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Ben B
  • Ben B
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Agonisticism: being selfish for a better world.

My proposition;
I am responsible for everything, anytime and anywhere,
and everything I do, I do solely for my own best interest.
This way, I will contribute most to the bettering of myself, humanity, and this world.

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    Mar 31 2011: By that concept, "trickle-down economics" works. Help myself before helping others. My eating at expensive restaurants employs people... to serve me.
    • Ben B

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      Apr 1 2011: One might also interpret it as "Helping myself by helping others, cooking a good meal for friends because I want to have an enjoyable evening, using homegrown vegetables cause they are so much tastier."

      As such the headline might be comparable to Epicureanism, but this is with disregard for the mention of the individual's universal responsibility mentioned in the actual proposition. My personal stance is actually that you don't need to be dependent on others (as targets of your generosity) to make things better, and that expenses towards quality pay themselves back.
      What I wish to achieve is a drastic change in the way we think about success. Right now it's linked too much to the monetary economy, while values like health, happyness, freedom and potential seem to be of minor importance. I believe that, if we want to overcome the challenges we face as the human race, we need to redefine concepts, roles and conventions on all levels, including that of a single individual.
      I personally believe the riddle of the distribution of wealth to be insolvable within our current mindframe of monetary transactions and efficiency. We need to empower people to make stuff happen, free of charge, with as only pay their own happyness.
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    Mar 31 2011: Ben, I guess your idea needs more explaining.
    If I read your statement "being selfish for a better world", then I disagree 100 % because there are just too many examples that prove that statement wrong.
    You also imply doing something SOLELY for your best interest will make the world a better place. Again, I can't follow this argumentation because there are just too many examples that show otherwise. Just look at corporate America, to get an idea how selfishness can lead to anything, but a better world.
    That said, I do think though, that there must be priorities. You have to start out being selfish, but only to establish the conditions for being altruistic. For example, you can't save anybody from starving if you are starving yourself. So, first feed yourself and then, with renewed energies, find a way to help others. The same is true for education. First you must get a good education, before you are in any condition to pass on knowledge.
    • Ben B

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      Apr 1 2011: I guess it depends on what we see as truely selfish.
      Coorporate America, in my view, is hardly selfish. Their goal is not just to make more profit, their goal is to make more profit ... than the competition. If someone's doing better, they get unhappy. If they're making less profit than the previous year, but they're still making more profit than the competition, they're happy. They don't take themselves as the reference, they benchmark against others.
      They are also not selfish enough in that they take big risks. Placing profit before continuation.
      If we compare a stereotypical European family-business with a stereotypical American coorporation, profit seems lower on the agenda. Because they own the place ... they can talk about MY company. If the company goes down, or they get into some kind of scandal, it's their company, and their problem. It's also their pride and joy. The CEO of a stereotypical American Coorporation on the other hand is just hired to get other people more money. If he doesn't deliver they'll get another ...
      Having a lot of money is not really an indication of being selfish. If it were, my statement would be mostly a cheap copy of Adam Smith's idea of capitalism and the free market. The game of that idea is to be better than someone else. Improvement driven by competition with others, or, more bluntly phrased; getting happier because you can make others more miserable than you are.
      Someone truely selfish doesn't care if 'the competition' is miserable or not, unless they have a really sick idea of fun ...

      Also, I don't believe true altruism is that common. Mostly it's just a disguise for our selfinterest.
      If for example I pass on knowledge, I have a lot of reasons to do that, none of which I would call selfless.
      (contributing to a better society for me to live in, learning stuff myself, making friends, passing time, having fun, giving me selfrespect, being respected by others, ..., and maybe even making money).
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        Apr 1 2011: Ben, I used to work for a fortune 500 company and I can tell you that you are dead wrong about the profit issue. Companies, do measure against themselves. If I make the company this year, let's say 1 Million, you can be sure that the company expects you to make at least 1.15 the next year......regardless of the competition.
        But maybe we have to take a step back and you need to define what you mean with "selfish".
        I agree, having money has nothing to do with being selfish. The question is about how to you put the money to use ?
        Altruism: pure altruism probably doesn't exist at all, because at the end, even the most altruistic person gets something back, even if it is only the satisfaction of having done some good.
        But, I still don't understand your reasoning.
        You are talking of "SOLELY for my own interest". This statement excludes the possibility that it does any good to somebody else.
        • Ben B

