What is Selfishness

Consider why the Pueblo Indians built their cities in the sides of canyons and out of site of anyone else. Cities are a place where people can store up food and other wealth for the winter and other bad times, but they are also vulnerable to attack because they have all that wealth available just for the taking.

Now, are the cities being selfish trying to protect their labor, or are the marauders being selfish trying to get all the wealth of others for themselves. Each group is thinking only of itself with no thought of the others welfare. The city type of selfishness is the result of hard work and savings intended to keep its producers alive through bad times. The marauder type of selfishness is the result of the pursuit of heaven—a land that flows in milk and honey.

When I was very young, I had a “friend” come over to the house with his mother. I already had opinions about how he would treat my toys, and I made sure that he could only play with ones that were already messed up in some way. He was only going to be there for an hour anyway, so I could not see why it should matter at all.

My mother had an entirely different opinion. She told me to share my good things with the boy and not be so selfish! The minute I heard that word, I wondered why she thought it was so bad. That night, after the visitor had broken two more of my prized toys, I lay in bed thinking about the meaning of selfishness and what part it had to play in my life.

Looking up the meaning of selfishness in the dictionary, I was surprised by the definition. It said that the selfish do not think of others at all. My mother had accused me of being that!? I had thought of the visitor by supplying him with things to play with. I already knew of his character, so I supplied him with things he could break at will, and I would not complain.

My next thing to look up was unselfishness. This turned over a definition that was a little more rewarding. The idea that unselfishness was open-handed generosity sounded about right since I had not been “open-handed” with the boy until commanded to by my mother. If open-handed was the opposite of selfishness, then selfishness must be “closed-handed,” but that means that it is definitely not the marauder type. Marauders are actually very open-handed in their dealings with eachother.

The Categories of Selfishness

People just love to be considered noble and open-handed to their fellow humans. Nobility comes from medieval times and is used just as castles in the air to wrap our imaginations around the things that we think of as wonderful and loving! The problem is this: there are no castles in the air. The Nobility were not open-handed. Since everything has conditions, unconditional love is impossible. Also, real pride is not hubris, and selfishness does not step on others to achieve its own ends. All the writings of Marx and Auguste Comte point out that rights are incompatible with altruism.

There are four basic categories of selfish action that have gone without categorization. Conditional charity, trade, production, and management.


What is charity? When a candidates runs for president of the United States, they have to fund the run with way more money than they have to spend. They start a campaign fund raiser in order to get that money. This is a charity! If you support this campaign, then you help fund the charity with your own money.

Notice that your help is contingent upon your own conditions about what is to be done with the money, and most of all, that the person being supported will operate the country as you would. When the charity supports your values, then you are willing to help fund the efforts that support those values. This type of charity is selfish because it is founded on very specific values and makes those the conditions of support. Remember, unselfishness is open-handed generosity without conditions.

Do selfish charities support the poor? The answer is yes, but they do it with conditions. First of all, selfish charities are not open-handed like government help has become. Government help was founded because people did not want to have to fulfill conditions in order to get help. Proving a need is not a condition, of course. Conditions refer to the values held by the recipient rather the fact of his being in need. Because open-handedness tends to bankruptcy, governments have recently started to implement some conditions in order to weed out those who do not want to work at all, but this means that selfishness is coming back into the system.

Of course, the question comes up, what about those who can not work at all? The amount of people who can not work at all are so very small. Many can do some work, and most can do a lot of work. For people who would work if they could, help is available through selfish charities because they share the same values as those who are giving the help. Selfish charities try not only to give immediate help, but also try to change the circumstances that people find themselves in. There may be ways for people who are incapacitated to contribute to production that are not presently known. Steven Hawking is the most famous example. His students became a selfish charity for him and helped him for many years. He still has to rely on outside human help, not all of which he has to pay for, because he represents the values that his colleagues also support.

There was a time during the nineteenth century that people could come to this country, get immediate help to find a place to live, get a job, and meet new friends. There were so many charities that there would be at least one on every street corner. One author said that their were so many that it was almost embarrassing! All of these charities were selfish because they had conditions for their help. Can you think of anything that does not have conditions attached to it? There is nothing that is unconditional. Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed! This is natural law just as gravity is natural law. There is no way to escape it.


