Happy To Be Selfish

According to the Left, the interests of the needy outweigh those of the greedy. That’s why they have no problem with the government confiscating money from the rich and giving it to the poor. The selfish desire to hoard cash, masquerading as property rights, is trumped by the need to alleviate the suffering of the disadvantaged. Any qualms we might have about seizing people’s assets and stripping away their freedoms are nothing compared to the wickedness of standing aside and letting the haves prosper at the expense of the have-nots.

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© Mark

It’s this reasoning that enables leftists to be as duplicitous and deceitful as they like, and to bury any doubts they might have about the legitimacy of their actions. Their support for the principle of helping others puts a halo over their heads that nothing can dislodge. Even if they fail to make any personal sacrifices in the name of their beliefs, that they hold them in the first place is enough to put them on the side of the angels. Their own selfishness and hypocrisy is irrelevant providing the underprivileged get what they need. By extension, those who oppose leftist beliefs are inherently evil, irrespective of their personal conduct, because they are reluctant to let the government take a little of what they have to help others.

If you are able to set aside the immorality of violating people’s personal sovereignty, then the Left’s outlook makes a strange kind of sense. But only if there is no other means of improving people’s lot. If the plight of the poor can be addressed in ways other than wealth redistribution, then the Left does not have a monopoly on virtue, and to prefer other methods of tackling poverty is not a mark of iniquity. In fact, if any approach is evil, it is one that is clung to in spite of evidence that better alternatives exist. Since socialism’s record of raising people’s quality of life is patently inferior to that of capitalism, it’s clear which system is most ‘evil’.

Those on the Left claim there is more to quality of life than having money. They believe that large disparities in wealth cause ‘psychosocial’ anguish that can only be assuaged by making the rich less rich, and the poor less poor. This is a fancy way of saying that envy bums people out, and rather than identifying it as an unworthy emotion, it should be legitimised and avenged. Even if you subscribe to this theory, it is surely also true that being poor is lousy, no matter how well or badly off anyone else is. The point quickly comes where lacking the means to better your material existence and enjoy a more fulfilling life is no longer compensated for by the knowledge that everyone else is in the same sinking boat.

Human contentment relies, in part, on people feeling they are able to improve their circumstances. They don’t want to be spoon-fed a fixed standard of living by a ruling elite; they want excitement, challenge and a sense of achievement. A society that divvies up the collective wealth to ensure everyone receives their ‘fair share’ is one in which the prospects of self-improvement are diminished. Moreover, such a society will be so economically fragile that the standard of living it is able to provide will quickly fall below that which people could obtain by fending for themselves.

The reason for this is that we humans respond to incentives, and serving up life’s essentials on a plate discourages people from doing their best. Inefficiency, corruption and waste are bound to follow, resulting in a less productive society. Even if you believe that sharing the wealth is the way forward, you must first create the wealth to be shared — so removing the forces that encourage its creation makes little sense. Unless, of course, you believe that equality is more important than all the other factors that contribute to our happiness, or unless your priority is to create work for the people involved in administering a collectivised society. If that’s how you think, then claiming you care about the welfare of others is a barefaced lie.

So do leftists deny the effects of incentives on our behaviour? Yes and no. They are the first to observe how the lure of personal gain corrupts the human soul, leading to acquisitiveness and indifference to the suffering of others, but deny that the same incentive can be a force for good. They believe that public spiritedness motivates people to do their best, but reckon the pursuit of self-interest leads to unhappy outcomes. In other words, they hold in contempt any incentive that can be acted upon by individuals without the involvement of a mediating authority, but are enthusiastic believers in the motivating power of collectivised missions, administered by a ruling elite.

The evasions and deceptions of the Left reveal a pattern that tells us something about the world it aspires to. It is one where the capable and the fortunate are expected to work to the best of their abilities, producing all the things we need, despite being demonised, humiliated, and denied the rewards they would otherwise reap; one where the wealth they create is lavished on subsidised goods and services for everyone else to enjoy, on picking up the slack of those who reject bourgeois notions of excellence, and on supporting those who lack the ability or inclination to get their hands dirty; one where the productive are whipped into financing a consequence-free utopia for the unproductive; one overseen by an Olympian council, comprised and sponsored by the kind of people whose sense of entitlement free societies have traditionally failed to endorse; one in which there is no hope of change or improvement other than that allowed by the powers-that-be.

