A plea for selfishness

I have been told the central problem in politics is that people are selfish. I don’t believe this. I think the central problem is spite. I think that if the “natural man” would vote consistently in his own interest, and by extension in that of his close family, the world would get along tickety-boo. On the other hand, I also think the art of politics, in a modern mass democracy, is to deprive the voter of this option, either directly by removing it, or indirectly by scrambling his brains with sweetly perfumed abstractions.

Here, we are dealing with a legacy of the Reformation, by way of the Enlightenment, by way of sundry Revolutions. Christianity comes down to us through all this mess, alive but not well. “Altruism” comes down, as the degenerated form of the selflessness enjoined by Christ and His Apostles.

They recommend something personal and crisp. One ought, voluntarily, to look out for one’s neighbour. Or more precisely, we ought to love that neighbour; doing good for him would follow. But now we must ask, who is my neighbour? The question is answered succinctly in the Gospels. One’s neighbour, to the Good Samaritan, was the man he found beaten and robbed along the highway. The case was a parable, but within, the stranger was a real man. He wasn’t a statistical abstraction.

So let me be clear, I am not saying that one should walk by. Or as the Altruist today, call it in on one’s cellphone. Let us wait until the ambulance arrives. Let us see if there is not something to be done, while the ambulance is caught in rush-hour traffic. Or if nothing else is possible, let me at least stay, as an individual, rather than part of a mob of gawpers, and provide for the poor man the compassion that Mother Mary did for her Son, while he carried His Cross to Calvary. She said, “I am here.”

There are people who do this, you know. More, I suspect, in this blighted neighbourhood of Parkdale, than in the better sections of town. But that’s just my spite talking.

I am wandering off topic, to clinch a point. It goes beyond the human, but is not abstract. I have been next a dying cat, who purred for me when I gently stroked her uninjured head. And neither of us were vegetarians.

The point I make is on behalf of reality. One’s neighbour — and even in this last instance a brute animal, who could have eaten me were she much larger and in better shape — is a real thing. Insofar as our charity is real, it is directed to real things. Insofar as we are “friends to humanity,” or “friends to the poor,” or “social justice warriors,” we are putting on a ludicrous show, in which spite adopts a pretence of charity.

“Treat others as you would yourself be treated.” There is more to this than first meets the eye. An interesting thing about neighbours is that they are comparable to oneself. What’s good for you is very likely to be good for them.

Example: it might be in your interest to pay less taxes. It would almost certainly be in your neighbour’s interest, too. This will be true even if he has more money. He’d have that much more to “Samaritan” with. Or possibly you don’t think he is generous. After all, you’re not. But you have less, and he has more. Make him pay.

That is where the spite comes in. And in, and in, till it afflicts the whole system.