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On the Importance of Selfishness

(excerpted from The Grateful Unrich…: Chapter 12: Zootown)

After a year traversing the planet and a few months of blue-collar reality working 80 hour weeks with a Pipefitters Union in Minneapolis, my plunge back into academia at the University of Montana in the fall of 1989 is reverse culture shock central.

I am a reader/grader for a Philosophy 200 Ethics class. The teacher is a wannabe aristocrat who plays violin in the city orchestra and worships Aristotle from the safety of his intellectual ivory tower.

My first tests come back and Aristotle tells me the kids are lazy and doomed to gas station employment, since they have forgotten the sacred commas and can’t spell teleology.

I tell him he is brainwashed and that modern Western culture is a product of centuries of dualistic and atomistic philosophies and their logical consequences. The primary result has been a substantial devastation of the diversity of life which existed on this planet prior to the adoption of said worldview.

One of the most dangerous dualities which emerged is the notion that our self-interest is naturally at odds with altruistic behavior. I write a paper titled The Importance of Selfishness for a more radical sane professor named Tom Birch. The argument goes something like this:

Indigenous cultures hold a high regard for gift-giving. The Lakota Sioux have a giveaway ceremony. The Athabaska conduct potlatches. In Ituri Pygmy society the hunter who makes the kill always eats last. In all hunting and gathering societies there is an understanding that giving is a means of gaining respect and is thus the ultimate act of selfishness. In such a society one’s self-interest coincides with the interests of the tribe, destroying the dualistic Western notion of self which facilitated the rise of Homer and Aristotle and other purveyors of the merits of pirate capitalism.

This same metaphysical harmony exists in all the world’s major religions. Hindu doctrine espouses a circular notion of karma, whereby a person – through good deeds and purity of heart – attains enlightenment.   The equivalent Buddhist version of this is nirvana.

Tibetan Buddhism- along with its counterparts Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism- goes even further down the road of selfishness. The Dalai Lama teaches that compassion towards oneself is the primary component of compassion towards others and towards life in general- that self-interest is equal to the interest of the whole.

Early Christian sects believed that giving alms would result in eternal salvation and even the modern day passing of the tray at every Catholic Church in America symbolizes the notion that through giving one with attain Heaven. Islamic and Jewish laws contain similar non-dualistic ideas on the subject. So what caused the emergence of this guilt and shame-ridden duality in Western scientific and cultural circles?

The reason probably has more to do with economics than it does with philosophical underpinnings or scientific consistency, though at some point the three have become inextricably linked. The market began dictating science and philosophy to perpetuate the consolidation of international monopoly capitalism.

It is instructive that when scientists cynically rail against the evils of human nature, while their philosopher cohorts chant down self-interest, both camps are quick to cite unjust economic schemes and relationships as their example. Rarely do they mention that these schemes seem to be confined to modern Western capitalist societies, where a skewed framework based on duality encourages the split between self-interest and altruism. Nor do they broach the question of whether greed is, on a long-term basis, a truly selfish act or one of self-destruction.

Their self-censorship keeps them well-paid spokespersons for the oligarchy, which profits from this mockery of logic via its never-ending international shakedown cruise.

In indigenous cultures buying and selling occurred only at a local level. Economy was based on sharing, reciprocation and an egalitarian dispersal of resources. Those whose kindness was greatest were honored and respected leaders of their communities. Since there was no perceived duality between the interest of oneself and the interests of the whole tribe, the village worldview remained un-fractured and intact – reinforcing a loving, sharing viewpoint towards all living things, rather than one of violence and suppression which has accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism. When resources are derived at a local level it is obvious that any hoarding of goods results in the demise of both community and self. Self-interest is furthered by a healthy respect for the ecosystem that sustains everyone.

As commerce moved beyond a local level, it needed justification for the short term greed which propelled it outward. Self-interest increasingly came to be viewed in terms of money and property, as a system of class sprang up. Equality and sharing gave way to colonization of resources in far-away foreign lands and the exploitation of cheap labor through a rigged international monetary system. Western philosophies which promote dualism and atomism are merely myths which were fashioned to rationalize this colonization process.

Self-interest became associated with this cunning colonial approach to attaining wealth, probably so that potential competition could be intellectually snuffed out. This supposed self-interest is now played out daily on the world’s stock exchanges and in corporate boardrooms around the world.

As capitalism reaches its final phase and internationalizes further, one can expect even darker views of self-interest to emerge, foisting additional guilt and confusion upon an increasingly atomized and shattered people. Self-destructive tendencies will become more prevalent as people become more alienated from the wholeness of self and from the planet, which operates on a basis of whole cycles.

Failure to recognize these delusions will result in an increased destruction of both the planet and its human inhabitants. Do we wish to survive as a species? Perhaps these deadly myths can only be destroyed if the economic structure which spawned them – namely monopoly capitalism – is destroyed.

