Many people saw the famous fresco “The Creation of Adam” painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican by the great Italian artist Michelangelo. This masterpiece depicts a Biblical moment when God is about to spark life in his creation—Adam.
But not many are aware that it hides mysterious philosophical messages in its details. For more than 500 years, countless art analysts have been trying to find and decode those messages, to no avail. Everyone interprets them differently and finds something new raising even more questions.
For example, why does God outstretch his arm toward Adam? To reach out to Man, to humanity. Why don’t the fingers of Adam and God touch each other? It symbolizes the moment preceding the conception of Life. Who are the excited characters behind God’s back? The angels. Then why do they have no wings and grouped in a shape of a human brain? And why is the red cloth around the angels in the shape of a woman’s…uterus?”
Hidden mysterious messages make imagination soar. Let’s search for something new in this painting too.
How about Kindness! It may well be a hidden message. Just Look at God’s kind smile aimed at reassuring the frightened and disoriented Adam. In a gesture of good will and compassion, God outstretches his right arm to reach out to Adam, while with his left arm nudges a reluctant Eve to join Adam and ease his loneliness.
Selflessness may be another message. Selflessness is not only to reach out to, but also to touch someone—to give and sacrifice. God is a moment away from touching Adam to carry out a selfless act—to give Life to Man and create humanity. This is not a small sacrifice too—God knows that Man will bring him nothing but troubles and headaches.
The painting is riddled with Egoism! Why did God give Adam an elbow? Not for stretching his arm out and reaching out to others, but for bending the arm in so that Adam could reach his own mouth, first. Only egoists behave this way.
No wonder Adam is egoist—God himself is egoist! Self-interest is the main motivation for God’s actions—he cares only about his own pet project—Adam. But he does not care about others who are behind God’s back (grouped in a shape of a human brain). So, the message for anyone who has a brain—Life cannot exist without egoism!
And there is still room for Altruism too. Adam (as most of future humans) pretends to be kind and selfless—he outstretches his arm only when he poses before God. Altruism behaves the same way.
But, when no one is watching, Adam will certainly reach his own mouth, first—his elbow is slightly bent already. Look at his reluctantly outstretched arm! He has no intention to reach out to anyone, voluntarily. “Straighten your arm!” God yells pointing his finger at the Adam’s elbow. “Or I will do it myself!” Coercion is a trade mark of altruism.
As for the crowd behind God’s back (inside the red cloth shaped as a woman’suterus), it’s the emerging humanity to be born as altruists ready to live for others because to be kind and selfless is not enough for genuine altruists!
I am sure you have already figured out that I used the Michelangelo’s fresco to outline the main differences between the concepts of Kindness, Selflessness, Egoism and Altruism. And I am sure you are convinced that repulsive and shameful egoism is a socially unacceptable behavior and an undesirable human trait accused of all seven deadly sins.
Why is there such hatred toward egoism? I was warned—join the chorus of accusers or don’t touch the subject of egoism, at all! It is dangerous like a high-voltage third rail—touch it, and you are fried!
Nevertheless, I will have to raise my voice in defense of egoism because it has been undeservedly mistreated and wrongly accused of alleged crimes against humanity. This essay brings arguments in defense of egoism, while comparing it to altruism because altruism is claimed to be the antipode of egoism that will replace egoism, once and for all.
So, who is called egoist? There are several academic definitions for different types of egoism (psychological, ethical, rational, etc.). But they revolve around the idea that egoists care about their own self-interests (needs and desires) rather than the interests of others.
A clear and simple idea. Right? Not quite. First, who are “others?” If others are your own family, the idea is clear—you care about yourself, but neglect the needs of your own family, then you are egoist.
But what if you care for yourself and your family, but not for others; if you give to your family everything they need and desire—not to others? Then you are an egoist, anyway, by definition! But this is against Nature—a mother won’t take away a piece of bread from her kids to give it to someone else! Mother Nature created family to preserve and continue Life.
You may care for others too. But, naturally, not as much as for yourself and your family, and only for those whom you like—friends, colleagues, etc. You may give also to a charity, but only to your favorite one and if there is enough to give. Such preferences and selective behavior still make you an egoist, by definition again.
And finally, would you care for others, if they are strangers? Would you give to any charity at the expense of your needy family? If you don’t, you are a real egoist!
So, no matter what you do, you behave as an egoist unless you care for strangers, not for yourself and your family. To be fair, there may be some insanely selfless individuals who live for others, but they simply destroy themselves (see V. Malin. Man Who Lived for Others). That’s why they are as rare as tiny islands in an endless ocean.
So, why did Nature create a vast ocean of egoism and self-interest and the rare, tiny islands of kindness and selflessness—not otherwise?
