Enlightened Self-interest


The United States is suffering from a severe case of government bloat. This condition initially began innocently enough as a minor benign cerebral malfunction infecting the central morality gland. From there it mutated into a ruthlessly contagious appetite and demand for entitlement benefits which rapidly reached critically unhealthy levels.

To heal a sick economy, we have to identify not only the symptoms, but the causes which led to the onset of the financial disease. Our nation is very ill at the moment, possibly fatally. Most of us know the problems; big government, welfare, corruption, lack of morality - but we need to understand that the cause was a long time incubating, and the cure will not be quick. We must not only cure the patient nation, but keep it healthy for generations by avoiding contact with the known carriers of the disease.

The Enlightened Philosophy

We need to embrace and understand more completely the meaning of "Enlightened Self-Interest". This is a phrase that refers to the concept of positive individual selfishness and pride one has within and for himself and his family. He is proud to be able to support himself and his children. He does not wish to impose his needs or those of his family upon anyone else because he believes that they want what he wants, or if they don't, that they should.

The direct result of enlightened self-interest is that one’s fellow man need not sacrifice his own wealth for that of another. Not having to help support one who is able to and does support himself is beneficial to society. When we are not burdened by another’s inability to provide for himself, we are then free to more successfully pursue our own version of personal enlightened self-interest, whatever that may be, however we may choose to define it.

Enlightened self-interest is the motivational force which encourages us to go to work every day and strive for personal success. Without a selfish purpose, we would have no desire to work. If we possess it, we will be motivated to work hard at school and our education or at our jobs because we believe it will result in a greater reward at some later point for ourselves and our families. The more productively we work, the more things we can acquire, the less others need to provide. It reduces our burden on society. Eliminating our personal burden on society is as equally an important a result for the enlightened self-interested person as is personal success.

An example on a very simple level occurred when my son was in kindergarten and didn’t want to cooperate and do his work at school. Apparently he thought his mission was to design play-dough race cars and annoy the little girls. His teacher told me she didn’t know why, he seemed bright enough, he wasn’t disrespectful, he just wanted to play. He didn’t seem the least bit interested in trying to do the work part of the program.

When we returned home, I sat down and talked to him and calmly explained that it is his job was to go to school and to do what his teacher tells him even when he doesn’t like to. I asked if he knew that I was working when he saw me in the office. He said he did. I asked if he understood that my job was in my office and his was school. He said: “Yes, Dad, but you get paid.” He was five years old.

Next time I met with my son’s teacher, she was surprised at the change and how much better my son was doing. She said she didn’t know what I did, but he has improved tremendously, and now was getting all A's.

My little capitalist son just needed some motivation he could understand. He wasn’t willing to do the work until he could clearly see a benefit to himself. It made no difference to him whether he got an "A" or an “F” – he could barely read the letters anyway. But it did matter if he got to buy another toy or not, so I paid him.


We are not Hedonists; we aren't concerned with immediate pleasure for the sake of now. We are determined to do what will make us happy in the long-term. Enlightened self-interest may be better defined as "long-term selfishness". We don't get drunk on Tuesday night with an important unfinished report due Thursday. We know that in the long run, getting that report done will advance our education or career. It will be advantageous to ourselves, and make us feel much happier than getting drunk on Tuesday would. Personally, I don't enjoy hangovers nearly as much as I used to, so that is selfish reason enough for me not to get drunk on Tuesday night. When you are five, you will tell your teacher what three plus six equals on Monday to be rewarded for it on Saturday. No reward? Who cares - where's the play dough?

Another personal anecdote of enlightened self-interest: Once while on a date we were scarfing down some oysters on the half-shell. They were delicious. With one remaining, I left it for her. I could have eaten a dozen more, but I knew she wanted it too. I told her to take it. She said: “Why, don’t you want it?”

I said: “Sure I do, but I am selfish.” Noticing a puzzled look, I continued: “I know it will be better for me in the long run if I let you have it.”

She took it and said: “Even better if you fed it to me”.

Turned out I was right. Practicing enlightened self-interest is advantageous in all kinds of real world situations.

The selfishly enlightened sacrifice the now for later. We don't do drugs to get high even though we know they work. We know that we could experience temporary euphoria, it is undeniable scientific fact. We also know the difference between fleeting pleasure and lifetime happiness. We know that long-term drug abuse is economic suicide. Short-term drug use often leads to long-term abuse, so we just don't do it. We know that there has not been an abundance of happy, well-adjusted drug addicts retired comfortably in Palm Springs, Florida.

