halfacanuck

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October 18, 2004

Absorb me

Is it me who's self-absorbed, or is it everyone?

When a woman tells her husband that she hasn't loved him for over a year, whose fault is that? Is he so self-absorbed that he didn't notice, or is she so self-absorbed that there was nothing to notice? Is that how we all spend our time on this planet, so busy gazing at our navels that we don't notice the wall until our heads connect with it?

I know I'm self-absorbed. I know that. What would happen if I spent as much time thinking about other people as I do about myself? When you get right down to it, what is it that makes my feelings more important than other peoples'? Sure, they're mine, and I'm the one feeling them. Presumably that's why self-absorption is the natural state, and why we hero-worship those who truly and consistently subjugate their own desires and needs to those of other people.

But what makes me so special, and what makes you so special, that we're willing to hurt the feelings of others in order to gain for ourselves? What kind of world would it be if everyone gave priority to each other instead of themselves, if everyone were a Mother Theresa? Would it be a utopia, or would it be an infinitely drawn-out version of the dance we perform with a held-open door? After you. No, really, after you. Just fucking go already.

Without self-absorption would we even still be here? Probably not. Nature frowns on altruism, with very few exceptions. Then why is altruism held in such high regard? Taken to extremes it would mean the end of our species, if the strong didn't overwhelm the weak, if the smart didn't overrule the stupid. We'd become weaker and stupider with every generation until we destroyed ourselves. Why then do we raise the altruistic above the selfish? They're damaging our chances in nature's game of dice.

What an unfocused post.

7 Comments:

At October 18, 2004 at 1:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to your questions in the first portion of the post - philosophy's spent its entire existence exploring them... and there are no simple answers.

Altruism is held in high regard precisely because others' needs/interests have been put before one's own. It demonstrates care, commitment, interest in that person. It edifies that individual, the one receiving the altruist's time, support, resources.

Same can be said if selfishness is taken to the extreme, as you state for altruism. There must be balance (as there must be in all things) for the best - in any species - to survive and thrive. Both are necessary, and it would take tomes and tomes to explain the reasons why, and in what circumstances such is desirable.

As for who's feelings are more important? Everyone's, equally. Doesn't matter if one's rich, poor, powerful, weak, living, dying. An individual's feelings, views, perspectives, experiences, thoughts, ideas, etc carry as much weight in importance than anyone else's. Because, as you said, their feelings are *their* feelings. Just because the Einsteins and the Roosevelts and the Khans and the ad nauseum are elevated and identified on world scale, doesn't mean that the little old man down the street who's been pondering quantum physics for 40 years but has never shared his revelations are any less important. Or even the hobo on the street, who's been hard done by in life and scoffed at by the world, but who's rescued a 4-yr old from an oncoming train, unbeknownst to anyone else... see where I'm going?

There's no way to measure the importance of either/or in the span of life and time and continuum. Our pea-brains can't conceive of such.

As for love? It's a choice. When it comes right down to it, it's a choice. That comes with manifold responsibility - to oneself and others. Self-absorption? Personally, I think it's more destructive than constructive. Then again, I'm certainly more about relationships than I am about evolution.

 
At October 18, 2004 at 9:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone's self-absorbed.

It's not that your feelings are objectively more important than others', it's just that you percieve them to be that way because of your innate survival instinct. Just like you say...If you cared about others more than yourself, you'd never get anywhere in life. No one would.

That said, nowadays there's not much of an actual struggle to survive; not like there used to be, physically. So what need is there for selfishness?

It's that segregation from reptilian traditions to modern empathy that's revered. The stepping away from the "me!" mindset and putting yourself in a place where, in a time when selfishness is no longer -needed-, you can put yourself to some better use for the good of all people around you, not just yourself, thereby increasing your chances in nature's game of dice. ;)

Now stop being so selfish.

