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06 March 2018

The Irony and Paradox of Self-interest

I tweeted this a couple days ago:
I wanted to elaborate on it a bit here. In general, I think that our societal shift to individualism has made self-interest the default mindset. Self-interested positions, however, have the ironic consequence of being self-injurious. Here are a few additional examples:

  • We parents often fear that our children will be bullied. How many of us fear that our kids might end up being the bullies, though?
  • We parents want our kids to go to the "best" schools. How many of us realize that the decisions we make to ensure our kids' advantages (e.g. moving to new districts or opting for private school) necessarily creates a disadvantage for the other kids left behind?
  • We often buy cars that will make us safer. How many of us buy cars that will keep others safer, though? (See here and here.)
  • Many buy firearms to protect themselves. How many realize that those guns are more likely to be used against them? or that they will be used against their loved ones? or that they could unpredictably, intentionally turn them on themselves?
The way that we individualistically frame our own wellbeing often happens by decreasing the wellbeing of others. The social reality, though, is that each individual is someone else's other. Truly making ourselves safer means paradoxically thinking of others before ourselves.

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