Charitable activity for self-benefit

Enlightened selfishly interested people volunteer time at food pantries and homeless shelters for no pay. Wait a minute you say, a contradiction. What's in charitable work for the volunteer? Plenty. We don't do this because we are saints, or because we are altruistic. We do it because we are selfishly enlightened. We enjoy helping others down on their luck - temporarily - because it makes us feel good about ourselves. We do it for us. Even when we are down, (sometimes especially then) it helps us realize that no matter what problems we may have, others are in crisis too, often far worse. We are not alone. There is always someone with an even more critical situation - so we feel better in comparison. We know it helps them too, maybe the recipient of our largess will require less help in the future and so that makes our donation of time even more valuable to us in the long term.

Does this honest admission make us unscrupulous hypocrites? On the contrary - it makes us decent people because we want this feeling for ourselves and we are able to get it from this positive activity. Furthermore, we admit it. If you really think about it, there is no such thing as a purely altruistic motive. That's OK, we are human. We give up our own time and sometimes our money for ourselves because we choose to do so. Better to acquire this feeling from helping out a charity or those down on their luck then say - oh for example, - serial killing.

Enlightened self-interest is a quality of the highest moral character. We admit we want to provide for ourselves, we don't want to be forced to have to sacrifice ourselves and our families for another, and most importantly, we don't expect anyone to sacrifice for us. If everyone felt as we do, if we all felt a primary obligation and an enlightened self-interest to ourselves and our families, and respected others right to do the same, we all would be far more successful, happy and free.

Collectivism works in Families, Why not Government?

If it is so bad, why do so many believe communism, collectivism and socialism is altruistic? Why do workers want to be members of trade unions?

The socialistic attitude works very well within families and even sometimes in small groups. Most families are operated like a mini-socialist dictatorship. The father - or parent(s) are the heads of state, they own everything in the house. The kids are the subjects; they are loved, and cared for, while at the same time taught lessons about life and responsibility. They pull their share of the load and everyone benefits in the end. When one family member is sick, or perhaps permanently incapacitated, the others dutifully come to his aid and comfort with some additional contributions of family work to make up the difference.

It is honorable for a family to all work collectively. Their familial communal self-interests are well served. Those capable will get the firewood, some help in the kitchen, maybe some go to work outside the home, and everyone gets to eat and stay in the warm house. The ruling parents genuinely love their subjects. In a family setting, they will nearly always do what they believe is right for the family, even if it means self-sacrifice or giving up their very lives.

No matter how much we want a nation or a union to be like a family, it can't be. In a traditional family, the dictating father really does have the best interest of the family at heart because he genuinely loves them. He will almost always actually do what is best for the family based on his moral code. Family ethical principles differ. When a child grows, he is free to begin and raise and love his own family with his own set of rules and regulations derived from his childhood.

Union families protect even the poorest of worker, so it does not necessarily benefit a member to excel in his duties. He goes along to get a long and receives incremental increases in his pay (a share of the collective as opposed to raises based on merit) virtually regardless of the quality of his work. This tends to lead to lower production since higher production is not rewarded and so is not in the self-interest of the worker. Since there is little or no personal incentive to produce more, the worker will naturally tend to produce less. We are all self-interested, some of us just refuse to admit it.

Like unions, government can't expect high productivity under these conditions. By implementing redistribution of wealth strategies, they ultimately break up the family. Unlike millions of traditional but diverse families, in government there can be only one single moral code and it must apply to all. It may be a large and complex family code, but citizens can't just implement their own independent rules, or ignore parts they don't support. Everyone must abide by the national policy.

The dictator-leader of the huge governmental family is not a doting father over children he genuinely loves; he is the ruler of people and of families he doesn't even know. This is one of the reasons our founders wanted a very limited central federal government. No matter how well-intended it may be, it is too hard for it to be efficient. It can’t manage effectively from so distant a view.

From a national central location, this extension of family is too large to manage fairly and effectively – even if they actually strove to. The leader has his own family, for whom he does sincerely care. The more power and influence the leader can obtain the better for his own personal family, which like the ordinary father working at a butcher shop is his primary and instinctive human responsibility and his personal self-interest.

The leader’s personal self-interest motivates him to remain in power, not necessarily to provide what is best for his extended governmental family. It motivates him only to try to promote the appearance of success. The goal is to convince enough voters that he is delivering, or will provide what they want so he will be re-elected and remain in power. This is natural. The appearance of success will allow him to provide best for his immediate family. Regardless of whether it is legitimate or not, the appearance of success generates votes.

