Since when is self-interest a bad thing?

March 21, 2007

Today I read a good post over at a blog called, The Journey Out.

The author makes several points, but the one I agree most with is her comment on self-interest. These days, it seems everyone is brainwashed into thinking that if you act for yourself, you are being selfish, and are therefor not a very good person. What are we doing here, if not to live our lives to make ourselves happy?

A quote from the blog post:

“I find that rational self-interest is the only LOGICAL way to live my life. After living my life at the whims of others, I find that I am entitled to live my life now as I see fit. I am entitled to live a free life, loving my family, and living the way I want to. I’ve earned that right. Some people don’t get the concept of rational self interest because they have been brainwashed into thinking that we must always live for others.

What is it about our society where this concept of the rational pursuit of one’s happiness is considered suspect? In the evolution of mankind we all started out doing exactly this, keeping ourselves and our chosen communities alive, living for our own sakes, living to be happy. In what bizarre twist of evolution does self-sacrifice enter the picture? Sacrifice to further your familial line is logical, but sacrifice for a stranger, it’s not logical nor does it serve a purpose unless you are trying to earn some future reward or accolades from those who look back on the event.”

To read the article in it’s entirety, click here.



  1. First of all, you really need to read the original post in its entirety to really understand what he is referring to. I will leave the church and beliefs out of this though. He does make a few decent points though.

    He gives an extreme example of a drowning person … would you save him if you couldn’t swim? What kind of example is that? Oh course you wouldn’t because you can’t swim. Doesn’t make sense for two people to die.

    Ok let’s use a less extreme example. You see someone hit their head on a rock and are now drowning in a fast flowing river, you can swim fairly well. Do you attempt to save them? I know I would, even if it endangered my life. Wouldn’t you like someone to do the same for you if it came down to it? This has nothing to do with religion.

    I enjoy helping people in need. You know they appreciate it and you know you made a difference, even if it’s just a smile or you made their day. I could go on with real examples but I have a feeling I’m already getting offtrack.

  2. Helping others is not a bad thing, but that’s not the point of the post I was making. It’s that so many people live their lives for other people, forgetting that they themselves need to be happy as well.

    This may sound dramatic, but you are born alone and you die alone, and in the middle you find many things and have many experiences. In the end… I’d like to know I led a life doing what made me happy and not a life lived to impress someone else or follow the guidelines of what other people wanted for me.

    Yes, the article does stretch things, but that’s often done to get a point across. The article would have been better if he’d stuck to making one point, instead of covering so many angles, but still.

    The author of the article may have been using religion as his example, but it can been seen in another way as well. It’s about living your life for yourself, and not just for others. Be happy, take care of the people you love, and don’t follow a path that someone else has decided you should take, if it’s not what you yourself want.

    Whether you want to apply that way of thinking to religion, or just life in general, it’s up to you.

  3. I agree, he was all over the map with that post. After you read his whole post you realize it’s mostly about religion, so it’s hard to see it any other way.

  4. Jason and Matt,
    All over the map? Chalk it up to my being female instead of a male if you must. I have a lot on my mind. 🙂

    But seriously folks, the point I was trying to make is that sacrifice your life if you want to, but it’s not a natural way to live by evolutionary standards, and yes, religion does teach that it is. Being generous and kind is certainly our prerogative, but it’s not a requirement for survival.

    No one says you can’t help the drowning person, by all means do so if your values require it, but I wouldn’t expect someone to give up their life for mine and I certainly wouldn’t give up my life for anyone, except for my family because I chose to make them a value in my life. The whole point is it’s our CHOICE, not that it is a requirement in order to justify our existence. Hell, some people just feel guilty for being alive and that’s their entire motivation for self sacrifice. I don’t think we should feel that way. I certainly don’t feel that way. I’m alive because I fought for it. We don’t ask to be born, so we aren’t required to live by others people’s values unless they match our own.

  5. Sorry, I forgot to identify myself as the author of “A Journey Out” as well as “Mystery of Iniquity.”

  6. I have some questions in regards to where you came up with the theory that people feel guilty for being alive, and where they feel a need to justify their existence by obligatory assistance to everyone in distress?

    I certainly for one do not see this as a common occurrence in the general psyche. In fact, I see a lot of what you are describing as “rational self-interest”.

    So I’m wondering where you came up with this idea?

  7. Also I notice you saying that “religion believes”…have you done a lot of reading and research about different types of religion or are you informed only by what other people have told you?

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t what anyone knows about religion simply what they have been told?

    The Bible is different stories from different people’s personal accounts, and it is taught to people by either reading it, or hearing it from a Minister, Priest, etc.

    So, essentially, what anyone knows about religion is what they’ve been told by someone.

    I’m not trying to start some debate about religion, in the area of who is right and who is wrong, as that is an argument I long ago decided was a waste of time. There is no way of answering which is right, and which is wrong, but people on both sides continue to feel the need to try.

    Anyways, getting into a discussion on religion was not my objective when I first made this post. It was intended to be about the fact that people should live their lives to be happy, not to conform into what someone else wants or expects of them.

  9. But you do realize that a large number of people base their lives on religion so it kinda goes hand in hand for most.

    And you don’t learn everything from what people tell you. You experience it, you discuss it, and you can read about it.

    I was simply asking questions….i thought it was an interesting topic….

  10. Amanda,
    Well, I studied philosophy and mythology (which is where all religion comes from) in college but took my Master’s degree in English Lit. I’ve read literally thousands of books and have experienced much in my 47 years. My opinions come from my reading, my own observations and my admiration of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. You should read her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness.” That explains where I’m coming from far better than I can. I believe people are TAUGHT to feel guilty for being alive which is so wrong on so many levels. Most religions teach this concept (and yes, I’ve studied religion), religions that deal with suffering and sin anyway.

    As Matt observed, my post isn’t about religion, but about evolutionary thinking and how we come to value what we value. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m just voicing my opinion. Besides, why the obsession with asking people where and why we get our opinions? Who cares?

  11. Amanda,
    To answer your second question. No I didn’t just listen to what people told me, although why this is wrong I don’t know. It’s what college is about after all. Oh, and yes, I have personal experience with religion as well. I was a Christian fundamentalist for 23 years, and am or have been a member of the Catholic/Greek Orthodox church, the Lutheran church, Churches of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Baptist Church, etc. In my faith journey I’ve tried most of them and read about most of them as well. All of this information is on my blogs, free for all to read at any time, but why you question my right to post is beyond me.

  12. hahaha wow…simple questions really do get people fired up eh!?

    I don’t consider asking a question an obsession…but if you wanna use that word then that’s your purgative.

    I never accused you of anything…i never said anything aggressively, and certainly never implied you didn’t have a right to voice your opinion. Yet you come back with these defensive answers!?

    I was hoping to have an intelligent conversation…but you are obviously just interested in challenging me for having an opinion of MY own.

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