Obviously, Life needs a lot of egoism. Nature doesn’t create anything useless as was noticed by the great ancient philosopher Aristotle. But Nature didn’t expect that arrogant Man would revolt against egoism and try to drain the ocean.
Is it possible to get rid of egoism? Since the Biblical time, humanity has been struggling against undesirable human weaknesses entrenched in every human soul from birth, such as envy, egoism and others. Just read the Ten Commandments written 3,500 years ago, and you will find the echo of this struggle, right there. Here is one of these commandments, “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife or house…” It targets not only envy, but egoism too. No wonder it’s connected and contrasted with another ancient commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself,” which promotes selflessness—the antipode of egoism.
Just think about it. Humanity was given more than 3,500 years to get rid of egoism and replace it with selflessness (modern altruism), but has not been so far able to do so despite uninterrupted enlightenment, education and indoctrination. Maybe the learning period was insufficient to hammer the virtues of selflessness into our heads. Or it’s simply impossible to change human nature.
Egoism was created by Nature at the dawn of humanity. No one has been teaching us egoism or forcing us to behave egoistically. You can’t deny that egoism exists, but you can claim that it’s useless, detrimental and dangerous. That’s why egoism is despised, vilified, ostracized, condemned and banned. But stubborn egoism is still here. Healthy, resilient and indestructible, it survived a millennia-long relentless war waged against it by Man. Because on its side is … Nature!
In contrast, altruism was born not in Nature, but in a human mind just 170 years ago. We have been taught altruism since kindergarten, and we are forced to behave altruistically by public opinion, morality and even laws. That’s why altruism is revered, admired and even worshipped. But despite such non-stop brainwashing, we still have to prove that altruism exists and justify its usefulness with theories and research.
Millennia come and go, but an imaginary human society in which altruism replaced egoism still remains a fantasy. Because in a real world, it’s just the opposite. The great British philosopher of 19th century Herbert Spencer noticed that, during food shortages, those who “take care of others (altruists) die; those who care of themselves (egoists) survive.” Therefore, it’s egoism that replaces altruism “to make preservation and continuation of life possible.”
So, if you live in a society of abundance and satiation, you can afford to be an altruist and to give to others. But at the first signs of hunger, whom will you call first to come to the rescue? Egoism! Thank egoism for the abundance and satiation too! (We’ll talk about it later).
So, why in the world is egoism indestructible? Because ugly but resilient egoism lives in a real world. In contrast, beautiful but fragile altruism resides only in an idealistic human mind.
Why do you spray weeds in your backyard? Because they are ugly to your taste (in your mind) and, therefore, undesirable. Because you want to protect your beautiful but fragile grass from these naturally resilient weeds. Stop spraying, and weeds—the children of Nature—will come back and overwhelm your artificially-nurtured grass. Stop watering your pampered grass, and it will wither. Not the weeds!
In other words, you can take the wolf out of the forest, but you cannot take the forest out of the wolf. In the same token, you can take egoism out of the human mind, but you cannot take it out of the human nature.
Natural weeds vs. man-nurtured grass! Egoism vs. Altruism! For ages, Nature has been carving egoism into human genome as streams of water carve into granite rocks.
As for altruism, it has been hammered into our minds to destroy egoism and, thus, to correct Nature’s errors.
Egoism is Evil! We got accustomed to this myth. Can we trust it? Let’s figure it out.
Egoism is an antipode of altruism. This is one of those myths. In fact, egoism may hide under the mask of altruism. There is a popular belief that altruists give donations—egoists don’t. But the giving may be a hidden form of egoism too!
In 2007, a team of researchers led by psychologist Prof. Urlich Mayr at the University of Oregon found that “charitable giving activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasures.” Your brain releases chemicals of pleasure, such as dopamine, and you feel good. It’s so-called “helper’s high” felt by the givers when they hear thanks and praises from the recipients. Your brain says, “Donate more, and you will get a reward—another dose of dopamine.”
The authors make a sensational conclusion that altruists, who give to help the poor (or even those who pay taxes), feel the same pleasant excitement as if they eat food or have … sex! Yes, sex! No kidding!
А stunning revelation! Altruists receive a reward for their donations—pleasure! It means that they give to help the poor not out of selflessness, but out of their self-interest! Surprise! Altruism is a hidden form of egoism!
What a pity that the poor can’t feel this «pleasant excitement» aroused by imaginary food and sex—they do not give donations to charities and do not pay taxes. And paying high taxes does not sexually arouse too many taxpayers, either. On the contrary, it makes them feel impotent facing the harassment of omnipotent IRS.
There is a bright side of it, though. If paying taxes is associated with sex, it’s at least a safe sex—taxes give you headache, not a venereal disease. Moreover, if you are harassed by the IRS, you can sue them for sexual harassment. (Just a crazy thought).
