The Merits of Selfishness

The term “selfishness” often has a negative connotation associated with it; selfishness has generally been deemed as, for lack of a better word, evil.  Putting yourself or your interests above others is frowned upon, while putting others first and sacrificing for “the common good” is championed.  People are expected to forfeit what they earn for the sake of those less fortunate than them.  They are expected to be selfless.  But, is selfishness really so bad?  Do you only help yourself by being selfish?  The answer to both questions is no; promoting ones own self-interest is part of what makes this country function.  In the end, it’s not concern for the well-being of others that drives industry or keeps our capitalist system afloat, it’s selfishness.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that being power mad or acting like a self-righteous person who thinks he’s superior to everyone else simply because he exists is good.  What I’m saying that promoting your own self-interest first can be beneficial to the rest of society.  In other words, being selfish doesn’t just help those who are selfish.

The British economist Adam Smith once said, “Every individual neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements.  They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.”  That is, in pursuing our own interests, we tend to also promote the public interest at the same time.  For example, a business owner isn’t in business to help his customers or to provide jobs for people who need them, he’s in business to make money, but, to make money, he has to hire workers and sell his product to people.  So, even though the business owner was only interested in making money for himself, he managed to provide jobs and provide his product to people who needed it.  He helped others by helping himself.

Now, if that same business owner were truly selfless, he wouldn’t have charged anything for his product and given it to people for free.  However, if he didn’t charge anything, he would have no incentive to work, and his workers would have no incentive to work for him because he wouldn’t be able to pay them.  But, because everyone involved in the process in making and selling the product was selfish (they all worked for their own monetary gain), they all benefited.  This concept applies on a national scale as well; we all work for ourselves, not for others.  Workers work because they get paid a salary that they can use to provide for themselves and their families.  And, although they may have obligations to shareholders, CEOs work to make as much money as possible so that they can provide for themselves and their family and have money leftover for other luxuries.  These men take on a mutual agreement for mutual benefit, but they don’t think of each other when making it.  The CEO doesn’t give the workers jobs as some sort of charity nor do the workers work to help the CEO.  They all act selfishly, and yet, they all win.  They would not be able to accomplish nearly as much if they were to take a selfless approach.  In fact, selflessness would only inhibit their ability to produce as it does with an entire economy.

There’s nothing wrong with giving to charity or helping those who are in need and are willing to work toward bettering their situation.  However, selflessness without purpose only contributes to the problems that society faces, such as high unemployment, a high number of people on welfare, and a strong sense of entitlement.  Perpetually providing for others who are unwilling to work for a living, or who choose to live off of the work of someone else establishes a dangerous precedent and only makes it easier for the non-working to forgo contributing to their own self-improvement.  Those people feed off of the able to the point where there is no point in the able working anymore.  That’s why socialism and communism don’t work: they are essentially forced selflessness.  It takes “from each according to his ability” and gives “to each according to his need”.  Since those who work will never be able to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor, they have no incentive to work, and so they stop working.  This process feeds on itself and ultimately creates a society in which none are willing to work resulting in economic collapse due to a lack of production.

A man’s selfish nature is what compels him to work with others for the “greater good” not his concern for his fellow man.  It’s selfishness that drives men to produce.  It’s selfishness that drives men to sell their product to others.  It’s selfishness that drives men to work for a living and gain income.  Selflessness contributes nothing, and in some cases, hinders everyone.  While, as I said before, there is nothing wrong with helping people get back on their feet it should only be done for the purpose of adding another able producer to society.  Funding the laziness of those who would rather sit back and collect the fruits of the labor of others will only serve to slowly drag the rest of society down (for more details you can read my post about Atlas).  Only by promoting your own interests can you really serve others.  If you really want to create a better, more sustainable society, live for yourself and your interests.  Selfishness isn’t the vice that many claim it is, it is what drives everything we do and it is one of the noblest causes in existence.

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Remembering September 11th

Twelve years ago today, we experienced the greatest terror attack in our history.  The World Trade Center was destroyed, the Pentagon was damaged, and nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives.  Our country has never been the same since that day.  The attack on September 11, 2001, shook us to our very core, threatening to compromise our very way of life.  Similarly, one year ago, our embassy in Libya was attacked on the anniversary of September 11th.  The symbolism of that day, and the fact that an American embassy had not been attacked in 30 years sends a clear message from those who hate us.  Events like these have both the potential to demoralize us and the potential to bring us together.  These tragedies, while horrible, remind us that, although we may have a great many differences, we are all united by one thing: our American heritage.  We may constantly argue amongst ourselves over national issues, but, in the end, we are all a part of the same society, the same family.  We are all Americans.  So, let us take the time to pay tribute to all the victims in the 2001 and 2012 attacks and the first responders who gave their lives trying to save others.  We will never forget your courage or your sacrifice.

