Self-interest and other motives

Self-interest and other motives

text of a letter

We are living in a terribly oppressive and dangerous society; of course most societies are or have been. The Victorians were starting to get a glimmer of enlightenment and a few of them were beginning to set some store by the liberty of the individual. E.g. John Stuart Mill, although a lot of the time he supported utilitarianism. But any principles of that kind were, at best, weakly incipient and any respect for the autonomous individual was not going to survive the massive undermining of the free market system that has taken place.

What we now have is a mixed economy. That is, half of the gross domestic product it spent by people acting as agents of the collective, allegedly in the interests of other people. The half which remains spendable by autonomous individuals has been largely shifted into the hands of the low-IQ population, and that creates a market geared to low-grade inessentials. So I attempt to invest in purveyors of football shirts and theme pubs.

There has been a massive misdirection of attention towards the harm that may supposedly be done to individuals by individuals acting autonomously, especially if aiming to increase their autonomy, while the harm being done by people having power over other people’s lives as agents of the collective (teachers, doctors, social workers, etc.) is completely ignored.

There is a tremendous fallacy, to which I fear my father subscribed, to the effect that the only motive people have for damaging other people is their own ‘self-interest’ or a ‘profit motive’. Deprived of any opportunity to defend their own interests or extend their territories, and with the exercise of power over other people as the only form of self-assertion easily available, it is implied that people will become benevolent and altruistic. A doctor has a lot more power to do real harm to people, physically and psychologically, than a wealthy businessman, and no sense of responsibility to prevent him from exercising it.

Principles of respect for individual autonomy have been lost sight of by legislators; they were abstract and required some incipient awareness of the existential situation. They could have no appeal to the bulk of the electorate.

December 1998