The Miracle of Selflessness
SEPTEMBER 01, 1963 by JOHN C. SPARKS
Mr. Sparks is a business executive in Canton,
Occasional flashes during man’s time on this sphere have illuminated the otherwise dark path toward his ethereal ultimate goal.
These illuminations have shown through and have been identified with the lives of individuals, thus contributing knowledge of God’s truths to all who would listen, perceive, and know.
No one ever has been able to predict which particular man would receive and employ the blessing of deep discernment. I suspect the blessing itself is common enough, probably being available to most men, but put into practice only slightly by a few, and used intensively by even fewer. Whenever it is used fully, however, the human race has a Socrates, a
The significant point is this: no man should be prevented from developing himself as he can and will, for in him may be the next impulse that pushes mankind ahead.
The miracle of the Man of Galilee is considered by many to be the brightest illumination of all that has come to bless man. He taught individual responsibility, and his parables concerned each person fulfilling his own capacity. Yet, man-made religious dogma, coupled with total political power, effectively prevented this magnificent idea from bearing fruit for many centuries until the shackles imprisoning the mind were broken by the renaissance of independent thought. Examples are known of men who feared to reveal their newly-acquired knowledge, and doubtless there were many who died without ever revealing to their contemporaries their unusual insight into truths that could have modified or changed completely the unenlightened political custom and religious dogma in their times.
Copernicus, canon of the cathedral of Frauenberg in
Today, from a vantage point of partially-opened eyes, we can hardly imagine circumstances wherein punishment such as this was the "reward" of great illumination. But, nevertheless, from such dire conditions came a new freedom, a freeing of the minds of men from man-made ecclesiastical slavery. In
The Fruits of Freedom
It is not impossible, however, to know what atmosphere spawned so many illuminations. Each man had come into possession of a larger amount of freedom enabling him to delve into his own area of interest as he and he alone wished—to explore the business world and produce things or services for his fellow men; to seek his destiny in the professions; to write; to compose; or to pursue philosophical and spiritual meanings.
Especially during the nineteenth century, man experienced this awakening to the philosophy and the fruits of freedom in unprecedented measure. Self-reliance and independence were then laudable traits, not only in the world of commerce but also in the nonmaterial areas of reflective thought. It was considered good to develop the values and characteristics of self-confidence, self-responsibility, and self-respect. There was no reason to be ashamed of sincerely striving to succeed, to concentrate upon training oneself with special skill or special knowledge in order to reach a worth-while goal. The principles of honesty, truth, and individual responsibility were the straightforward, uncomplicated rules of the game. And almost everyone was "winning" the game from a human-comfort viewpoint, since there are few losers when a sizable proportion of the people follow these sound principles of self-responsibility.
A Changing Attitude
We are now past the middle of the twentieth century. Somewhere, somehow, during the intervening years, interest in oneself, or self-concern, has been deprived of its former admirable meaning. Instead, it appears to have acquired a cloak of greediness that precludes voluntary charitable acts, human kindness, and justice. The rightful reputation of self-interest as the means of attaining virtues has been tarnished almost beyond recognition as inhuman and sinful.
Examples abound to illustrate this change in public attitude. Businessmen half apologize for making a profit and, indeed, sometimes assert they are in business for some altruistic purpose—profits being only incidental. Some industrialists seek ways to reduce the high progressive income tax by proposing partial rate manipulations and minor rule modifications, instead of arguing the basic principle involved. The tone is conciliatory, rather than a stanch demand for complete recognition of the right of each person to the value produced by his own effort.
In a neighboring city, a well-known doctor won an award of appreciation from a citizens’ group for his excellent medical and extracurricular civic work for many years in his community. He was a man of numerous exciting interests, well-read, striking and handsome in appearance, athletic and capable in sports, an entertaining and thoughtful speaker—yet he was described as a selfless man! Humble, yes; selfless, not a chance, as later discussion will prove.
Good, healthy self-interest, as a praiseworthy objective, has given way to something called "selflessness." A young college student told me he was troubled in his thoughts about Christianity and the competitive free-market system. He could not reconcile the self-interest of competition with Christian principles, he said. And his error is all too common.
In the wish to open oneself to the will of God, perhaps we assume that it is not possible to mold one’s self-will into something unique and yet be consistent with the will of God. In the mid-twentieth century, the style is to unite men in groups under the banners of all kinds of "worthy" programs, while abandoning our individual wills. Countless organizations have meddled viciously into the affairs of self-reliant individuals until these individuals have either destroyed themselves in their desperate attempts to remain independent, or have in resignation joined the collectivized mode of living. It is one thing to open one’s life and goals to God’s purpose; it is quite another thing to surrender one’s will to collectivized men.
Whatever the reason for the decline of respect for wholesome self-interest, it has occurred along with the decline in degree and scope of individual freedom. This appears to be more than coincidence!