As we honor Patriot’s Day, let us remember that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted.  We sometimes forget that, even though we live in the greatest country on Earth, we still have to remain vigilant.  Even though we live in America, we are not invincible.  There will always be people in this world that will seek to do us harm, and they will not rest until we are brought to our knees.  We cannot forget that.  And, as we remember and pay our respects to those that we lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the various aircraft that were hijacked, and our embassy in Libya, let us also remember the need to stay ever vigilant and protect our freedoms whatever the cost.  Or,  as Ronald Reagan so eloquently stated, “We will always remember.  We will always be proud.  We will always be prepared, so we will always be free.”

What Happened to Personal Responsibility?

Sorry it took so long for me to get this to you, like I said in my last memo, I was attending the Service Leadership Seminar at FSU.  But, now that it’s over, here’s my newest post.

Starting in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the “Roaring Twenties” America experienced greater economic growth than at any other point in its history.  Unemployment shrank, business flourished, and, for the most part, the government stayed out of the way.  Back then, people were responsible for their own success or failure, with no safety net available should the latter come to pass.  People had only their skills and the free market, capitalist system to help them on their way.  This free environment produced the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Vanderbilt: business tycoons who were able to achieve great success despite having been born at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.  They were able to be successful in their respective fields because of their own efforts, not because they waited for someone to give them a handout.  But, as time has passed, the age of personal responsibility has begun to dwindle.  Labor unions formed in the 1880s and 90s originally meant to fight for the interests of the workers now work for their own agendas, welfare programs instituted as part of the New Deal have gone far beyond their original mission of helping those down on their luck get through hard times, and people have generally begun to adopt an entitled mindset.

More people today feel that they are entitled to some form of compensation regardless of the amount of work they put in or how much their labor is actually worth.  This mindset can be seen as labor unions in major cities around the country  continue to demand higher wages, a raise in the minimum wage, and higher pensions for their workers in an attempt to assert their authority over business, most notably in Detroit.  One of the reasons Detroit managed to develop such a massive debt (around $18 billion) was because of inflated pensions for union workers that the city was unable to pay for.  The city government continued to give in to union demands and eventually, Detroit’s situation became so bleak that it was forced to file for bankruptcy not too long ago.  Another contributing factor was the deficit spending and borrowing the city government authorized in order to increase entitlements and welfare beyond their means of repaying.  As a result, Detroit lies in financial ruin along with Stockton, San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes: California cities that experienced similar problems.

However, the entitled mindset expands beyond just those few cities and unions; it can be found all across the country.  People even feel entitled to have others compensate them for their laziness or lack of common sense.  Nowadays it is possible to live off of food stamps and other welfare programs for your entire adult life, and some people do just that.  In fact there was a news segment a week or so ago about Jason, a man on food stamps with no intention of finding a job because he could keep getting food stamps.  Why work, when you can collect the fruits of someone else’s labor, right?  Not everyone on welfare has this mentality; however, those that do only serve to make it harder for everyone to make a living.  And it also doesn’t help that people feel the need to file suit when they make stupid decisions.  One famous example is the lady who sued McDonald’s after she burned herself when she spilled her coffee because they didn’t warn her that her coffee would be hot.  Who would think anyone would need to be warned about that?  Then again, who would think a Dremel rotary tool would need a warning not to use it to file teeth?  Or that a hot tub would need to warn people not to put the cover on if someone else is in the tub?  It would seem like common sense would tell anyone not to do these things, and yet, people have done them.  And in every case the companies were forced to pay compensation and put a warning on their product.  All because people thought they were entitled to compensation for their lack of common sense.

Too many people have this entitled mentality, and slowly but surely they’re dragging the rest of us down with them.  Unless we make a stand against those people who refuse to work for their own success and would rather sit back let others do the heavy lifting, we will only continue to decline.  Unless people become more willing to hold themselves accountable for their actions, recognize that they must work to reap benefits, and realize that personal responsibility is at the heart of every success story, there will be no more success stories.  Unless we can rediscover the mindset that drove Rockefeller and Carnegie and precipitated America’s economic heightening, we will become a nation of freeloaders.

Heroes These Days…They’re Not What They Used To Be

These days, people seem to have lost perspective when it comes to the concept of the hero.  I always say that the only true heroes in this world are people in uniform (and good samaritans).  Like their super-powered, comic book counterparts, real life heroes are supposed to be people you can look up to.  People that we strive to be like.  People that we can be proud to have as role models for all our society.  But, today, that definition has changed.  What passes for a “hero” nowadays is simply someone who is immensely popular in the eyes of the general population.

Today, we are saturated with the escapades of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, for example.  Just why is Kim Kardashian famous; why does she garner so much attention?  Because she made a sex tape a few years ago?  That apparently earns more media coverage and adulation than our troops or our police officers or our firefighters who risk their lives everyday in defense of our freedom and well-being.  When was the last time you saw a report on the war in Afghanistan on the news?  Sure, every now and then you hear about some heroic deed on the news, but those instances are few and far between, and even when you do hear about it,  the story goes away in a few days.  And so, the only people this generation has to look up to are the ones getting the most media coverage, which today means celebrities, athletes, and musicians.  Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing.  There are plenty of pop culture figures who do charitable work and are otherwise upstanding citizens.  The problem is that so many others have a bad influence.

