hey, a little self-examination never hurt anybody. If no one finds it of interest, it will die a quick death. As I really haven’t read/examined Freud and the whole “Id/Ego” thing, I may be going over things that are much more well developed by individuals much more intelligent than myself.

Also - There is a real question at the end of all this so don’t think this is just some random lecture.

In much of the health care debate the role of “selfishness” was debated and assertions as to the selfish nature of man were bandied about. Essentially, it seemed to me that people kept asserting "People are inherently selfish" - whether it's in the id/ego thing or in the realm of spiritual/instinctual discussion. Throughout, the concept that, by nature, people are inherently “selfish” seemed generally accepted. i.e. – A person will inherently place their own needs/desires over the needs and desires of others even if doing so would be detrimental to others.

-- I disagree.

IMO - people are inherently self-interested [I]not selfish[/I]. Further, healthy self interest does not require that an individual place his interests above those of others. Rather, to me, self-interest equates more to self-awareness: knowledge that I exist and I am distinct. This self-interest, in turn, allows us to ultimately understand the needs of others. Aware of these needs and based on them, people often chose to place the needs of other above their own.

I believe all healthy humans past the age of about 2 have a strong dose of self-awareness - ask my 2 year old daughter she is in the "MINE!!" stage. In fact, my daughter’s instinctual behavior – claiming all things are hers and exhibiting possessive behavior of those things - would seem to be a strong indication of innate selfishness. Even at this young age, however, she is willing to share things that are “hers”. The sharing comes only after you acknowledge that it is hers to give. It seems to me that the acts of possession, rather than exhibiting an intent to place her desires above others, is an attempt to demonstrate to others that she has desires and needs. My six year old son, although entering his petulant phase, went through this “mine” stage also and emerged from it with consistent desire to place the desires of others above his own. My wife and I have always tried to nurtured this trait, but I would suggest he displayed both empathy and sympathy towards others at an early age and that it came to him just as naturally as did his desire to possess things.

In his desire to assist others who seemed sad, Aidan often chose an item dear to him, or one that would make him happy, as an offering to the sad person (I don’t believe him to be unique in this trait as I have seen it exhibited many other youngsters at that age). Further, although the people he most often choose to share with were family or friends, these “random acts of kindness” were not limited to individuals who would or had provided him love, support or gifts i.e. the actions did not appear to be driven by quid pro quo intent – in fact, he seemed blissfully unaware that some might expect to get a return on kindness given. Rather, the drive behind his actions appeared to be – “Are they unhappy? If so, they must need something. I will give them something that makes me happy even though it will make ME sad to lose it.” In these instances, it was his self-awareness as to what made HIM happy that influenced his choice on how to make others happy. Thus, rather than an exhibition in selfishness, his “mine” phase seemed to help understand the concept of need/want and the consequences when needs/wants were denied.

As adults, our self-awareness is much more heightened. We have a better understanding of our needs whether they be physical, material, spiritual, intellectual, etc. Likewise, I would suggest, we also have a more developed understanding of others needs. Rather than some instinctual “my needs take priority”, I suggest we go through our lives balancing our own needs against the needs of others and often choose to place the needs of others before ourselves. We make these choices because of our self awareness and the driving force in resolving these decisions is not “selfishness” - though it may be. I can think of many extreme and not so extreme examples of individuals making sacrifices without any hope, thought or expectation of recompense (either monetary, spiritual or other).

In that we are born requiring others to care for us, it may be that rather than an innate selfishness, we become aware at an early age of the giving by others. As we age and our self awareness grows, we recognize – at some level - the incredible acts of selflessness and sacrifice that were required to maintain our existence. Isn’t it possible, rather than innate selfishness, that through generations and generations of parental (and at the dawn of time, tribal) sacrifice it became ingrained in us that survival depends on giving? To me, the idea of selfishness and its effect on our decision making is much more easily transferred in society than that the concept of unrecompensed self-sacrifice.

I guess my question is this – and maybe there is a Freudian explanation: If we are innately selfish, how did the concept of “self sacrifice without recompense” come into existence? In that, by definition, such actions would be contrary to our most fundamental programming. How could we learn them? Again, if selfishness is innate, how could total selflessness ever be learned -- or even contemplated as a desired behavior?

My father taught me: Do good because it is the right thing to do, not for any expectation of a return. If he and I are innately selfish, what possible benefit to either of us was gained by this lesson?


