Month: January 2017

Are we selfish b*stards driven by our own self interest?

Self interest as a human nature driver for happiness?

The drive of self-interest for material well-being has been seen to be a fundamental aspect of human nature, particularly since the Enlightenment (Persky 1995) as seen in the works of Adam Smith (1776) and John Stuart Mill (1836). Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan placed self interest on the throne of human motivation.

Yet, self interest has not been seen as the only drive for humanity. Alongside this drive is the ‘Will to Power’ associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, the ‘Pleasure Principle’ associated with Epicurus, Jeremy Bentham and with Sigmund Freud (Snyder, Lopez and Pedrotti 2007) and the ‘Will to Meaning’ associated with Frankl (1946/2006). Thus the quests for Power, Pleasure and Meaning are alternatives to economic self interest as drivers for human action. Erich Fromm and Manfred Max Neef have also discussed fundamental human needs which could be thought of as drivers for human action. Self interest for material gain does not feature anywhere near as prominent.

Miller (1999) argues that a different view of human agency acknowledges the power of other motives, such as public spiritedness ( Etzioni, 1988 ; Mansbridge, 1994 ), empathy (Batson, 1991 ; Kohn, 1990 ), commitment ( Sen, 1977 ), and justice ( Lerner, 1980 ; Tyler, Boeckmann, Smith, & Huo, 1997 ).

Yet given this, somewhat admittedly white, colonialist and patriarchal divergence of views on what motivates us in contemporary societies, it could be argued that hegemonic neoliberal imaginary (Hall 2011) especially in the United States and the United kingdom since the 1970’s, rests on the idea of the rational actor, the ‘free, possessive, individual’, using his economic self interest for ‘life liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. This is a concept understood in classical economics as ‘homo economicus’ – the rational actor in a market weighing up costs and benefits of consuming decisions according to price signals.  Neoliberalism may draw upon neoclassical economic theory and may draw upon theories of human behavior which suggest we are more motivated by rational action for self interest. It has also been used to justify the current economic order and also as an explanation for inequalities. Self Interest as expressed through ‘free’ markets is therefore not only an explanation but also a guiding imperative for policy or ‘ideology’. Adam Smith has particularly been appropriated to the cause alongside the later economists, Hayek and Friedman.

One aspect of rational self interest is that of “principal-agent” theory: agents will perform best under high-powered financial incentives to align their interests with those of the principal (a business school thesis – Layard 2009). For example employees and managers (agents) will work for the same goals of employers and shareholders (principals) and not in their own self interest, if the goals are aligned, e.g. profits are shared. However, Daniel Pink argues that above a certain level of material reward, what motivates us is Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. Financial rewards start to become hindrances rather than benefits. Not that this insight affects the level of, and justification for, the ‘High Pay‘ of many ‘fat cat’ CEOs.

John Stuart Mill (1836) argued:

[Political economy] does not treat the whole of man’s nature as modified by the social state, nor of the whole conduct of man in society. It is concerned with him solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.

Similarly, Adam Smith (1776) wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Smith (1759) however does express in ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ that self interest alone is not the sole motivator, men can act out of regard for others:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it” .

This exposition of rational self interest demonstrates that Smith accepted that what makes us human is not only based on unrestrained self interest.

This is a point picked up by Becker (2007) who argues that moral leadership is exercised not solely based on rational self interest, that business decisions are not made only on the economic conditions of the market. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is also an example of business principles being enunciated which go beyond the simple search for maximum profit.

However, the theory of self interest allied to material reward remains strong as a description of ‘natural’ human behaviour. If it is ‘natural’ then human happiness is gained if self interest is given its head. Self interest as ‘human nature’ can be seen therefore as the major drive which should be harnessed both for prosperity and happiness. Graham Scambler, following on from Margaret Archer’s theory of ‘modes of reflexivity’, argues that we have entered an era where plutocrats and oligarchs have captured the levers of the State to rule as ‘Greedy Bastards’.