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          Apr 1 2011: I agree that the example provided by me was very simplistic. I admit that I haven't tried to apply this idea to a coorporate decision structure. What I'm trying to express is that if you take decisions that harm the society you live in, you are actually harming yourself since this society is part of who you are, and this is not in your best interest.

          With solely for my own interest I meant the exclusion of other considerations as the base to decide on wether to do something or not. This would (as I understand it, I'm not a native english speaker so my understanding of the language is imperfect, please correct me if I'm wrong) not exclude the possibility of doing something that's good for someone else, if I decide to do this because of the (long term) benefit it gives me, and not because of the benefit it may give them.
          In other words; the benefit for me would be the only criterium used to make the decision to act.
          With selfish I mean egocentric, taking into account that one can enlarge ones ego to include that in which one invests emotionally. And that personal development/growth in relationship to our environment will give us the highest longterm return on this emotional investment.
          Emotional investment is a huge motivator, employees that identify with the company they work for will work harder than people who are dispassionate about this.
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        Apr 1 2011: Ok, now I think I?m starting to understand what you mean.
        You say: "if you take decisions that harm the society you live in, you are actually harming yourself" and I agree with that.
        However, this would contradict your call for selfishness. While everything good done to society, eventually will be beneficial to the individual, it's not necessarily true for the other way around. In other words, being selfish, and putting your interests as a priority might or might not be beneficial to society.
        Example: let's assume you got 1 Million Euros and got 2 fundamental choices.
        a) you make a selfish decision and buy a Ferrari.
        b) you take the money and issue 1000 x 1000 Euro micro loans to people in developing countries.
        What decision do you think is more beneficial to society ?
        About ego: I think many of humanity's problems are actually a result of inflated egos. I don't think we need more ego, but rather less of it.
        • Ben B

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          Apr 4 2011: First; this is another example about money. Money isn't selfish because, at its core, a banknote is a promise of services to be delivered to anyone indiscriminately of purpose, method or goal.
          Second; the two choices you present are much more complex than they appear at first sight, so it is hard to tell. When it comes to micro loans in developing countries, I would say I do not know these people, and as such am unable to assess the risks and benefits involved, and therefor would probably not choose to lend them any money. However, I might present loans to people I know, if I am confident they are motivated to succeed, and I belief their enterprise will turn out to be successfull.
          I did watch a documantary on failed microcredit that plunged poor people who's business failed into even deeper misery, and sent the message that microfinancing is evil, but I can't say if it's representative.
          As for the ferrari ... most people I know, that are considered well off, have debts. I would suggest paying off these debts first, then invest in meeting all the needs you have before having to consider buying a Ferrari (shelter, food, education, clothing, etc.).
          (But if I had to really pick a car I'd choose a Tesla over a Ferrari anyday ...)
          So, the answer would be; choose the ferrari, then resell it to invest the money in something with more value to me than uncertainty in a far off place. This is the most beneficial for me, and possibly for society as well.
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      Apr 1 2011: One thing that I think would really clear this conversation up is the meaning of the word "ego".

      What I believe Ben is implying is that a truely selfish man would not work hard in life to boost up any sort of image: a egoist is only concerned with how he percieves the "world". Meaning that any selfish man (selfish in the full sense) would not work for any God, any sort of power, or any man's respect. People need to learn to take responsibility for their own actions in order to allow people to live happily around one another.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ukJiBZ8_4k
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      • Ben B