Self-Interest Pervades Every Human Action
It is my intent to defend self-interest as a respectable and cherished actuality of individual man in society. Technically, there is no debate because self-interest (or self-concern, or self-satisfaction, or self-gratification) pervades every human action.’ Consequently, it is present in every association or system made up of human beings, and as characteristic of socialism, communism, Christianity, agnosticism, or any other grouping of people, as of the market place. Each person selects that action available to him which provides the most satisfaction to himself. There are no exceptions to this natural law of human action unless a person is mentally impaired and without control of the normal capacity to think. Only this latter exception, I contend, tallies accurately with the definition of a selfless person, "without regard for oneself or one’s own interest." In analysis, no person can truly act in utter disregard for his own interest unless temporarily or permanently devoid of his thought processes.
Selflessness refers to C’s conclusion that A has acted so as to give B satisfaction at A’s expense. But this only means that C fails to appreciate or comprehend the quality of action that brings satisfaction to A.
There is no issue to be argued concerning motivation of human action by self-interest. It is a happy fact of human life; therefore, the accusation that free market competition has more self-interest than does Christianity is without logical foundation—as if to argue that horse-racing is worse than dog-racing because horses are animals. Self-interest is present in every human act.
Quality of Interest
Obviously, however, there are varying degrees of quality of self-interest. The barroom bum, except when completely inebriated, displays as much self-interest as a medical researcher. Probably there is no difference in their quantities of self-interest—but the qualities are miles apart. A criminal’s self-interest may be satisfied by escaping capture regardless of the means used. It is not uncommon to read of a criminal threatening a hostage’s life with a declaration that he has already killed one person, and one more would make little difference. The satisfaction choices or alternatives available to this criminal not only have fallen to a low level of quality, but also the range of choice has narrowed. To escape punishment for crimes committed, he must commit more crimes.
On the other hand, a well-trained surgeon may face available choices to practice in a medical center and perform highly specialized surgery, or to take his skill to a smaller community, or to work in a foreign mission hospital. One of the alternatives will provide him with the most self-gratification—and that one he will choose. I cannot know which it will be. But according to my observation, any one of the three alternatives of expressing his self‑ interest is infinitely better than any of the expressions of self-interest available to the criminal above.
A Free Society
Rather than judge an economic system, a political form of society, a religious belief, or any human grouping on the presumed presence or absence of self-interest, one should instead evaluate on the basis of the quality of self-interest that the group, system, or belief fosters.
How does a free society (in which competition is the natural result) measure up in this regard? How does it compare with an unfree society (without competition)? People strive to achieve the highest degree and quality of self-satisfaction regardless of the political system under which they live. They attempt to increase their material possessions. They want to win the favorable acceptance of their families, friends, and acquaintances through business, civic, or other accomplishments.
In a free society, each man is responsible for himself—therefore, must rely on himself to provide the level of living or whatever else gives him the most self-gratification. The amount and degree of his success depends solely upon his ability and will to choose the actions that will produce for him the highest quality of satisfaction. A higher quality of self-interest is thus encouraged in a free society, for with it comes better material and nonmaterial rewards for him.
But rewards alone are not the only incentives. There are also incentives of a negative nature, so that failure to exert effort and to make good decisions will bring him such penalties as hunger, cold, inconvenience, discomfort, and material loss. Since it is comfortable to have enough food and uncomfortable to be hungry, and since each person is responsible for feeding himself in a free society, there is no doubt as to the presence of this motivation via self-interest. As wants beyond food and the basic necessities are attainable to individual persons (that is, if they are free to try to attain them), the quality of self-interest undergoes a change. It points unmistakably upward toward a higher quality of satisfaction choices from which all society benefits. The good is amplified and the bad minimized when men are free.
The opposite results occur in an unfree society of no competition. An authoritarian political system primarily is concerned with retaining its political power. Since man acts in a manner to obtain his necessities with the least effort, the clever politician develops governmental policies that "play" on this human trait—a weakness in this instance—resulting in surrender to the "something for nothing" sickness. Thus, voting support is won by men in power interjecting government interference in the market place, so that exchange is on some basis other than mutual satisfaction.
If such exchange is other than mutually satisfactory, it follows that at least one party to the exchange—if not both—is less pleased than he would have been if the exchange had taken place under terms prevailing in a free market. This generates no incentive to try harder. One, however, always receives a politically-calculated advantage over the other. And if the one is symbolical of many voters, while the other is symbolical of fewer voters (such as in progressive taxation), then numerically larger voting support has been bought by the authoritarians in power. Accomplished is their prime objective to remain in power, but at the expense of individual incentive.