I transfer into the more radical Environmental Studies (EVST) department and become involved with the local Earth First! Part of my attraction to Missoula had been an increasing belief that saving the environment was the most important thing I could do.

But the more time I spend with these people the more I realize that most of them have come from wealthy families and hold a general disdain for working class people. These misanthropes rail against loggers, ranchers and RV owners; but when I name the corporations who are actually behind the environmental rape of Montana, they become deaf.

Their upper-class upbringings make it taboo to talk about class. They are tools of Rockefeller’s “zero population growth” Club of Rome and the Rothschild-led banking cartel.

Dean Henderson is the author of five books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve, Stickin’ it to the Matrix & The Federal Reserve Cartel.  You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @

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7 thoughts on “On the Importance of Selfishness

  1. Very thoughtful, I will enjoy ordering your book.

    Posted by Sylvia Anderson | April 9, 2012, 10:46 am
  2. Though it isn’t the main theme of your article, I’d like to point out that according to Hindu philosophy, nirvana is the state of ultimate bliss and a person who attains it is free from the cycles of re incarnation. Maybe our corporations, politics, economics and everything else which seeks to gain either profit or power have changed our perception of what giving means, but I’ve been offered food and shelter and medical care during my travels to villages and tribes who had absolutely nothing to gain from me. Mothers definitely do not thing about propagation of species while giving to their young, though we can attribute this instinct as being selfish. Nevertheless, our capitalistic mindset has to change and that would only be possible if we can overcome our greed. How do we do that? Still searching for the answer :)

    Posted by brahmntobe | April 9, 2012, 11:32 am
  3. If you reach nirvana, then there’s no difference between your self and other selves, is there? So if you perform an act of altruism for someone else, you’re really doing it for yourself.

    Didn’t Jesus also teach that self-love and self-forgiveness were also important and before we can love others, we should love ourselves first? Not in a narcissistic way but in a compassionate way, accepting ourselves as we are with all our faults and past misdeeds.

    Posted by Jen | September 24, 2012, 9:49 pm
  4. I like the way Conversations with God by Neale D. Walsch phrases the idea. I’ll paraphrase… Be Selfish, with a capital S, knowing that we are One. Take care of your immediate self, so you can help care for the larger Self.

    Posted by David | September 25, 2012, 10:18 pm
  5. I believe that the term, ‘selfishness’ has been vaguely defined in the article. First of all, there is a difference between the act of a human being doing something beneficial to his own personal life, without violating rights of another human being VERSUS (a) where a human being continues to benefit himself, while knowingly grossly neglects his moral obligation to help a neighbor next door who may be starving VERSUS (b) another human being who is a businessman, and who thinks about his self-interest so much that he hoards the scarce commodities and sells them in black-market and forces the needy people to pay higher price, or at a higher level, the multi-national corporations in the West that conveniently practice harsh policies of ‘protectionism’, but force poor nations to practice concepts of open and free market, use their cheap labor, their natural resources at cheaper price and force them to import the finished products at a market price of the West, or launching wars on poorer nations that do not wish their central banks not to be controlled by the World’s financial elite.

    In the example (a) one has a right to be selfish and not feed the hungry and continue to behave like a jerk, which is fine, but this sort of selfishness does not contribute anything to the society, but still it is not so bad. However, in example (b) the selfishness degenerates to extreme greed to the degree that it certainly violates the rights of other human beings and nations and is evil.

    Also, psychologically selfishness gives rise to unhealthy mental state of mind, resulting in behaviors that are harmful both to the selfish person as well as to others. All human relationships that breakdown are the result of selfishness of either one party or the other or both. All unhealthy egos build around selfishness. All racism, hatred and bigotry and support of wars are based on selfishness.

    Posted by Jaseem Pasha MD | October 31, 2012, 11:11 am
    • Hopefully this is exactly what the article coveys Jaseem – a deconstruction and definition of true selfishness vs. greed. May want to give it another read and see if it resonates…

      Posted by Dean Henderson | October 31, 2012, 11:18 am
      • Yes, I agree with every point you made in your article. Your blog gives a great insight into the socio-political system of the world today. Sadly, the psychopathic indoctrination of an average citizen by the apologists of capitalist system, the mainstream media and the academia constantly promote and glorify selfishness as a ‘natural’ and ‘innate’ biological phenomenon of survival of the fittest, and pseudo-scientifically justify and explain the emergence of capitalism as a natural evolution of the best economic system, in spite of its predatory nature. When I wrote my comments, I was actually trying to re-inforce your views and spoon-feed those ‘indoctrinated’ readers who might sincerely believe that selfishness could be one’s source of strength, progress and prosperity.

        Posted by Jaseem Pasha MD | November 1, 2012, 6:40 pm

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