Exactly as the title says. Tell me why being selfish is wrong.

I'm not of the opinion that a rational, considered self-interest is wrong. I think it's usually the best way to go. In fact, I would say it's kind of like our default setting, but I've seen quite a few people post recently about how being selfless is good. I disagree.

Why do you think that selflessness is good? Why do you think that selfishness is bad? Do you think it's the other way around? Or maybe neither is good nor bad?

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"Altruism is an evolutionary imperative."

I certainly disagree with this. Altruism is not an imperative. Cooperation does have its advantages allowing us to divide work and do more together than we could alone, but also its disadvantages in that we become more dependent on others for our survival and to achieve other ends. Altruism isn't cooperation. Altruism is simply giving (notably with no thought of receiving in turn), where cooperation is a give and take.

"Opportunism is the root of all evil."

The be completely honest, I'm not sure our definitions of Opportunism are the same. In fact, I'm not quite sure what you mean by it.

"No. There's a consensus. There's civilization and law."

If civilization or law was strictly the answer, then there would not be rampant poverty. There would not be terrible social injustices. There would not be outrageous oppression. There would not be the level of violence we still see around the world in all societies. I say that these things exist more because of people's desire to dominate and control others, to maintain their own power and status over others more so than it has to do with being concerned with the well-being of the self.

I strongly recommend you read "The Selfish Gene." It completely turns the tables on many misconceptions about things like altruism.

Notably, it says that to understand altruism one of the things we have to understand is the gene theory of evolution. The most obvious case is kin selection: when a person helps his brother, he is not doing so selflessly; rather, his genes are causing him to help out their counterparts (which are a part of his brother). So the genes are actually acting selfishly. 

Furthermore, I agree with what you said, that altruism is not an imperative. But taking that one step further, you must note that nothing is an imperative. There is no god telling you you must be selfish just like there is none telling you to be selfless. Imperative implies purpose, and maximizing one's net worth is not a purpose that I suggest you should have. It will only lead to loneliness and despair.

Well, it's a good thing I measure my net worth by happiness.

yes, that is a good thing. Utilitarianism is a relatively straightforward way to live a life... the big complication comes when trying to apply it to ethics, as your original question is attempting. Ethics is the study of what makes something right or wrong in a society. Applying Utilitarianism would lead you to saying that we should maximize global happiness, and you can imagine this leads to lots of philosophical issues (e.g. how do you measure someone else's happiness?). So "happiness" can be a gauge to measure what you would like to do, but it says nothing about "right" or "wrong."

Ethics gets way tricky. I took a class on it once, and from what I remember, the ethical philosophy i was most convinced by was Kant's "Follow an ethical rule if and only if you can imagine a world in which everyone obeys that rule, and you would like such a world." But I digress...

Kant's 'Catagorical Imperative'.

For culture, individuals are sometimes conditioned to accept an array of imperatives(some of which might be contradictory), but are then free to apply them as seen fit.

In a free culture, testing imperatives can become a painful exercise. I expect that many stop trying, or never started...;p(. 

I have not had a chance to read it yet, but I did read a book by Daniel Dennet a few months ago "Breaking the Spell" (which I highly recommend!) that expounded on religion as memes which had taken over people in a similar fashion as DNA. He made a few references to "The Selfish Gene" and I've been meaning to read it since.

yes, i imagine any book tackling religion-as-memes would have to refer to The Selfish Gene, since that it is the book in which Dawkins coined the word "meme" and used it to refer to cultural things like religion

and maximizing one's net worth is not a purpose that I suggest you should have

I don't think anything said here implies that the point is purely to get rich, or even in many cases to get rich at all. 
A hypothetical example of the former (pursuing wealth even though it's not the actual goal):  Just for instance, I can imagine someone who enjoys some activity like playing a musical instrument or writing a novel (that they are aware might well "flop" but it is a labor of love) or doing artwork enough that they try to become just independently wealthy enough so they can retire early and devote their time to it.  They are pursuing wealth, but only as a means to a much more important end.
Others are quite content to make just enough money to pay the bills, because they value their free time and they also want a job that doesn't involve stress and "brain damage" (as a friend of mine who is this way calls it).

There's a reason no one takes Ayn Rand seriously.

Actually I know quite a number of people who do, so "no one" is a bit of a stretch.

You are begging the question here.  You are saying selfishness is wrong because we know better and we can make this better... but that is an evaluation, and that evaluation is itself predicated on the presumption that selfishness is wrong.

So you haven't really given a good reason why "no one" takes Ayn Rand seriously.

yeah i'm gonna second SteveInCO's evaluation... Ayn Rand was on everyone's tongues recently when Paul Ryan, potential VP, said she was his favorite author. 

[PS isn't it silly that someone would love both Ayn Rand AND Rage Against The Machine??]

And be a devout Catholic!? It's like he made cognitive dissonance an art form.


I figure that the limit of 'selflessness' is self betrayal/prey, and the limit of 'self interest' is predation. Since I will not be prey or predator, a balance between, with concern for others and myself could be considered optimum. When seen this way, I think many ways of relating could be evaluated as immoral/inethical. I falls to each of us to determine how we will relate to them.


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