Trade is selfish because of a unique phenomenon where both participants actually profit. This is completely intentional as each person is going for something worth more to him or her than what is being traded away. An understanding of this can be seen by considering what is known as “Two Farmer Theory.”

Two farmers grow one crop each, one wheat, and the other corn. They intend to live on this one crop for the entire year until they can grow another crop the next year. About six months go by and they are tired of the chosen food they have—sick and tired of it! They meet in town one day and decide to trade the rest of their crops with each other.

Each values the others crop more than their own. In the trade, each trades away the crop they value less for the one that they want more. Both make a profit! This trade is selfish on both sides because they get more value than what they give for it.

It is important to note that every trade is motivated in this same way. When people see an offer that they like, they consider the price. Is it low enough to make it worth it? In other words, Are the hours at work of less value to them than what they are about to trade them for? Is this a better use of their money than something else they could do with it. In their evaluation, it is solely up to the people involved in the trade whether or not they will make a profit on the offer or whether they should go somewhere else. Many times, just saving their money aside is the smarter move.

What if someone makes a trade that is not profitable. This is where the one losing calls the other person “selfish” because there is no care about the one on the losing side. However, selfishness can only win when there is a compliment action on the other side. If one side wins, and the other side loses, the outcome is that both sides lose. That is why so many stores offer to return a purchaser's money if there is no satisfaction after trying the product.

Selfishness is an act of putting value on certain people and things. A store that wishes to trade on a continual basis will put value on its customers. It is selfish because it does not want to share its merchandise in an open-handed fashion, but would rather trade for a profit. Every good store realizes that all of its customers have to make a profit on the trade also. This is called a compliment action and is the only one that can bring a win, win approach. All “win, lose” and “lose, win” situations always topple into a “lose, lose” outcome. People stop being customers of companies that make them losers in their transactions. Circuit City was famous for this type of trading. Eventually, enough customers left, and the company went out of business.


If people wished to work for no pay, they would be working for noble causes, but the minute they wish to be compensated for what they produce, they are being selfish. The farmer who produced the food that you ate this morning, probably does not know who you are, nor does he care. He did not produce the food for you because you had a need but because you had money to trade for it.

Yes, there are people who produce for the poor in cities, but what is the quality of the food they make compared to what you can get in decent restaurants?! When I was younger, I helped out a small organization that collected unsold produce and ran a soup kitchen. Basically, the produce was just broken up and thrown into a pot of water, which was then heated. Once hot, it was served, as is, to whomever could keep it down. There was never any charge for the service, though we had people who went to local business asking for donations to keep the soup kitchen open.

There is a big difference between noble, open-handed generosity, and bourgeois, conditional frugality. Selfishness does not believe in open-handed sharing, but help is only given if the person being helped has the same value system that the one helping has.

The real question is this. Does selfishness lead to criminality? Does caring for oneself lead to stealing from others. This sounds like a preposterous question. I teach my kids to take care of themselves. So do most of the parents in this country. How many of these children wind up stealing to take care of themselves? A very small number. Do they stay a small number because they are regulated by some bureaucratic organization. No, of course not. Another question I might add to this is, who was the first wise-guy who thought that elevator companies would make money by making shoddy systems that killed their customers??? If I had an elevator company, I would be on top of the servicing of it just to be sure there was no problem with every system I sold. That is real selfishness—taking care of my own, and I do mean “my own!”

If someone sells you something dangerous, call the police! You do not need a regulatory agency that takes their sweet time to grant licenses to people who will now only do the very minimum just to get by. There are courts that will grant you compensation for losses caused by unscrupulous vendors. These vendors are not stopped by regulators as can be seen on the local news. The police and the courts are always your best bet. The regulators should just be swept away, and in there place, consumer protection organizations would form and operate similar to Consumer Reports which is entirely supported by their subscribers. They accept no advertising from companies that they test and rate, and they allow no company to use their ratings in their own advertising. That is consumer protection the way it should be!


The task of taking care of oneself is called management. There is not one instance that open-handed generosity needs to make use of any kind of management intended for taking care of oneself.