“The ‘Selfish’ Bauble” by Henry P. Replogle


Egoism / Monday, December 4th, 2017

The following was published in Georgia and Henry Replogle’s journal Egoism (1890). Volume 4, number 1 was published in September, 1897.


The “Selfish” Bauble.

Outside of posited plumb-line Anarchism and its venereal corollaries, we get no paper in exchange that does not propose saving society by some political magic, except “Progressive Thought,” of Olathe, Kansas, an official organ of the Labor Exchange. But it too has its besetting sin, in the shape of vociferous harp on selfishness, and of course the implied injunction to goodness, without conspicuous emphasis on bald justice and tempting expediency. If selfishness in any sense except that of inexpediency be a bad or unnecessary thing why does not “Progressive Thought” itself dispense with the practice of it as a consistent pose from which to chide the paper’s adversaries. If the editors are altogether unselfish why are they concerned about the greed and selfishness of others, or indeed, about anything. If some men wield the power to extort others’ production and service and can roll in voluptuous luxury while these others suffer and even die from need of that which they have themselves produced, the first cannot do so to the discomfiture of genuine unselfishness; that lauded and prated and canted attribute could not be selfish enough to begrudge anything to anybody, or even to bewail the fate of the exploited, for that would be choosing—thrusting in self and self’s preference decidedly contrary to that good unselfish interposition which belongs alone to dead people.

Now if in this view of it, the “Progressive Thought” people point out that selfishness is in this sense unescapable and necessary, but that there is still a difference between themselves, who struggle for equality of conditions, and those wealthy and powerful who struggle to grasp more and more wealth and power, which difference entitles their conduct to classification as comparative unselfishness; if this be the contention, then I point out that the “Progressive Thought ” people do not happen to be wealthy and powerful and haunted by that dread of dependence and comparative insignificance which equality of conditions would impose upon them if they were the wealthy on one side of the line as against the oppressed on the other side or they might see how it is the selfishness of the poorer that seeks equality of conditions for the advantage over worse ones, accounting for much of that equality credit, and thus how the poorer’s side of the line makes their choice of choice in the selfish sense, look quite as culpable as the other. It is dread of greater disadvantage and desire for at least equal advantage with their competitors that actuates the rich to grasp; and it is dread of greater disadvantage, and desire for equal advantage with our competitors of which the rich are the greatest, that actuates us who struggle for equal conditions. And, indeed, we go them one better in intensity of selfishness; their selfishness is satisfied with goods, but we not only fight for material conditions each the equal of the best, but besides are satisfied with nothing less than credit in the fight which compels the highest approval of mankind. We insist on the convenience of goods for ourselves and all that can be wrung from the broadest ethics, while they content themselves with goods and its cheap distinction alone. We are not satisfied as they are with possession-pride and material comfort for ourselves, but must have the psychological comfort of having all we look upon between others pander to our choice. So it happens that selfishness is not only the rational motive for conduct, but the most social for the community as a whole. It is only in its blind inexpediency that it can be objectionable, and certainly nothing could be a more striking example of such blindness than the crude manifestation of desiring others to be unselfish or the desire to be so considered ourselves.greater disadvantage and desire for at least equal advantage with their competitors that actuates the rich to grasp ; and it is dread of greater disadvantage, and desire for equal advantage with our competitors of which the rich are the greatest, that actuates us who struggle for equal conditions. And, indeed, we go them one better in intensity of selfishness; their selfishness is satisfied with goods, but we not only fight for material conditions each the equal of the best, but besides are satisfied with nothing less than credit in the fight which compels the highest approval of mankind. We insist on the convenience of goods for ourselves and all that can be wrung from the broadest ethics, while they content themselves with goods and its cheap distinction alone. We are not satisfied as they are with possession-pride and material comfort for ourselves, but must have the psychological comfort of having all we look upon between others pander to our choice. So it happens that selfishness is not only the rational motive for conduct, but the most social for the community as a whole. It is only in its blind inexpediency that it can be objectionable, and certainly nothing could be a more striking example of such blindness than the crude manifestation of desiring others to be unselfish or the desire to be so considered ourselves.

Then it turns out that selfishness is the basic principle of human action, of justice as well as of injustice; that justice is the competition of individual selfishness supplemented by intelligence. Hence there is in this line nothing to urge except intelligence, and nothing to chide except inexpediency. We can consistently appeal only to the interests of the oppressed by showing them where and how they are beaten, and to the interests of the oppressors by indicating why it won’t pay them to continue. This then leaves the epithet ” selfish” either a remissness of analysis to be corrected or a demagogic appeal to indiscriminating crudity, to be despised by just people.

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