 
At October 19, 2004 at 2:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, my dear, altruism is a form of genetic preservation.
For example, if a breeding pair of Kribensis senses that the environment can no longer support additional organisms, they will stop breeding, or even eat their own offspring. This goes for several species in the animal kingdom. There is a gazelle that, when sensing predators near, cavorts and displays and draws attention to itself so that the rest of the herd can escape. Hurt animals wander off to die alone so as to draw predation away from the pack. Etc...

I don't know what to say about the rest of your post. If you need me, you know where I am.
Sarah

 
At October 19, 2004 at 9:33 AM , Blogger Ross Thomas said...

An individual's feelings, views, perspectives, experiences, thoughts, ideas, etc carry as much weight in importance than anyone else's.So when formulating its fiscal policy, our government should consult with both economists and five-year-old children, if the views, perspectives and ideas of the latter are just as important as the those of former?

Should the ideas of someone with an IQ of 70 really carry as much weight as those of someone with an IQ of 170?

What does "important" mean, anyway, when it comes to ideas and thoughts?

doesn't mean that the little old man down the street who's been pondering quantum physics for 40 years but has never shared his revelations are any less importantIf a tree falls in the wood when no-one's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Can an idea be important if it's never shared?

It's not that your feelings are objectively more important than others', it's just that you percieve them to be that way because of your innate survival instinct.If my entire reality is "my feelings are more important," doesn't that mean... they are? Is it even possible to talk objectively about feelings?

If you cared about others more than yourself, you'd never get anywhere in life. No one would.If we all did it, maybe we'd all get somewhere. But anyway, where is this somewhere we're supposed to be going?

That said, nowadays there's not much of an actual struggle to surviveTell that to someone in a project in Washington, DC, or an unemployed Native American living on useless land given him by disingenuous whitey, or a Christian in Algeria, or a black Muslim in Sudan, or...

So what need is there for selfishness?There's always a need. Evolution (as opposed to regression) is still a necessity.

you can put yourself to some better use for the good of all people around you, not just yourself, thereby increasing your chances in nature's game of dice. ;)By doing that you increase their chances, not yours. As a rule it's the selfish assholes, the takers, who get rich in this part of the world, not the givers. This affects survivability because, for example, rich people can afford better medical attention.

Now stop being so selfish.No :p.

There is a gazelle that, when sensing predators near, cavorts and displays and draws attention to itself so that the rest of the herd can escape.And this is one of the things I was thinking of when I said "with very few exceptions." Pack behavior, the evolution of a tribe, is slightly different from that of the individual. But besides, let's say two gazelles sense the predator at the same time. The more selfish one, which decides (or is programmed) to keep a low profile, is the one which survives. So why does altruism even still exist?

I don't know what to say about the rest of your post. If you need me, you know where I am.Thanks. But that wasn't actually a personal experience, it happened to a good friend of mine a few days ago. I'm still very sad about it. I guess I could've been clearer :).

 
At October 19, 2004 at 9:34 AM , Blogger Ross Thomas said...

That comment may not have been formatted precisely how I wanted it.

 
At October 19, 2004 at 7:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

...{An individual's feelings, views, perspectives, experiences, thoughts, ideas, etc carry as much weight in importance than anyone else's...}Ross' reply: So when formulating its fiscal policy, our government should consult with both economists and five-year-old children, if the views, perspectives and ideas of the latter are just as important as the those of former?

Response - How ridiculous and provocative a response that is! Especially given that the vast majority of politicians appear to be morons. Maybe the government should consult 5 year olds on fiscal policies... we might be better off for it. But seriously, I don't ever recall saying that governments should consult everybody, every single person. They should, however, consult their constituents and represent what the majority of their constituents deliver them. That's what they're supposed to be doing, right? Having said all that, yes every individual's thoughts et al are as important as the next person's. Doesn't mean they'll get the same weight of influence on the world stage, but that doesn't make them any less important. How arrogant is it to think otherwise?

Ross - Should the ideas of someone with an IQ of 70 really carry as much weight as those of someone with an IQ of 170?

Response - Why not? Hell, if the world ignored the idiot savants that are found in its midst, we would be the poorer for doing so. Same goes for the genius savants, too. Just because the vast majority of us are mediocre at best in most things we do doesn't mean we aren't brilliant in one or two things we do...