When government planning enters into the economic decisions of its citizens, their freedom of choice is narrowed—at least proportionately; perhaps more. Not only are the choices narrowed in quantity, they are lowered in quality. Man’s higher quality choices that would otherwise result from new ideas, inventions, and creations, if he were free, simply do not come into being, la the times of Copernicus and Galileo. The area of human endeavor, out of which comes the wonderful illuminations that lift mankind onward and upward, cannot live in the planned society. The good, therefore, is blocked substantially from coming into existence when men are not free. Errors of human judgment, on the other hand, when multiplied by the full force of government, unduly affect even those who would not normally subscribe to these poor decisions if they were free to choose. Thus, the bad in an authoritarian society is amplified.
These are the comparable levels of quality found in the self-interest of man living in an atmosphere of freedom, and man living under the drawback of coercive government planning. The first leads on to evolutionary fulfillment; the second retraces man’s steps toward the primitive.
Before concluding this study, we should take a quick look at the advocates of selflessness.
When Other Interest Gains Ascendancy
Those who oppose human action based upon self-interest often ascribe to themselves, or to their objectives, the presumed quality of being selfless, and as being concerned with others. Part of the description is accurate; part is not.
Keep in mind that no conscious human being, with his mental faculties intact, can act except with the intention to satisfy his own best interest as he sees it. Therefore, the opponents of self-interest deceive themselves with the delusion that they act or seek to act selflessly. It is not possible. This is the inaccurate part of their self-analysis. The balance, however, is accurate; that is, they are concerned with others. Hold your cheers, however, until you find out in what way they are concerned.
Other-interest is not an uncommon characteristic among men and certainly not peculiar to the advocates of selflessness. It is probable that all persons utilize their other-interest to determine the degree of self-gratification in their own acts. Thus, the husband works to win the approval and the plaudits of his wife and family. The shoe manufacturer employs other-interest to help him keep his product "in style"—that is, he complies with a standard of market acceptance that ultimately leads to the self-satisfaction of profit. Other-interest is as common as self-interest, since it is so closely related as a means of measuring self-satisfaction. Therefore, it is not logical to label other-interest as the distinguishing characteristic of the advocates of selflessness.
The all-important difference is in the kind of other-interest they display. Do these advocates of selflessness try to persuade others on a voluntary basis? Do they recognize independent wills in other human beings? Are they willing to allow others the right to disagree and to retain a right to dissent completely?
Or is persuasion only the frosting to disguise the ugliness of compulsion? Do they push toward their objective even if it requires a law to be passed enforcing the outcome as they visualize it? Do they force the dissenter to comply? Does the dissenter’s right to decline the proposition merely refer to his "right" to be out-voted?
Herein lies the telltale characteristic of the other-interest found in the advocates of selflessness. They are willing to promote their ideas involving the lives and actions of other persons—not by noncoercive persuasion that wins voluntary acceptance, but by force of law.
Before jumping to the conclusion that those responsible for this erosion of self-concern are some diabolical rascals living in other places and other communities, and are knowingly plotting the downfall of individual liberty, take a good look in your community. Read your local newspaper. Who are the ones working to promote full employment in your area by asking federal assistance? To distribute charity more equitably through law? To build up the school system through local action to qualify for more state and federal help? To rejuvenate the downtown business district by condemning privately-owned properties of some for the benefit of others? To increase medical services for population segments by misnamed "security" laws? To stabilize the local economy by supporting federally-enforced marketing laws involving the legal exchange prices of wheat and milk, only two of many products thus controlled? The list goes on and on—illustrating the many evil results of this type of other-interest political action in your area.
Who commit these deeds? Are they professional communist schemers?
There is little chance that avowed communist plotters are making this assault on human freedom in our nation. The culprits more likely are to be found among the active members of such reputable institutions as local civic associations, community betterment planning organizations, PTA’s, church social action groups, charitable societies, professional associations, and chambers of commerce. The list is incomplete, but illustrative. These groups seem to have a ravenous appetite to improve others. They advocate whatever means are available—and the easiest means in this twentieth century of declining regard for individual choice is to "get a law passed."
If this desire to meddle in the affairs of others were called a disease (as it might well be), every community and remote corner of our country is being sickened with its terrible plague. We may be inclined to blame the lawmakers of our local, state, and national governments. But lawmakers do not get that meddlesome, planning-for-the-good-of-mankind feeling without considerable encouragement from their constituents.
Self-interest is a fact among men. It enables mankind to move forward in his evolution toward God’s purpose. We must no longer deceive ourselves into believing that self-interest is inconsistent with God’s destiny for mankind. We must recognize that selflessness is not only a paradoxical impossibility, but also its pursuit is exceedingly undesirable.
The national fad of the twentieth century is to pass a law and force acceptance of both the professional and the nonprofessional planners who thereby lawfully meddle into affairs that rightfully belong to individual persons. This must be reversed.
We must reopen the door to illuminations of truth that flow most rapidly within the minds of free men. Unless we return to an atmosphere of human freedom, our day on this fleeting stage of time will have no significance whatsoever toward the evolution of human destiny, except that we dragged our feet in a mirage of nothing, called "selflessness."