It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’ve been busy with college, but I have time tonight. And I want to post about a theory I learned about in Philosophy class: Egoism. So there are two types of Egoism: Psychological Egoism and Ethical Egoism. Psychological Egoism basically states that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is selfish. It’s our nature. Ethical Egoism is something similar, but I won’t get into that. I want to focus on that one statement. “Humans are selfish by nature.”
So, starting with some background that I’m sure you guys have a sense of… I’m quite a soft, emotional girl. I can be a push over. Even though I have a short temper, I still am seen as a compassionate, forgiving person who gets over her anger in a matter of minutes. Gentle, I guess is a word you can describe me as. Being a Buddhist, I’ve learned that compassion is a big deal. We should not harm another person and instead try to help out. I follow that principle, and it’s not a principle of Buddhism specifically that I follow. I find that it’s been a part of my nature since before I decided to label myself as a Buddhist. I can’t seem to even harm a damn fruit fly. I avoid stepping on ants if I see them on the sidewalk in my way. I start to tear up and almost bawl my eyes out when I see some sad documentary of animal abuse or any kind of unfairness.
Now, down to the main topic. I learned from my Ethics textbook that philosophers in Psychological Theory state that there is absolutely no such thing as a selfless act. Every action we do, is an action out of our own self-interest. For example, someone might volunteer to babysit and he or she knows that he or she will be paid for it. A kind (I guess) act with the self-interest of money.
I had trouble thinking through the statement that there is no such thing as selfless act. It’s a simple sentence, but I somehow couldn’t find myself wrapping my head around it and agreeing with it fully. What about all of the acts that I’ve done that I consider “selfless” in comparison to other people? When I was recalling some of my past actions (the ones I remember at least), I could name a few self-interest reasons why I did them. Like, doing all the chores by myself to avoid a lecture from my mom. Or doing certain things in public to give a good impression.
I understand all that. But at the same time, I don’t. I hold the door open for someone with their hands full or give up my seat to an elderly or disabled or a mother with a baby. I can see the motive that subconsciously I do all that out of the hope that people will view me as a good person. But if that was the pure reason I acted, why did I feel bad seeing someone struggling or in a helpless situation in the first place? I feel like I acted because I naturally felt sympathy and didn’t want those people to, for lack of a better word, “suffer” (there goes my inner Buddhist vocabulary…). If I wanted to make a lasting impression, I would have done so without feeling any emotion, or purposely do that with the thought “Oh, I want to appear like a good person so I should do this.” But I didn’t. What I often think is “Oh, man. This elderly woman is shuffling/limping and she’ll be in pain standing in a crowded train. I should give my seat up because I am a young, robust teen.” Okay, that was a very mechanical thought, but I’m just trying to make it clear.
Do you guys understand what I’m trying to say? I’m kind of confused as to how to explain.
I just… can’t think straight. This is going to sound seriously cheesy, but… I don’t know who I really am now. If the theory of “everyone is selfish” is true, then have I been subconsciously just been a really selfish person greedy for attention or wanting to escape blame (the latter is true at times, I admit)? HAS MY WHOLE LIFE JUST BEEN A FUCKING LIE?!?!?!
I mean, I could stay like an ignorant person and be like, no, that theory can’t be true. But my teacher played the devil’s advocate in class today and we threw a bunch of “selfless” examples and she just whipped back possible selfish motives. Guys… I just don’t know how to feel about myself and everything now.
Setting myself aside, what about public figures? Mahatma Gandhi? Nelson Mandela? Martin Luther King? They all stood up in front of the world expressing their want for freedom. Obviously that can be a selfish motive, but… they’re not doing that for themselves per say. They’re doing that for the benefit of EVERYONE, right? So how are those actions actions with “self-interest?” Does that even count as selfish acts? I hate to think like this, but are they selfish for freedom but pretend to be concerned for the welfare of everyone else? I really doubt it, but a really adamant pro-psychological egoism could probably refute my questions with that answer, right?
I talked to my mom about it, and I was partly surprised when she agreed with the statement right away. As soon as I told her about the theory, she right away without hesitation said something along the lines of “Of course. Everyone is selfish.” She then gave the example that Tibetans always say that if we do good deeds, we will have a good life in our next lifetime. So one can clearly see a selfish motive there. I hadn’t thought of that before. I should ask my dad tomorrow about it and see what he thinks.
So… What do you guys think? Being completely honest, do you think that NO one can do selfless acts? That we have subconscious selfish motives if there isn’t any obvious ones that we or others don’t notice? I tried thinking about this, but before I can even finish a thought, another thought would interrupt. I just can’t figure myself out.
I suppose people can say that I am currently a confused, skeptical yet indifferent girl…
Well, good night ya’ll. I’m gonna work on my English and History essay now. Fuck.