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        Apr 4 2011: That is a good assessment Tyler, even though I wouldn't say any sort of faith to automatically be in contradiction with it. Still I would dare say it questions, to some extent, the relevance of certain existential questions.
        Also, about Ayn Rand, thank you for the link, this interview gives a nice overview of her philosophy. I only knew her as referenced by others, and trough these references the core message seemingly did not reach me.
        I agree with her on some core issues, however, I do not support the notion that some kind of anarchist revolution (read: absolute libertarian reform) would be necessary to stave off the anomic state we are heading towards. Although it's my personal opinion that abolishing all discriminatory laws (both positive and negative), would go a long way towards getting rid of discrimination, changes in attitude cannot be enforced top-down by the government, but must grow on the individual level. I believe society may impose restrictions on the individual for the better of the nation by democratic process, if the laws are clear, enforced and the same for all individuals.
        As I'm not very familiar with her work, I'm not sure, but what I think is the big difference between her position and mine, is that she equals benefit with profit. I support the position that certain 'services' are beneficial to all, and are thus best provided by the state. Coorporations and capital should be instruments to achieve goals. Rand seemingly still regards capital or monetary profit as the goal. The core striving to increase the potential to achieve goals, instead of actually achieving them. A banknote represents the potential to have 'a service' done, the perceived need to get more and more promises for services, distracts us from the services we actually require, and as such is selfdistructive. Money is like nails. If you're gonna build a wooden house, you need nails, but as soon as the nail is in the plank, it is useless. The goal is not more nails, but a house
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          Apr 5 2011: The thing about Ayn Rand is that her philiosophical ideas are much-needed in our times. Her ideas are not based around profit, but she does not fail to recognize that for many people, earning a profit is what makes people happy. What I take from her work is that you need to do what makes you happy. I look at her work and find optimistic realism.

          But as far as politics are concerned, she's a little far up on the laissz-faire scale.
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    Mar 31 2011: I also argue that I am not responsible for anything that happened before I was born. You say "anytime". Do you include items in the past before you existed?
    • Ben B

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      Mar 31 2011: I do not exclude these, because I cannot exclude the remote possibility that I might have invented a way of traveling trough time. Since I'm responsible for the non-existence of timetravel, I'm also responsible for not changing the past ...
      I also have the personal belief that time is a continuum, and it might just be possible to actually change the past in very small and unnoticable ways by influencing the future. But if we would be able, we wouldn't actually be able to find out, as we wouldn't have a reference. If we can change the past many times in a small unnoticable way, we can change it in a big way ... etc.
      I entertain such weird notions to escape determinism. If we are chained to the past, we might not really have free will, and thus might not actually be responsible at all, and that notion isn't defensible ...

      Past events are often the place where we go looking for excuses to deny acountability; "... I had a bad youth, because my parents had a bad youth, because their parents had a bad youth, and that's why today I simply had to steal your carradio, you can't hold me responsible for that ..."
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    Mar 31 2011: As you know, I completely agree I am responsible for everything (particularly everything negative), but I do not agree that I do things solely for my best interest. I am doing many things that are NOT good for myself. In particular, there are many poorly thought out actions, many unconscious actions, and most importantly, all the things I do NOT do that harm myself, humanity, and the world.
    • Ben B

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      Mar 31 2011: Hmm, very very good point ... perhaps "... and I will strive solely to serve my own best interest." might be a better formulation.
      This way I can still consciously not do things that would be good for me, in order to do things that I would perceive have a better impact for me in the long run, while compensationg for errors.
  • Ben B

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    Mar 31 2011: I intentionally wrote this statement in a way to be as provocative as possible.
    It's based on a way of thinking I developed and blogged about about 5 years ago, and that has enabled me to overcome frustrations, without debilitating my ability to act. I haven't talked to anyone about this in a long time, untill I read a comment by Drew Bixby on a TED conversation that expressed a similar line of thought. Since hijacking conversations isn't nice, he proposed to start a separate conversation.
    My theory on this is worked out much further than the three lines of the proposition, and I published part of it on a blog under the (tongue-in-cheek) nomer 'agonisticism', but, given the limited space I have here, and the fact that I would like to see your reactions on this first, I decided to limit the statement.

    I must say, that at its core, I do fully and without nuance, support the statement as stated above.
    What are your thoughts?