2008-03-10 • Volume 2 • Issue 5
The Politics of Egoism
The second part of this series was devoted to a closer examination of Judeo-Christian ethics. It was an exposé on what constitutes the fundamental Western hypocrisy, that is, the idea that poverty and meekness are values, but that they are values only worthy of reward in the afterlife. I argued that if these were genuine values (i.e. if we saw them as genuinely valuable to our lives) then we would reward them here as opposed to promising imaginary rewards in a land of rainbows and gold paved roads. The fact that Western man is at heart an individualist led me to propose that he adopt a more consistent god-figure.
Throughout this series I have tried to make three points: ( class=SpellE>i) that Judeo-Christian ethics are not privileged over any other, i.e. that the Sadean hyper-individualism that I have proposed here as an extreme contrast to them is just as rational a path as the Christian one (and one more attuned to our modern ways of life); (ii) that the parasitic guilt of Judeo-Christian philosophy is and has been an unhealthy force in our cultural milieu, and that we should cease, in recognizing this, to feel guilty for our prosperity and begin instead to feel somewhat excited by the possibility of our being extravagant, i.e. extravagantly free, extravagantly creative, extravagantly alive; (iii) that what we have up to this point assumed to be values are really values-on-paper, that our actions betray our lack of belief in these absurd claims and that they should be abandoned forthwith, without any feeling of remorse.
My argument for the first point is twofold: First, I see no way of providing an a priori (purely logical) defense of Judeo-Christian ethics without assuming some of its untenable premises; further, I see that our mode of living in this world bears out that Judeo-Christian ethics are not the guiding principles of human existence, and that in those cases in which they are they are inextricably tied with feelings of guilt, and or an ascetic ideal that is at best a comforting philosophical tale (like the heroic suicide of Socrates) and at worst a paralyzing denial of life. Second, I see that what constitutes the extreme opposite of Judeo-Christian ethics, here taken as class=SpellE>Sadean hyper-individualism, is just as justifiable as its extreme competitor, which points to neither sufficing for a comprehensive ethical system. Sadean hyper-individualism has two benefits compared to Judeo-Christian ethics: the first is that it makes no claims to being a comprehensive ethical system; the second is that its tenets are extreme example of what is, in my opinion, an important characteristic of Western man’s behavior.
I find, in reference to the second point, that Judeo-Christianity, in so much as it has been a dominating force in the development of Western culture has been a force of decay. It would be wrong to say that nothing good in terms of being culturally valuable has come from that system, indeed, I would go so far as to say that much of what has come has in one way or another been influenced (directly or indirectly) by Judeo-Christianity (although I think that the influence of the Classical civilizations should never be understated). My argument here is that Judeo Christianity has often proved a nihilistic force as opposed to a life-affirming one, and that what makes Western civilization dominant (in an almost explosive, violent way) has more to do with its Classical roots and less to do with the Christian tradition that worked tirelessly to devalue everything earthly, except when it served the purpose of exalting the transcendent. The Judeo-Christian tradition is anathema to creativity, and fertilizer to stagnation.
The third point is a call to honesty. What values we find genuinely important (industriousness perhaps, intelligence almost definitively, honesty to an extent) we reward in this life. The fact that we remit the poor and the meek to the afterlife for their reward speaks, in my opinion, of our recognition that these are not values in any real sense. Whatever may be declared from the pulpit, and let us be frank, even the pulpit has become an occasion for the preaching of the new prosperity gospel, one thing is clear, and that is that our values lie somewhere else.
And now the stated theme of this short essay: the politics of egoism. The political system conformed by the so called politics of egoism is not to be found in some alternate universe. We are, to a large extent, already well embroiled in such a structure. Consider the little regard that we, concerned as we are with our comfortable existence, have for the exploited people of the world who work for little pay to make this so. In many cases it is more economically feasible to have paid employees there than it would be to have non-paid slaves here–and we pride ourselves for having been abolitionists! The point is that we are so concerned with ourselves, so in love with our reflection, as political structures show, that we can call ourselves nothing but egoists, and egoists in the most passé, carefree way imaginable.
But there are exceptions. Surely, someone might say, it is not fair to ignore the large number of people living in this country who work or at least contribute (by paying a premium for their products) to making the world a fairer, better (in the Judeo-Christian sense) place. I do not deny that there are such people. I know some of them and they are perfectly respectable human beings who have the additional quality of actually caring enough for others (even if they never see them) to pay more for products. The United States is a wealthy nation. But the whole population cannot pay fair prices for what it consumes. Its economy depends on the availability of cheap goods, and this in turn depends on the existence of proto slave colonies sprinkled throughout the world. The structure that we live in, whether we want to admit it or not, is a structure that maintains itself off of our egoism–and this is not a bad thing.
I think we really have two macroscopic options in this regard: ( class=SpellE>i) capitulate our position in the world (i.e. change our system so as to better distribute wealth amongst all a fine goal no doubt, but one that is best relegated to the irrational mind of our Marxist friends) or (ii) recognize that our continued existence in comfort requires that certain sacrifices be made by others and accept this reality by recognizing in turn that we are egoists at heart and thus unwilling to give up our comfort to help the rest. Microscopically we can, if it makes us feel warm and fuzzy, make our small contributions to others, all the while recognizing that they are that–contributions to feel warm and fuzzy, and thus, at least in some sense, just another expression of our egoism, albeit an expression that benefits someone else tangentially. I for one, will sleep perfectly well at night with my destiny in the hands of fellow egoists–barring a revolution I find this structure amenable to my existence, and at times even pleasing.
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