Rational Self Interest

Perhaps you believe you do the right thing because you rationally know what you ought to do — I say that is not enough.

That is in here — your head — a thought. You’ve thought about the right thing. You must act on it. To act is to will. And what is it to will something, if not a moment of choice to act decisively on a desire?

Morality of self interest? Any desire? All desires? Because you desire it? — No. Desire does not make a thing right, but you must first desire a thing before you can will it into reality. To think of morality as being about not desiring, is to destroy any possibility of self knowledge.

I want to do the right thing!

Whoever heard of true bravery, true integrity, true sacrifice — without passion — without the conviction to bring about one’s vision of reality — the conviction to materialise the could be.

Martin Luther King had a dream. He could taste it, smell it, touch it. He wanted it so bad, he wanted nothing more than to just reach into his ear holes and grab onto the idea with his bare hands, yank it out from his skull and into the world.

You think he did all that… because the arguments were compelling? Because it was the logical way to proceed? He had no self interest?

Yes you see I checked the facts, did the math, drew a truth table on this blackboard here, and it turns out black people are people too! Yes honey, I’ll be marching on the streets now and risking my life. Don’t wait for me! I’ll make myself dinner when I get back — if I get back! Yes, I love you too honey. I love you, but I have no personal interest in you. I am so unselfish that I love you for your own good. I love everybody equally and I love indiscriminately and without cause!

Who is really the dubious one here? Me? Because I believe rational self interest is not the source of evil, but rather irrational self interest? Because I believe in self esteem, self respect, and self trust in one’s own capacity for good judgement, and one’s capacity to possess good character, and that I believe fostering these things is what leads to goodness? To not be at odds with one’s desire to materialise the most compelling products of one’s own mind?

Does my enemy not have a single noble desire in their entire body? Do you brow-beat yourself into every ethical act? Do you do the right thing because you fear the consequences of doing wrong?

You see a wallet on the ground…

When I see the wallet on the ground — the proverbial unguarded, unearned treasures of other people — with the hundred dollars hanging out. Do you think I feel no temptation? It would be so easy to just grab that money. Even easier to find a rational justification for myself. To excuse myself “just this one time”.

The mathematics of ethics is not enough. Rational morality is not enough. You need eyes — the eyes that look back on oneself — the eyes that see narrative, the perspective through time, across time — the eyes of an author, the artist, the creator. You need to see meaning. You need to taste what it means to steal that money. Steal. The word should look like vomit. The hair on your neck pricks up because you sense destruction. You do not steal — because it is part of you not to steal.

You must have a visceral comprehension of the highest abstract meaning — the meaning of life, the universe, and our place as human agents with free will to do good and bad: and you live just once. You see that heaven is inferior to reality because in heaven there is no meaningful choice, and you live forever. You must have eyes in the sky, as if man through his striving has grown wings and can now perceive all things at once from above. You make judgement from a place that reduces all of eternity — and the kaleidoscopic mandala of all possible eternities — to a singular fork in the road, and extrapolates it out again into eternity. Every moment has gravitas. What if I just… steal that hundred?

When it comes to the business of doing what is good: there is sacrifice, there is risk to the self. Danger. Harm. Fear. The need for compromise. — There is no selfless virtue.

Oscar Elmahdy · June 2017

Originally published at realdealphilosophy.com