If this is what compassion looks like, I’m happy being selfish.

  18 comments for “Happy To Be Selfish

  1. Paul Marks
    Apr 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

    The “left” (for want of a better word) are very good at inventing justifications for theft – claiming it is not theft at all. The latest wheeze is to go back to the old “LAND MONOPOLY” fallacy – a development of the errors of David Ricardo (exploded by Frank Fetter more than a century ago) and reinforcing this false economic theory with history – pretending that the Norman Conquest of 1066 and/or Henry VIII’s confiscation and sale of monastic land (to finance his Scottish war) in the 1500s, justifies land theft now.

    All the usual suspects are active – Noam Chomsky (the Pol Pot supporter – see “The Anti Chomsky Reader”) George Stiglitz (the print and spend “Nobel”), Mr Putin’s Max Keiser – and on and on.

    Basically the left will try anything to “justify” their desire to loot the “plutocracy”, the “rentier class” – or whatever smear terms they use for rich people.

    • Apr 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      One thing’s for sure: the Left’s beliefs are not based on a conviction that they produce the best outcomes for the most people. It is not about results, it’s about a process — it’s about creating a society in which the ‘right’ kind of people are held in esteem, and the ‘wrong’ people are brought to heel.

      This essay by Roger Scruton dissects the leftist pathology very well: http://www.omp.org.pl/stareomp/scruton_tot_ang_ang.html

  2. Apr 26, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I think it’s a mistake to embrace selfishness, even given your qualification of the term. “The Left” is a broad category, most of whom would reject your characterisation above. In part the difference between people who take a leftwing view is not over goals, but the means to attain those goals. The argument from the free trade liberals is that economic liberty is by far the more effective way to raise up the conditions of the poor compared to state socialism. However, much of the dislike that leftwingers have of what they call capitalism is not aimed at the kind of economics embraced by the original liberals, but rather is aimed at the same targets of those liberals, namely a kind of mercantilist cronyism.

    Much as it may be fun to bash the Left, and much as many of them deserve it for the reasons you give, I think it wiser to try a little oil rather than vinegar.

  3. Apr 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I am not a Randian Objectivist (although I do share some of their Aristotelian principles – the universe is real, the human mind is also real, we can choose between good and evil……) , but even they did NOT oppose benevolence.

    Indeed they are often very benevolent – seeking to honour the good they see in others (by helping them).

  4. Ayumi
    Apr 28, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    If we were living in a perfectly free market society – which is fair play-, your reasons for bashing the Left are sound. But it’s not a free market here, it’s a “mixed-economy” (mixed between Laissez fair philosophy and heavy handed state intervention, which in effects creates = heavy handed state intervention; a death grip on the 99.90%), they just don’t know the difference.

    The Left are bashing the results of a “mixed-economy”, and rightly so, because it has given rise to the largest income disparities, and the whole system’s completely unfair! Example; government subsidised monopolies, chain of red tape with loopholes which the average Joe won’t know about, you try to fight it in court but the court’s been bought out, I mean, there’s no chance for an ordinary hard working man to claim the fruits of his labour. So of course they get angry, but because education has been hijacked, media has been hijacked, the sciences have been bought out, the people – average people- don’t know but to blame free market capitalists (the greedy ones), because that’s what the powers that be high up the ladder want people to believe!

    And this “selfishness” issue is another thing.
    Churches and religious institutions have taught that being “selfless” is a virtue, and being “selfish” a sin. See, it’s the same thing, whenever an idea, a teaching, a way of life, a belief, anything, becomes “institutionalised” and enforced, it destroys the original meaning.
    The virtue of being selfless came out of love of the whole. An understanding that one’s own life is inherently connected as the rest of existence. So self interest, selflessness, self love, they all go hand in hand. Every individual pursuing his/her self interest is a healthy thing and creates a peaceful society.