Ramblings over.[/quote]

I just wanted to be selfish and quote you so that my post took up a large part of the first page of this thread. =)

Mattyk 07-23-2009 10:24 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
It's a shame that you seem to have such a jaded view, FD. Sure there are people that abuse the system but there are also plenty of perfectly legit people out there in need of help. You shouldn't let a few bad apples ruin the bunch.

mredskins 07-23-2009 10:34 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=Mattyk72;569465]It's a shame that you seem to have such a jaded view, FD. Sure there are people that abuse the system but there are also plenty of perfectly legit people out there in need of help. You shouldn't let a few bad apples ruin the bunch.[/quote]


Exactly! 1% will always abuse the system but don't let that stop you from helping the other 99%.

Mattyk 07-23-2009 10:47 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=firstdown;569471]Well maybe you need to read my post again. I said I'm NOT willing to help the lazy and said I willing to help anyone willing to help THEMSELF. What the heck is wrong with that?[/quote]

It's not always obvious which one is which though.

mredskins 07-23-2009 10:51 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=firstdown;569471]Well maybe you need to read my post again. I said I'm NOT willing to help the lazy and said I willing to help anyone willing to help THEMSELF. What the heck is wrong with that?[/quote]


You said that you use to help repair people's homes but the last two didn't thank you enough so you stopped.

Hmmm...I deliver meals to the eldery on Sunday, Meals on Wheels, the first guy on my route either swears at me or throws the food on the ground when I deliver it. Don't ask me why he is just grumpy. What if I just said screw this no one cares, will then the next 13 people on my route would probably go hungry that day.

Slingin Sammy 33 07-23-2009 11:27 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=JoeRedskin;569387]In some of the healthcare threads, the concept of man’s innate selfishness was bandied about. This post started out as an addendum to one of my interminably long health care posts (Hey- In my defense, I was mocked for simply taking random jabs). I thought the concept interesting and applicable to a much broader range of concepts and, rather, than dilute an already lengthy post, I pulled this out and thought a new thread might be interesting. It’s offseason rambling but, hey, a little self-examination never hurt anybody. If no one finds it of interest, it will die a quick death. As I really haven’t read/examined Freud and the whole “Id/Ego” thing, I may be going over things that are much more well developed by individuals much more intelligent than myself.

Also - There is a real question at the end of all this so don’t think this is just some random lecture.

In much of the health care debate the role of “selfishness” was debated and assertions as to the selfish nature of man were bandied about. Essentially, it seemed to me that people kept asserting "People are inherently selfish" - whether it's in the id/ego thing or in the realm of spiritual/instinctual discussion. Throughout, the concept that, by nature, people are inherently “selfish” seemed generally accepted. i.e. – A person will inherently place their own needs/desires over the needs and desires of others even if doing so would be detrimental to others.

-- I disagree.

IMO - people are inherently self-interested [I]not selfish[/I]. Further, healthy self interest does not require that an individual place his interests above those of others. Rather, to me, self-interest equates more to self-awareness: knowledge that I exist and I am distinct. This self-interest, in turn, allows us to ultimately understand the needs of others. Aware of these needs and based on them, people often chose to place the needs of other above their own.

I believe all healthy humans past the age of about 2 have a strong dose of self-awareness - ask my 2 year old daughter she is in the "MINE!!" stage. In fact, my daughter’s instinctual behavior – claiming all things are hers and exhibiting possessive behavior of those things - would seem to be a strong indication of innate selfishness. Even at this young age, however, she is willing to share things that are “hers”. The sharing comes only after you acknowledge that it is hers to give. It seems to me that the acts of possession, rather than exhibiting an intent to place her desires above others, is an attempt to demonstrate to others that she has desires and needs. My six year old son, although entering his petulant phase, went through this “mine” stage also and emerged from it with consistent desire to place the desires of others above his own. My wife and I have always tried to nurtured this trait, but I would suggest he displayed both empathy and sympathy towards others at an early age and that it came to him just as naturally as did his desire to possess things.

In his desire to assist others who seemed sad, Aidan often chose an item dear to him, or one that would make him happy, as an offering to the sad person (I don’t believe him to be unique in this trait as I have seen it exhibited many other youngsters at that age). Further, although the people he most often choose to share with were family or friends, these “random acts of kindness” were not limited to individuals who would or had provided him love, support or gifts i.e. the actions did not appear to be driven by quid pro quo intent – in fact, he seemed blissfully unaware that some might expect to get a return on kindness given. Rather, the drive behind his actions appeared to be – “Are they unhappy? If so, they must need something. I will give them something that makes me happy even though it will make ME sad to lose it.” In these instances, it was his self-awareness as to what made HIM happy that influenced his choice on how to make others happy. Thus, rather than an exhibition in selfishness, his “mine” phase seemed to help understand the concept of need/want and the consequences when needs/wants were denied.

