The Myth of Self-interest 5

The Myth of Self-interest 5

Having already discussed the fact that the Myth of Self-interest cannot possibly be true, and that believing it puts one at war with reality (a situation that always turns out badly), yesterday we saw how belief in the Myth of Self-interest leads to isolation and distance from others. As if these disadvantages were not enough to make this Myth unpalatable, today we will see how it makes friendship impossible, and how it poisons life unnecessarily.


The Myth of Self-interest makes friendship impossible

Don’t your own friendships provide all the evidence you need that the Myth of Self-interest cannot be true? Sure, sometimes your friends hurt you when they behave thoughtlessly or even maliciously toward you. And you hurt them when you behave badly toward them. But this is precisely because Self-interest has entered the picture, precisely because either your friend or you has fallen into selfishness. As is the case with all cooperative aspects of society, friendships are based not on self-interest, but on mutual respect, cooperation, and good will.

A real friend, especially when selfishness is not in the picture, is one of life’s greatest treasures. Just reflect on how good it is to have a friend to support you, to cheer you on, to offer a shoulder to cry, to give you advice, and to work with toward common goals. And think about how good it feels to be able to give this kind of support to your friends.

Do you really want to squeeze these deeply fulfilling pleasures out of your life by adopting an unverifiable theory of Self-interest that turns everyone into pre-programmed, advantage-seeking leeches?

I don’t think so. As Aristotle pointed out centuries ago, the value of friends is nearly inestimable. “Without friends,” he said, “no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1155a5.) And like every other social good, true friendship cannot exist without good will. So if you want to have true friends in you life, you will expend all your inner resources to develop your benevolence toward others, and to diminish your inclinations toward Self-interest.

The Myth of Self-interest poisons life unnecessarily

The conclusion of all our reflections on the Myth of Self-interest over the past few days should be quite clear. The Myth of Self-interest is a cynical and destructive belief that excuses selfishness and weakens the benevolence on which society relies for its solidarity. As an unverifiable theory that has deeply destructive consequences, it deserves neither adherence nor respect.

Yet this Myth continues to exert influence over many people, and they make life that much more miserable for all the rest of us. How can we eliminate the influence of this harmful Myth? Simply by refusing to act according to its dictates. There is no reason in the world why we should consult only our own interests in making any decision we have to make. There is every reason to be benevolent toward others, and to make our decisions by weighing our own interests together with their interests. Most of the time, we should probably even give more weight to their interests, as a corrective for our unconscious propensity to favor ourselves.

This attitude will strengthen the bonds that we need in order to live together in a world that desperately needs less confrontation and more cooperation.

In addition, on the individual level the virtue of benevolence generates the incalculable benefits of having friends, colleagues, teammates, and loved ones who care about us and whom we care about. Having such people around us gives us the opportunity to improve ourselves, and to increasingly understand how human interactions and relationships can create more harmonious, more supportive, and more humane life experiences for all people of good will.

We have all the encouragement we need to decide between the Myth of Self-interest and the virtue of benevolence. All we have to do is choose, and then guide our actions by our choice. This is how Myths are eradicated: people simply choose to stop paying attention to them, and eventually they wither and die.

Let’s make the choice, then, and leave others to follow our example.


Over the past two weeks, we have seen how the Myth of Scarcity generates fear of other people, and how the Myth of Self-interest creates a justification for behaving selfishly toward others. But these two Myths are really just the foundations for even more destructive beliefs. Tomorrow we will begin to discuss how belief in these first two Myths leads to yet another Myth, one that keeps us in a constant state of aggressiveness and combativeness—the Myth of Competition.

Until tomorrow, then.


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