Archive for the ‘Nationalism’ Category

Two Deceptions

What is the nature of man? Is he naturally selfless, or selfish? Does selflessness really exist?

It can be argued that people really act in light of their self-interest. Their perceived self-interest. But instead of taking it as a general principle, I think it would be interesting to take it as an axiom. Maybe only as an exercise, to see what makes sense.

So people always act selfishly, in light of their own assessment of what that might be.

From the start, we see a problem. Some people act in ways detrimental to their being, taking their own objectives into consideration. If I’m trying to drive to another town, and I take a wrong turn, I probably won’t reach my destination, or I would be late. The decision to take that turn was bad, but I considered it to be good. It was in my interest to get there, so I made a mistake. It could also happen that the road signs and the maps have been altered to lead me down a stray path. What’s important is that I’m pursuing an objective. I am hampered either by my individual assessment, or by external malicious factors. This means that if I receive better informations, I will make better decisions, as I seem them to be better. So what I’m pursuing is self-interest.

But really, some people do act against their stated self-interest (if they are honest in that statement). Soldiers deciding to storm a machinegun nest, knowing full well that they don’t stand much chance to survive. If it’s not just a risk assessment (if they are not threatened with death if they don’t attack). But they are spurred by a desire to “serve” their nation. Here, I believe, there is a deeper issue. Let’s revisit the starting axiom:

“People always act in light of their perceived self-interest.” Note the words “their” and “self.” The error here is much more profound. Those soldiers don’t act because they don’t know what’s good for them, they act because they are deceived about who they are. Their “selves” are conflated with something else – a greater being: a nation, a society, a tribe. They consider themselves something larger than physical discernable selves. Their actions are subsumed to the actions of a larger entity. Self interest thus becomes the interest of this creature.

The first type of deception is usually in the realm of (Christian) religion. The self is recognized as an individual, but he is incented with the promise of an afterlife. A “good” person in this realm will reap great benefits in the next one. I actually talked to a few Christians and asked them why they are “good.” Specifically, I asked them if they would give up their place in heaven for another less virtuous than themselves. Would they willingly chose eternity in hell if it meant heaven for some other person? The answer cannot be yes. Christians are “altruistic” because they hope to receive a greater reward in the end.

The second deception is that of Collectivism. It’s much more diffuse and thus harder to cure. While religion can destroy perceptions, in certain limited manners, collectivism destroys the individual itself. If one’s decisions are part of a greater whole, one’s responsibility is also limited. The self and his ability to process information is thus destroyed in a more meaningful way.

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