He constructed an ideal-typical sub-type of Archer’s ‘autonomous reflexive’ called the focused autonomous reflexive. Those who make up the ruling oligarchy, or the ‘greedy bastards’, are also ‘focused autonomous reflexives’. Scambler argues they have the following characteristics:

“TOTAL COMMITMENT:  The focused autonomous reflexive exhibits an overriding engagement with accumulating capital and personal wealth/income. Nothing less will suffice: that is, any deficit in commitment will result in absolute or relative failure. NIETZSCHIAN INSTINCT: Born of a Hobbesian notion of the natural human state, they betray a ruthless determination to cut whatever corners are necessary to gain an advantage over rivals. they are the ‘blond beasts’ of ‘noble morality’ whose values are constructed by themselves to serve their own interests. FUNDAMENTALIST IDEOLOGY: Commitment is not only total and Nietzschian but fundamentalist: it does not admit of compromise. It is an ideology – that is, a standpoint emerging from a coherent set of vested interests – that brooks no alternative. COGNITIVE INSURANCE: While cognitive dissonance is a state to which none of us is immune, they are  able to take out sufficient insurance to draw its sting. Thus accusations of greed and responsibility for others’ suffering are rarely internalized. Such epistemological and ontological security is the exception rather than the rule in this era of financial capitalism. TUNNEL VISION: A concomitant of a total, Nietzschian and fundamentalist commitment is the sidelining of other matters and a reflex and frequently gendered delegation of these to others. LIFEWORLD DETACHMENT: There is simply no time for the ordinary business of day-to-day decision-making. In this way focused autonomous reflexives rely on and reproduce structures not only of gender but of class, ethnicity, ageing and so on. Their Lifeworld detachment presupposes others’ non-detachment, i.e. other people service the every day requirements of life”. 

Graham Scambler’s typology requires empirical verification and is not meant to describe any one person in totality. Without studying the lives of the 0.01% and their ‘players’ (often to be found in the 1%), this cannot be verified. However, may we see indicators of their world views in their speeches and writings?

Societies have ‘myths’ – stories to explain phenomena and to bind the people together. Self Interest in free markets is an old story, an ‘anti-myth’, as it divides peoples based on negativity, rather than binds. It sorts a people into ‘winners and losers’, ‘top cornflakes‘, ‘skivers or strivers‘ and the ‘left behind‘. It is not based in the actuality of human experience or within philosophy over history, but has been imposed in the West as a guiding ideology especially since the Reagan-Thatcher Duopoly. The Autonomous Reflexives both in the political class and the corporate class of the 0.01%, have imposed  “there is no alternative” and ridden roughshod over other values and stories. Facts, evidence and reason have not worked against their neoliberalism to date. However we may be witnessing the challenge of Authoritarian Populism, which will either destroy or appropriate neoliberalism, as a new ‘anti-myth’. What we need now is a new story, to bridge this ‘myth gap’ (Evans 2017).






Becker, G. (2007) The Competitive edge of Moral leadership. International Management Review Vol 3 No. 1

Evans A (2017) The Myth Gap. What happens when evidence and reason aren’t enough. Eden Project Books.

Frankl V (2006) orig. 1946. Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press. Boston.

Hall S (2011) THE NEO-LIBERAL REVOLUTION, Cultural Studies, 25:6, 705-728

Mill, J.S. (1836) On the Definition of Political Economy, and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It, London and Westminster Review, October.

Miller D (1999) The Norm of Self Interest. American Psychologist 54:12: 1053-1-6-

Layard, R (2009) Now is the time for a less selfish capitalism 11 March

Persky, J. (1995) Retrospectives: The Ethology of Homo Economicus. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 9, No. 2. pp. 221-231

Snyder C, Lopez S and Pedrotti J (2007) Positive Psychology: The scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. Sage. London

Smith, A. (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments.  accessed 9th January 2011

Smith, A. (1776) On the Division of Labour. The Wealth of Nations, Books I-III. New York Penguin Classics, 1986, page 119.