Egoism exists at the expense of others! It’s another myth—egoism is a parasite. Just think. In a real world, all natural resources (the things valuable for life, such as sun energy, oil, minerals, drinkable water, nutritional vegetation, etc.) are distributed unequally on the planet Earth. The mental and physical abilities are divided unequally between humans, as well as between other living beings. Therefore, availability and consumption of these resources are also unequal.
In a real world, everyone gets what comes naturally—according to availability of resources and individual abilities. Elephants need and get more than rabbits. Are elephants egoists? Do they exist at the expense of rabbits? This is the real world in which egoism resides.
In contrast, altruism lives in an artificial world created by Man. In this egalitarian world, all resources are equally distributed around the planet, while physical and mental abilities are divided between people equally, as well as between other living beings. In this imaginary world, if something or someone gets more, it can happen only at the expense of others. In this absurd world, Saudi Arabia gets more oil at the expense of Europe; the US gets more fertile soil and food at the expense of Ethiopia; and Bill Gates, the Genius, gets more wealth at the expense of Jo Blow, the Mediocre.
Only in this idealistic, utopian world, egoism is a parasite and gets more at the expense of others, while altruism takes from someone and gives it to someone else, arbitrarily—not according to the availability or the abilities, but based on subjective, ideological principles born in a human mind, not in Nature.
Egoism doesn’t care about anyone! Another myth. Egoism says, “I care genuinely about you, your needs and desires, but I care only about you and your family. I do not ask others for anything. And others should do the same. Pursuing self-interest, we can help each other more and reach prosperity faster than when we are coerced to share with each other.”
Here is a house for sale. Its value is $200,000. But a buyer offers…$300,000, while the owner agrees to sell it only for…$100,000. What? Are these two guys crazy? No, they have no self-interest!
Two words—self and interest. Without an interest you won’t lift a finger—you won’t read books, have friends, a family, a job, earn a living and even live—if you lose interest to live, you commit suicide!
As for self, if you do all this stuff not for yourself and your family, but for others, then you don’t exist as a person. In other words, without self-interest, Life stops!
Who has self-interest? Everyone! Those who have and are interested to have more, as well as those who don’t have and are interested to have what others have.
So, what’s wrong if you have self-interest; if you rely only on yourself, work tirelessly, create new businesses, invent new things and, thus, accumulate wealth?
“Shame on you, egoist!” We are told. “You do it out of your self-interest—only for yourself and your family. This means that you don’t help others.”
But, in fact, such egoists care for and help others too. Self-interest compels them to produce for others, serve others and offer things of higher quality and wider variety at more affordable prices. As a result, they help others to have what those others need, want and can afford.
What about altruism? It doesn’t care about you or your family, by definition. Its first concern is to put interests (needs and desires) of others over your own interests. Altruism does not produce anything—it takes away things from you and gives them to others. As a result, altruism can’t meet all the needs and desires of others. Everyone loses at the end!
Altruism doesn’t earn what it gives away so generously to others? It is not capable of earning—it makes everyone poor! Then who earns all this prosperity? Egoism does!
The principles of egoism and self-interest make some members of a society very wealthy, but they bring unprecedented prosperity to all others.
It is not surprising that the middle class in the US—the society organized on these principles—is the wealthiest group of world’s population (the infamous global 1%).
It is not surprising also that the living standard of American welfare recipients (the poor who do not work) is higher than that of an average worker living in 141 (out of 213) countries of the world (World Bank’s data, 2009).
In contrast, despite good intentions and promises to bring equality, happiness, abundance and prosperity, altruism brings nothing, but an equal share of misery, deprivation and poverty to almost all members of altruistic societies. The living examples are USSR and other socialist countries. (History 101).
The father of altruism, French philosopher Auguste Comte, predicted that only “those societies in which altruism would triumph over anarchical impulses of individualistic egoism would achieve a lasting and equitable social order.”
Oh, yes! The social order achieved in the USSR, the ultimate altruistic society, was really “lasting and equitable”—no disagreements, no egoism and no inequality. Like at a cemetery where everyone is lying permanently, quietly and close to each other on a small but equal parcel of government-owned land.
More information about altruism and egoism you can find in the book “Altruism, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Valdemar Malin (Amazon.com).
Красильщиков Аркадий - сын Льва. Родился в Ленинграде. 18 декабря 1945 г. За годы трудовой деятельности перевел на стружку центнеры железа,километры кинопленки, тонну бумаги, иссушил море чернил, убил четыре компьютера и продолжает заниматься этой разрушительной деятельностью.
Плюсы: построил три дома (один в Израиле), родил двоих детей, посадил целую рощу, собрал 597 кг.грибов и увидел четырех внучек..