What is best for the nation is not all that relevant to the leader. A sound economic plan is worthless if it can't be easily explained to the voters in terms they understand. Perception is far more important than reality to voters and to lifetime politicians.

Government was formed to protect the rights of families from other families and foreign invaders. Their role is not to expand or exploit one family's production for the benefit of other families, but to protect the rights of each individual and family.

Leaders invariably seek increased power; that is the way it has been since the beginning of time itself. They always want more than they have. An old expression comes to mind: "Give a leader an inch, and he thinks he's a ruler". - Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86 – Maybe Thomas Hobbes was more to the point than Agent 86: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

In collective societies people will always do the least they can to acquire what they want. When one has much of the result of his labor seized for another's benefit, he naturally chooses to produce less rather than to strive to be as productive as he can be for the rest of his extended government family - who he never met.

This is not so in a small biological family setting. Families love each other. Sure sometimes they hate each other, but even then there is love. They want success and will work for it together. In government, we don't even know to whom our tax dollars are sent. We don't like or dislike them, because we don't know them, but we lean more towards dislike because they are taking what we've earned. We certainly don't love them. That is just the way it is. We can't love people we don't know. Not really. We can claim to, pretend to, even really try to learn to, but we really can't ever actually do it.

As paternal head of a family, you can punish a member for choosing not to participate in the work load. You can withhold benefits, or rewards of some kind, maybe even banish them if it were too severe an infraction of rule or responsibility. You know your family well enough to understand exactly which member may be shirking his responsibility and which one may honestly be unable to fulfill his, and be truly in need of compassion and assistance. You make decisions because of genuine love of each member. Sometimes you may be wrong, sometimes there will be complaints, but you learn and adjust quickly.

As a parent we know that we can expect more of the behavior which is rewarded. Punished behavior will generate less of that activity. Ignoring the offense of a non-productive member of the family by rewarding him the same as the producing members will likely result in other members quickly learning to contribute less. When the family code rewards slackers at the expense of the workers, the workers soon become slackers too. Families have determined that they can't operate this way because it soon leads to unacceptable production levels and they would likely starve to death. Governments figure this out only at their failure when they eventually run out of other people's money.

Collectivist societies must always sacrifice one group of people to benefit another. Logically and inevitably they become less productive, less happy, less loyal, financially burdened and ultimately fail. Those being sacrificed tend to offer increasingly less and less of their effort when they find the results are nearly the same while the beneficiaries demand more and more.

No matter how much we might like collectivism to work, it can't. No matter how idyllic we believe such a system may be, it can't be. No matter how much we want to be one big happy national family, all for one and one for all mentality, the reality is that we are not one big family, and never can be so.

We can be concerned about strangers, feel compassion for the poor, but we can't care about people we don't even know to the extent we are willing to sacrifice the well-being of our own family in favor of them. We are not saints, we are human beings. We can't put strangers on the same plateau as we do our families. We won't sacrifice our families for the sake of strangers.

We are the enlightened ones. We know we understand that we can't change human nature. It can't even work because they impose regulations upon us to force it to be so. A government edict can't make us sacrifice our own family's life and happiness for that of others - not for long anyway.

Because the utopian dreamers want so much to have everyone live happily ever after, they ignore the reality of human nature. Human nature is distasteful to them. It is what it is. They prefer to disregard reality and force us all to pretend that a fantasy world can exist if we only let them create and run it. We must believe that human nature can be altered, thought processes can be changed, and formerly repulsive ideas can work for the good of all if only imposed upon those who disagree with enough force.

The first hundred years we prided ourselves on individualism, courage, honesty, and learning from failure. This resulted in success beyond our imagination. The second hundred years, brought us a dependent society with collectivism replacing individualism, higher taxes, massive regulation, loss of freedoms one by one and sometimes in bunches, and also virtual citizen slavery to the state. The third hundred years had better bring a pendulum swing back towards individual responsibility, freedom and capitalism again, or we will be merely a footnote in history, regarded as the nation that almost got it right - for a while.

We need to change our thought process. It was altered before, it must change again. We must go back to a time in thought where we believed individual responsibility was important to our success. A time when the rewards and consequences of our own personal behavior and inactions were what molded our lives.

It is time for a Regressive Movement.

Next: Legalized Plunder