Take Lil Wayne for example.  His songs are filled with profanity, derogatory remarks, and frequent use of the n word.  He is hardly a role model for people and yet he has an estimated $135 million net worth.  The same could be said about Charlie Sheen or Alec Baldwin.  Again, not exactly people to look up to (Sheen’s antics and drug use, Baldwins violent rants) yet they make millions of dollars each year and continue to get media coverage.  These are the people that you hear about on the news or in other media outlets, while 2,255 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and gotten little news coverage.  Now, celebrities that don’t really set a bad example are also talked about, but are you going to tell me that they’re more newsworthy than the good samaritans, first responders, and soldiers continue to make sacrifices for the greater good?

They are the ones that truly make a difference in our country.  Whether it’s putting out a wildfire before it reaches a town, hunting down a kidnapper, or fighting overseas, they do all they can to protect and serve.  And yet, they hardly get any media coverage.  Sure, incidents on a grand scale get national attention, but that seems to be happening less and less.  For example, earlier this month Temar Boggs spotted Jocelyn Rojas, a girl who had been reported kidnapped, inside a car outside the city of Lancaster, PA.  He and his friend gave chase and, when her kidnapper realized he was being chased, released the girl.  This is an amazing story of a good samaritan who was able to return a little girl to her mother.  I don’t remember any news story on this.  Do you?  Cases like this have fallen by the wayside as the media keeps focusing on pop culture figures who contribute little of value to society, and as a result, decent role models are harder to come by.

Maybe the war in Afghanistan isn’t very popular, and nobody wants to hear that we keep losing troops or that police officers were killed in the line of duty or that a firefighter died saving a civilian from a burning building.  But aren’t their sacrifices worth noting?  The problem with not covering them is that we gradually lose perspective and forget why our soldiers fight or why our police are so vital.  It’s because they are the ones that stand between us and chaos.  They gladly put everything on the line so that we can be safe.  Those are the people we should be looking up to and that this generation should aspire to be like, not some trashy rapper or self-absorbed celebrity.  Who are the real heroes, anyway?

Why the IB Programme is Worth It

For those of you who don’t know, I have just finished as a student in the IB (International Baccalaureate) Programme at my high school, having been in it for the past four years.  The IB is an international educational program meant to create inquisitive, caring, and well-rounded students.  It is much more rigorous than any traditional program, but that shouldn’t intimidate anyone.  While it has its ups and downs, for me, it has been worth every stress-filled minute.

The most obvious advantage to being a part of IB is the educational benefit.  IB offers more advanced classes and a much broader approach to any given subject.  You will gain much more knowledge in an IB class than you would in any other program.  Yes, the classes are more difficult, but fortunately, the teachers are up for the task.  I can honestly say that my IB teachers are some of the best I have ever had.  My college professors are going to have big shoes to fill this coming fall.  Aside from the myriad of knowledge, IB classes add to your weighted GPA more so than Honors classes.  Colleges tend to look more kindly at IB students as well, mainly because of the kind of students IB is known for producing.  Getting an IB diploma really makes you stand out amongst everyone else competing with you.

You’re not just given information in class, though, you also gain the skills to think critically and really think about what you’ve learned.  There’s even a Theory of Knowledge class students have to take that makes you think about how you know what you know.  It sounds confusing but….actually it is kind of confusing.  But when all is said and done you can’t help but find yourself looking deeper into issues of the present day and asking bigger questions.  You end up leaving more intellectually enlightened than when you first walked into the classroom at the beginning of the year.

However, the greatest benefit I’ve found in the IB programme has nothing to do with academics.  In the end, the things I value the most about my time in IB are the friendships formed over the past four years.  My classmates and I have become a family, which makes it even more bittersweet that we’re all going off to different colleges.  But regardless of where we go, we’ll always be a family.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I found lifelong friends in my IB class, and that is better than any diploma they could give me.  If any of you are reading this, know how eternally grateful I am for the opportunity to get to know you over these past four years and that I will never forget any of you.

I could take the time now to tout the fact that I got an IB diploma and now I’m set for the foreseeable future and that’s why I love IB so much, but I can’t.  I didn’t get an IB diploma.  I bombed my physics exam and that was enough to keep me from getting the diploma (I still got my high school diploma, though).  But, if anyone ever asked me if I would do it all over again and have the exact same experience, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.  It hasn’t always been easy going through IB.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes, both in my choices with regards to my classes and in certain personal matters, and there were times when I considered possibly dropping out of the program.  But, regardless of any hardships I faced or any times I wanted to pull my hair out, for better or worse, going through the IB programme has made me the man I am today, and in the words of Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”