As adults, our self-awareness is much more heightened. We have a better understanding of our needs whether they be physical, material, spiritual, intellectual, etc. Likewise, I would suggest, we also have a more developed understanding of others needs. Rather than some instinctual “my needs take priority”, I suggest we go through our lives balancing our own needs against the needs of others and often choose to place the needs of others before ourselves. We make these choices because of our self awareness and the driving force in resolving these decisions is not “selfishness” - though it may be. I can think of many extreme and not so extreme examples of individuals making sacrifices without any hope, thought or expectation of recompense (either monetary, spiritual or other).

In that we are born requiring others to care for us, it may be that rather than an innate selfishness, we become aware at an early age of the giving by others. As we age and our self awareness grows, we recognize – at some level - the incredible acts of selflessness and sacrifice that were required to maintain our existence. Isn’t it possible, rather than innate selfishness, that through generations and generations of parental (and at the dawn of time, tribal) sacrifice it became ingrained in us that survival depends on giving? To me, the idea of selfishness and its effect on our decision making is much more easily transferred in society than that the concept of unrecompensed self-sacrifice.

I guess my question is this – and maybe there is a Freudian explanation: If we are innately selfish, how did the concept of “self sacrifice without recompense” come into existence? In that, by definition, such actions would be contrary to our most fundamental programming. How could we learn them? Again, if selfishness is innate, how could total selflessness ever be learned -- or even contemplated as a desired behavior?

My father taught me: Do good because it is the right thing to do, not for any expectation of a return. If he and I are innately selfish, what possible benefit to either of us was gained by this lesson?


Ramblings over.[/quote]C'mon dude, puff, puff, pass. :cool-smil

Just kidding. Good post. Kids really do make you look at things, think about things and put things into perspective that you never did before. Like me, I have a 16 yr. old and I'm looking into ways to control the urge to push him out the car door while we're driving down the interstate.

JoeRedskin 07-23-2009 11:49 AM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=Slingin Sammy 33;569486]Kids really do make you look at things, think about things and put things into perspective that you never did before. [B]Like me, I have a 16 yr. old and I'm looking into ways to control the urge to push him out the car door while we're driving down the interstate.[/B][/quote]

Okay. That one made me laugh out loud.

When some friends of mine recently mentioned how scary it is being a parent, I replied: "The only things that really scare me about being a parent are when son begins to drive and my daughter begins to date."

JoeRedskin 07-23-2009 12:00 PM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
[quote=CRedskinsRule;569448]Going further, I think that the concept of the human nature can run the whole gamut. A person can at his natural core may have any shade of inate selflessness or selfishness, the extreme examples of Ghandi/Mother Theresa are easily balanced by the extreme selfish acts we here on the news, such as a man throwing a baby off a bridge, or out a moving car. [B]Society's role is to help seek a normalization and balance of those two extremes.[/B] (One might say that society would be best if we all were Ghandis, but truth is for government and community to work there has to be some natural self interest, or else wolves and predators would abuse the rest of the society - the one cult that drank the kool-aid is an example of that)[/quote]

I am not sure if it is a direct quote, but Aristotle said something like "If everyone were friends, then we would not need a government". If [I]all[/I] the members of a society were Ghandi's/Mother Theresa's then there wouldn't be a need for government b/c no predators would exist within the society. I guess even in such a society, however, the corporate whole would somehow have to provide for the common defense against external predators.

FRPLG 07-23-2009 12:27 PM

Re: Selfishness and Human Nature
 
I earnestly believe we act of base selfishness/self-interest/whateveryouwannacallit. Even when the recompense is externally imperceptible the inner(or spiritual to use Joe's lexicon) return is never negative. No one acts in such a way that the return is entirely negative. And to me if there is any positive then it is an act of self-interest.

Even Joe's postulation near the end of his original post requires that one is merely providing self-sacrifice "not for nothing". If it indeed has become genetically ingrained in us...or even environmentally ingrained in us that sacrifice is indeed required for survival then by definition that byproduct of self-sacrifice isn't nothing. It provides survival.

I don't think our selfishness must necessarily be exhibited in conscious ways (although it certainly can be). On the contrary I think our innate (the kind that really matters in this discussion) is essentially one of survival, and a comfotable one at that. Every single act can be traced back to that.

I take care of my daughter. Why? I love her. Why? Why do we care for others? Innately why do we care? Remember nothing we do is magic. It is all controlled by our brains. Actions, emotions, words all come from our brain. There's a logic to us. An incredibly complex perhaps incomprehensible logic but logic nonetheless. And that logic, that equation, has a function. Survival.

Wow we really need football season to start...but I love this kind of discussion. Trying to answer unanswerable questions.


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