    Self interest is NOT Selfishness. Self interest takes into account your own position in society – selfishness disregards it. If (only) natural laws were in place and enforced, selfish acts -like stealing, plundering, disrespecting other’s property rights, hoarding fruits of other people’s labour- would be prosecuted.

    Free market economy is based on self interest, not selfishness.

    • Apr 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Don’t we generally assume that people conducting themselves according to a principle do so competently (we might not uphold that policy but I think do, normally)? The only kind of selfishness that depreciates the people around you is selfishness done incompetently. Aren’t people, generally speaking, a source of profound economic and spiritual value? What then is a selfish person that acts as if people are not a value? That kind of selfish person is simply an idiot.

      Therefore, I suggest that there is no fundamental difference between selfishness and self-interest, although if I find the word selfish comes to mean “self interested persons acting incompetently ” then I will cease correcting people over the false distinction.

      What selfishness isn’t is bad.

      • Ayumi
        Apr 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

        I don’t know about being “in/competently selfish”.
        To me, ‘self interest’ (or rational self interest) more clearly expresses the point rather than ‘selfish’, which just adds fire to the self righteous Left.

        selfish
        adjective
        1.devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
        2.characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

        self-interest
        noun
        1.regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.
        2.personal interest or advantage. <——-
        Origin: 1640–50

        Kinda getting pedantic here,,, anyway.

        On principle we agree that everybody pursuing their own self interests makes a fairer society. This is the point that I want to stress, especially to the Left, that self interest makes a better society, not "yeah we're selfish so what". This message won't further our cause.

        • Zach Cope
          Apr 29, 2014 at 1:58 pm

          Perhaps there is a need for an opinion piece or debate around ‘Morals vs Methods’.

          There may be many who would like to live in a peaceful prosperous world who disagree on the political systems and methods to achieve this. Being explicit about our this may in fact enable us to persuade others better, as where our Morals overlap we can acknowledge this and then challenge others on the Methods without coming into conflict with their core Morals.

          It may be that for some the Morals and Methods cannot be separated, in which case change is more difficult to achieve.

          I don’t believe the political systems to enable long term peaceful societies that can adapt to change are fully developed, and I take the constant conflict in the world as proof of this (there are some logical weaknesses in this argument but given that non violent politics needs consensus a political message not resonating with the masses needs improvement).

          I’m too ignorant to pen such an article myself but perhaps this is a challenge to others – even understanding this dynamic amongst different ‘Libertarians’ would be useful.

          • Ayumi
            Apr 29, 2014 at 6:10 pm

            Yeah, definitely, people who bash Libertarianism often do so on moral grounds, not understanding that we share the same goal of well, a peaceful society. As for method, I find that the more one looks into politics, the more you see the dangers inherent in socialism, It’s not uncommon for Left leaning people to become Libertarian..

            • Zach Cope
              Apr 29, 2014 at 6:37 pm

              Agreed, which is why the practical and economic arguments against socialism are as important as the moral ones, if it’s persuading and challenging others one is attempting.

          • Apr 30, 2014 at 1:38 pm

            I note something has recently appeared in drafts.

            • Apr 30, 2014 at 4:11 pm

              Yeeeeah boyeeeee!

  5. Paul Marks
    Apr 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    No Ayumi you are mistaken – if only you were correct!

    It is not just the present they hate. I could understand that – after all the government now takes half the economy with its spending, and regulates the other half to bits (and its fiat money corrupts everything).

    They (the left) hate large scale private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange ON PRINCIPLE.

    This was made clear (yet again) by Max Keiser on the spiritual home of the “libertarian” left – Russia Today television. A long attack on Britain – in 1914.

    Not just now – but in 1914, When taxes were low (compared to now) and so were regulations – and there was not much of a credit bubble monetary problem.

    All the same stuff was trotted out – “plutocracy”, “land monopoly” all the same lies and distortions.

    And not just by Max – but by the left “libertarian” guest. Who had just made a film with Noam Chomsky (the Pol Pot supporter – see the “Anti Chomsky Reader”, George Stiglitz, the ultra big government man, and so on.

    These people are not friends – they are enemies. They are enemies to the very core of their being.

    • Ayumi
      Apr 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Paul, making enemies won’t change their minds.

