written by: Cory Q
There are some concepts which have a name but no actuality. One such concept is altruism.
What is altruism? In short, the act of being selfless without regard for or benefit to yourself. Altruism is the word that encapsulates the idea of selfless self sacrifice.
The problem with this concept is the inclusion of "no benefit to self" of the person trying to be altruistic. I propose that there is no such action of self giving that can be seen to not also be self beneficial.
Let's look at an example: A child wanders out into the street and thereby the path of an on-coming car. In an instant a by-stander sees the child and rushes out into the street to get the child out of harms way. This action fulfills the concept of being self-sacrificial but I would argue it is hardly without benefit to the person who dashed out in traffic after the wayward child.
How can such an action be one of benefit? This by-stander just flung themselves in the path of a moving car for the benefit of an innocent child! But why did this by-stander take this course of action? For a number of reasons, which I think can all be called selfish.
Perhaps the by-stander knew the child. If so, then that person could be compelled to action by not wanting to suffer the loss of that child. Surely trying to avoid pain and loss are selfish motives.
Perhaps the by-stander does not know the child but doesn't want that random child to be killed by a car before them. Wanting to avoid the horror of witnessing such an occurrence can be called selfish.
Let's say the by-stander doesn't know the child and is not adverse to gore but rushes out in the street anyway. It could be several things that compelled the by-stander to do this. Perhaps that person wanted to be seen as heroic or capable in the face of adversity. Is it not one of the most selfish things wanting others to see you in a certain light?
How about a moral imperative as the basis of action? The by-stander sees a child wander into the street and knows that it is the wrong course of action to simply let the child be killed. So under the impetus of moral obligation the by-stander rushes into the street. I would say that act is selfish because the by-stander would suffer an internal torment after the fact as we often regret the things we should have done. There is also a possible social stigma of having not done something, even if self-detrimental, to help the innocent child in this situation.
Let's look at a more mundane example. The 'take-a-penny, leave-a-penny' jar. Surely something so small as leaving a penny for someone else to use later could be considered selfless! I disagree. There are two main reasons it seems to me that someone would leave a penny. The first reason being not wanting to tote around extra change. Sure someone else might benefit from this, but the base action is one of self comfort. The compulsion is to avoid having to deal with the loose change later. The second reason is hoping there will be a penny there when you need one in the future. The action is based on the idea of self benefit later, not helping someone else in the meantime.
I believe altruism is a false concept and that selfishness has been often misunderstood. There is room for a selfishness that benefits others as well. It may have been selfishness that sent the by-stander into the street, but they saved the child's life.
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