In exploring what is wrong with the world, I think we must discuss the aspect of selfishness. It’s not difficult to realize that we live in an incredibly selfish society, mostly because selfishness drives our economy. Unfortunately, thought it has created a good economy, it has also created a morally bankrupt society, which ironically enough is leading us to a financially bankrupt society as well.
What is selfishness?
Selfishness can best be summed up as, “Looking out for myself first and all others second.” A selfish individual is someone who will look to his own desires first with little to no consideration for other people’s desires or feelings.
The other night I was walking into a store and saw a young person trying to wrestle away a case of beer from a security guard. When other people began to intervene, the young person dropped the case of beer and ran off. In this case, the young person represented what it is to be selfish; he gave no regard to the people who would lose money by him stealing that case of beer (most notably the store employees), but rather only cared that he got what he wanted. This, however, is an obvious and extreme example of selfishness.
Another form of selfishness is when we ask ourselves, “What can I get out of this?” For instance, if someone asks for you to donate money to the crisis in Haiti or to some other crisis and you respond you don’t have the money, you might have a legitimate excuse. Of course, if we find out that you’re paying money to keep your cable TV, your internet, to buy new clothes (when the ones you have aren’t tattered), or other uses to spend on yourself, it becomes apparent that you are selfish.
Some might read that and go, “I worked hard for that money so I should be able to use it how I desire.” And that is true to a certain extent. There’s nothing wrong with having luxury items or being rich – the problem is when we fail to use that money for good as well. It is popular in our culture right now to lament against the rich and accuse them of being the epitome of selfishness, but most of the people who complain about the rich are just like the rich, only with less money. It doesn’t matter if someone is a millionaire or lives from paycheck to paycheck; if both use their money for luxury items (like cable TV or a yacht) and barely come to the aid of those in need, then both are selfish, regardless of their income.
Even in our ethics we have become selfish. The ethic of hedonism has invaded America in full force. The belief is that so long as you don’t bring physical harm to someone, who cares what you do? If it makes you happy then do it. This argument is often used in the debate on homosexual marriage, that since two people getting married doesn’t impact anyone else (since we’ve forgotten that marriage has major social consequences), who cares what two individuals do? If an individual wants to use drugs, so long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else, who cares? Look at how many men and women don’t want to have kids because it would ruin the lifestyle they enjoy, of going out late, not having kids crying in the home, and so on. Or how many women don’t want children because it would ruin their body, or how many men bolt when they find out their girlfriend is pregnant or become emotionally distant when the wife is pregnant. The reason is we’re selfish and can’t imagine sacrificing our desires for someone else.
This ethic, however, is ignored in other cases. In the case of abortion and even some proponents of infanticide, even if the individual’s desires brings harm on the fetus or infant, that’s fine. We irrationally and unscientifically declare that the fetus or infant is not really a full human or not a person and therefore justify our selfishness. In the case of Judith Jarvis Thompson, she even acknowledges that the fetus might be a person, but still allows harm to befall the fetus in the defense of personal happiness and comfort.
We can look to the numerous cases of a man leaving his wife for another man or a woman leaving her husband for another woman and, regardless of how much that action hurt the spouse or the children, such an action is celebrated because it brought happiness to the offending party. Or what about when adultery occurs, but we justify it because “It makes the person happy!” In these cases, harm is done to an individual and a victim is created, but so long as happiness exists, for the offending party we don’t care.
So even the hedonism in America with the one clause, “Do not harm others in your pursuit of happiness” is not consistently followed; even if our pursuit of happiness will harm others, if we can justify such a harm, then we can continue our pursuit. We allow the harm to occur because we are selfish.
Selfishness is found in all aspects of our society, from the rich to the poor, among all races, all classes, and all business structures. We are a society founded upon looking out for ourselves first and other second.