      • Paul Marks
        Apr 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm

        Ayumi – I do not make enemies, I just discover them (never confuse the fireman with the fire – the fireman did not start the fire).

        And I am not even paid to do so – although it is a thankless task.

        Who wants to be told that their “friends” and “fellow libertarians” are nothing of the kind?

        it is like those people (and they did exist) who told others “Kim Philby is a socialist, just like his father, he is betraying us” – they were told “Kim is my friend, you are not, go away” (and “Kim” went on kissing people on both cheeks and then sending them to be tortured and killed by the NKVD).

        “But Paul you could talk to them”.

        Talk to people who think that Noam Chomsky and George Stiglitz are good guys? Who make films with them? And think that Britain before 1914 was an evil place dominated by a “land monopoly”?

        I would stand more chance talking to a swarm of Soldier Ants.

        YES socialists can be converted, but a socialist pretending to be a libertarian is a different sort of thing.

        Such people are players – and they play hard (and for keeps).

        Never doubt their power – or their ruthlessness.

        I am very much an amateur by comparison.

  6. Paul Marks
    Apr 30, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    As for socialists giving up socialism – it can happen suddenly (although the factors leading up to the break can have been building up for some time). The NKVD man who defected to the United States in the 1930s (and wrote “I Choose Freedom”) looked in the mirror one day in the United States (where he was on a subversion mission – of which there were so many in the 1930s and later) and said to himself “I do not believe in this stuff – more than that, what I believe is not compatible with this, and it is not compatible with what I am doing”.

    Later some of the New Dealers tried to betray him to the NKVD, but he had the protection of the FBI – then (but certainly not now) a semi independent branch of government.

    Today the Justice Department controls such things – and the Justice Department is controlled by Mr Holder (appointed by Mr Obama).

    In the American political system a hostile President (and those he appoints) can only be removed by impeachment – a clumsy process that has not worked in two hundred years.

    The United States neither had an (effective) “vote of no confidence” or even the provision of the old (British) Bill of Rights – denying the “pretended” power of the Executive to make laws (called “Executive Orders” in the United States) and to refuse to enforce traditional laws guarding liberties.

    It is a key weakness – allowing Presidents (such as the present one – and his creatures) to pass their own “laws” and to refuse to enforce the real laws.

    Although the old British Bill of Rights is forgotten in Britain also.

    Nothing connected with government can be totally trusted – due to the nature of government (being based upon force).

    But the Federal agencies are now actively (deliberately) hostile to even basic liberties – I would not give any Federal agency the benefit of the doubt.

    Oh well – the Texas Rangers?

    • Apr 30, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      I wonder if there are any common patterns in the cases where socialists saw the light and switched to labelling themselves libertarian.

      We might spot, empirically, what arguments are more effective than others at acheiving the seemingly impossible.

      • Paul Marks
        May 1, 2014 at 10:12 am

        Simon first there has to be an honest basis for discussion. If someone says “I am a socialist, I believe that poverty is caused by private wealth – for the following reasons…..” then one can refute the “following reasons” and go on from there.

        But (for example) media people (especially American ones) tend to deny being socialists – when they are.

        If there is not an honest basis for discussion (if people will not even admit what they are) then further effort is pointless.

        But if there is a honest basis for discussion (if people clearly state where they are “coming from”) then all things are possible.

        Most importantly one must go slowly – step by step.

        With interventionists there are a lot of ASSUMPTIONS (which they never question).

        For example that government regulations (such as an eight hour day – or a May Day holiday) have no cost – or that the costs are borne by “the rich” or “the corporations”.

        Once someone understands how a labour market works (no easy task) the scales fall from their eyes.

        When they understand that there is no difference between a labour market and other markets.

        Extra benefits (such as ORDERED eight hour days and holidays) mean lower wages – they HAVE to mean lower wages than would otherwise be the case.

        But you will have a hard job explaining any of this to (for example) French English language news – which is celebrating the work of “the workers” in “peaceful protests” such as the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886.

        “Anarchists” demanding ORDERS compelling eight hour days and May Day holidays (some “anarchists”) – and no mention of the bomb of course.

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