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Joshua  Beers

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Can/ should innate self-interest ever be overcome (by intellect, education, etc.)?

Pretty simple question(s) (not so sure if the same can be said of the answer).

I think that most would agree that humans are primarily self-serving creatures, albeit they certainly have "hard-wired" social tendencies but only to the extent that they can respectively reciprocate self benefit from society. In my opinion, this is at the heart of the problem when contemplating social/governmental revisions; you either get a society that acknowledges innate self interest and harnesses it to dangerous proportions, or a society that naively overlooks self interest and attempts to build a world that is diametrically opposed to human nature. Both are far from perfect. Of course there is the third option of fusing both but I tend to think that the world has seen such dual-systems before and they always seem to lose their balance eventually (usually to the whims of rampant self-want).

It seems to me that innate self interest is the paradox of society: it drives us together, but never too close. Which then begs the question: can (or even should) we ever get rid of it and how?

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  • Apr 26 2011: Why do think there are only two choices? ("...a society that acknowledges innate self interest and harnesses it to dangerous proportions, or a society that naively overlooks self interest and attempts to build a world that is diametrically opposed to human nature.")

    Why can't you have a society that acknowledges self interest but that encourages it to be tempered with humanity? Isn't that, in fact, what most societies today attempt to do?
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      Apr 27 2011: Of course the latter is what we have and what people in North America are content with or resigned to. I am advocating seeing that in the big picture 'self interest' should not be seen with such a limited time perspective. The 'self interest' we see today is the eqivalent of our inability to 'delay gratification' which is THE measure of human maturity. To grab all we can get at the expense of others - and please don't bother repeating your phrase - you willfully ignore that there are people who because of corporate decisions and governmental interference are living desperate lives in countries where resources were harvested. Those decisions by 'self interested' individuals will come back to haunt our societies in the forms of wars and perhaps in economic retaliation by the states that have been exploited. Who will pay for the corporations' self interest then? It will be the people who NEVER benefited and yet who will be impoverished further or will be sent to war. I might suggest that you seek out a video by Robert Hare the world reknown Canadian expert on psychopathy on you tube or read his book Snakes in Suits. While I fully expect you to reject hiswell thought out and researched conclusions perhaps a portion of it will ring true.
      • Apr 27 2011: Oh, Debra! You ask me not to "bother repeating (my) phrase", but here you go again sounding like a broken record, stating the same thing you have stated dozens of times before.

        I accept that there are bad people out there. It makes no difference what 'system' we have, there will always be bad people out there. There will be people who break the law. There will be those who allow unfettered greed to guide their lives. There will be those who game the system. There will be those whose success comes at the expense of others. But why, oh why, do you assume that MOST people who have achieved any kind of financial success are like that?

        I attended a series of courses at Harvard Business School that are targeted at people who already own and manage successful businesses. There were about 80 of us on the course, about two thirds from the US and the rest from areound the world. Of those 80, the overwhelming majority -- maybe all but two or perhaps three -- were extremely ethical, very concerned about social issues, and trying to build businesses honestly and morally, treating their own staff well, giving back to their communities, and totally aware of relevant issues around the world. Here where I live, I am friends with perhaps 15 or 20 people who would be regarded as affluent, and among them I don't recognize a single person who fits your mold of robber baron, or whatever term you are using today. Where do you get your cynical view that rich people are, by definition, responsible for poor people's fate?

        I admire your concern for the world's underprivileged, and I am sure you do your share to try and improve their lot. But I just completely fail to grasp why you are so dead set against the system we have that has delivered unparalleled health and wealth to so many millions of people, while every other system in place in the world appears to have failed. Like any other thinking person, I don't believe our system is perfect, but let's fix it, not kill it.
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          Apr 27 2011: Revett, Why are you so fixated on a bunch of people to whom I never refer? Do you realize that i repeat my points because you never address them but always fall back on your own assumptions and thesis. You are the only one who uses the always and the nevers not me. I am not and never have suggested that all business people are unethical. I am involved in business myself. I do not think our system is perfect but I am engaging in an effort to fix it not deny its problems as you appear to be doing in each post. What I am dead set against is the misuse of such power as justified by 'self interest' and I have said things in this post that I have never said before. They are on the same theme and that is apparently what you object to. I do not see you ever put forward any idea but I do see you constantlly stomping on the ideas of others. Most people in the face of your obstanancy just give up. You said in a previous post that you have time and attention for MBA students- in other words people who think as you do. I have an MBA and I am happy for your experiences at Harvard but how about sharing some of that enlightenment?
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      Apr 29 2011: "Why can't you have a society that acknowledges self interest but that encourages it to be tempered with humanity? Isn't that, in fact, what most societies today attempt to do?"

      But Revett, While I agree that most "modern" societies DO acknowledge self interest and consequently attempt to temper it with "humanity"; I would asset that the problem is that this doesn't work! Self Interest always seems to eventually take control and over time erode the system. Probably because "common humanity", in a large degree, IS self interest. I think self interest is part of our innate human complex (please tell me if you disagree..). And so to attempt to water down rampant greed, with an appeal to natural humanity is quite the paradoxical conundrum.

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