Ross - What does "important" mean, anyway, when it comes to ideas and thoughts?

Well, now. That's all relative, isn't it? Dependent upon the social construct within which 'important' is defined. In some cultures, a sharp arrow and brawny archer is fundamental to life's balance/survival, hence very important. In a different culture, that same individual could simply playing sport, so not all that important in comparison. In yet another culture, he's an avenging warrior... and on an on it goes. It's relative to the construct it's found in. And our Western culture is NOT the be all and end all, even though we think it is.

{...doesn't mean that the little old man down the street who's been pondering quantum physics for 40 years but has never shared his revelations are any less important...}Ross - If a tree falls in the wood when no-one's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Can an idea be important if it's never shared?

Response - Of course it is. There's nothing new under the sun, as Solomon said. He's right. If it's thought and not shared by one, it will be by another, and its importance remains... it's simply given its importance upon when it gets measured - against the social construct in which it's shared.

Ross - Is it even possible to talk objectively about feelings?

Response - Only in scientific analysis, where they cannot be rightly deduced and measured because feelings are changeable, transient, fluid and and inter-dependent upon the individual (and their physiology, genetics and environment) in which they're housed. So, even then not objectively; it's not possible. Far too complex and myriad. Feelings are, by their very nature, subjective.

[If you cared about others more than yourself, you'd never get anywhere in life.]

Ross - No one would. If we all did it, maybe we'd all get somewhere.

--- that's the point of altruism... pay it forward and we're all better off, and we'll all get further.

Ross - As a rule it's the selfish assholes, the takers, who get rich in this part of the world, not the givers. This affects survivability because, for example, rich people can afford better medical attention.

--- And getting rich is the ultimate goal? And are those individuals, really and truly, any better off? They have a richer life experience because they have more stuff? Sure, they might live longer but for what? To collect more stuff they can't take with them? This part of the world has its priorities screwed up, in my eyes.

 
At October 20, 2004 at 1:04 PM , Blogger Ross Thomas said...

"They should, however, consult their constituents and represent what the majority of their constituents deliver them."

When formulating fiscal policy? Are you seriously suggesting they consult plumbers and school teachers and letter carriers and computer programmers when deciding how to run the country's finances?

I picked fiscal policy for a reason. It's extremely specialized and complicated, and the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea about it. Clearly your opinion or my opinion counts for little in that regard, while the opinion of an economist counts for a great deal. In other words, the value of anyone's opinion depends on the context.

"Hell, if the world ignored the idiot savants that are found in its midst, we would be the poorer for doing so."

I didn't say idiot savants. I said people with an IQ of 70. There are very few idiot savants in the world -- mostly there are just idiots.

"And our Western culture is NOT the be all and end all, even though we think it is."

It's not the be all and end all, but I can't think of a single culture in which I'd rather live.

"that's the point of altruism... pay it forward and we're all better off, and we'll all get further."

But to look at it from an evolutionary perspective, helping weak people does not make us better off, as a species. It makes us weaker. Humans (in the West at least) have advanced to the point where, through medicine and so on, we've almost completely bypassed natural selection. From the "aww, everyone should have a chance, even the baby born in dire need of a heart transplant" perspective this is a great thing, but by removing selection from the equation we're setting ourselves up for a big fall. Will humans ever "evolve" to the point where they won't even be able to survive without artificial assistance? I dunno, obviously, but it wouldn't be in the least bit surprising.

And from a philosophical point of view, you've still not explained why altuism is inherently preferable to selfishness.

"And getting rich is the ultimate goal?"

No, the ultimate goal is -- and always has been -- to live a long time so one can make lots of copies of oneself, and keep them safe into adulthood. In our culture the more money you have the more likely you are to live in an environment conducive to doing that.

"And are those individuals, really and truly, any better off?"

Of course you're better off if you have more money, if you want to live as part of a capitalistic society. You have more opportunities to be successful, and fewer worries. Money doesn't make you happy, but it sure helps.

 

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