The Trump Card has been played

Fuck nationalism. fuck fascism and fuck off petty patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel, and the bastard son of xenophobia. For every narrative blaming the dispossessed, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the disabled on benefits, the unemployed, the old, the sick and mentally ill for their problems, fuck off. How many times does it need pointing out? Who crashed the financial system in 2008 leaving you to pick up the bill? Who decided to move your job to a foreign country because their labour is cheaper? Who turns a blind eye to off shore tax havens while simultaneously sipping champagne with asset strippers, amoral financiers and fancy Wall Street brokers? Who likes to import cheap labour? Who makes cuts to public Infrastructures, housing and education? Who spews lies on their front pages and on the sides of buses? Who is relaxed about the filthy rich because they are the filthy rich’s friends? Who sells arms to terrorists? Who owns media empires peddling a narrow narrative about spurious ‘market freedom’ while undermining the Rule of Law reminiscent of Nazi slurs? Who wants to sell off the NHS to private sector companies they have interests in? Who wants you duped, ‘baked off’ celebrity obsessed, focused on blaming each other? Who owns swathes of our cities, luxury yachts and gated properties with concierge doctors, private pilots and private armies just in case? Who is militarising the police to protect their assets from indigenous protest? Brexit sentiment riles at elites, but fails to grasp that British elites will still not give a fuck about your house, your job, your health or education. Who is it travelling first class, business class, private class while public transport slowly becomes an expensive farce? Who made a pact with Saudi Arabia to secure oil, and thereby provided refuge for the death cult that is Wahaabism not Islam? So, fuck off with your fascist inspired stories about people, yes human beings, many of whom literally bear scars from bombs and bullets made in the U.K., the USA, France and Russia. Take your first world middle England petty nationalism that has benefitted from two centuries of plunder, war and genocidal imperialism, wrap it in the Union Jack and stuff it up your arse.

Meanwhile, the western media holds it breath waiting for ‘the’ result. When it comes, it will either be turd like, slithering out hell’s anus wearing a blond toupee made from the flaxen hair of Teutonic virgins pulled by force screaming from as yet otherwise unblemished pudenda, or it it will plop into our laps like our old flea bitten moggy mewing to distract us from the fact of the decapitation of your budgie with one swish of a razor sharp claw. The western media will pore over the significance of the win. If the puckered lips, which resemble a dockers ringpiece after a curry night in Mumbai wins, then stand by for all the cockroaches of bigotry, fear and petty nationalism to come crawling out from within the festering pus soaked sores they call home to crawl over to your baby’s crib and shit in it. If the old guard get their girl in, stand by for a wave of mysogyny to distract you from who is actually pulling the levers. Guns will be cocked as second amendment sympathies were given succour by a demagogue whose only success is ‘getting away with it’.

The real tragedy here is that many who lost their livelihoods, their prospects and their children’s future due to the strategic decisions of the greedy bastards, have turned to a Greedy Bastard to save them. It’s like suffering dry anal sex and then instead of reaching for the Vaseline one grabs a pineapple for another go at it in case that feels any better. Not since the Somme were so many led so badly. The western media will lap it up though also decrying the worse excesses as their bank balances improve. A weeping crocodile would have at least the good grace to look embarrassed at his lachrymous act if caught out. The western media will shake their bourgeois heads in disgust and then retire to bed in Uptown New York wondering how this genie was able to not only get out of the bottle but was able to call down a shower of shit. They will forget they rubbed the bottle with all the fervour of a masturbating schoolboy, whose weak grasp of the short term consequences of his action is in inverse proportion to the clutch of instant gratification. It will get messy….

Well, now we know.

The Dow plummets and the Futures market foresees gloom. The capitalist class executive have a momentary wobble as it seems “their girl” will not make it. The political power elite in the US have, despite and because of their best efforts, elected the wrong candidate. Not to worry, there is money to be made in construction, arms, civil surveillance, policing, health insurance and in ‘corrections’. The congruence of interest of the CCE has backfired momentarily as the men of media wealth have bought the (wrong) man of power. The ‘Greedy Bastards’ have miscalculated but they need not fear, the flaxen haired turd will not seriously alter the basic foundations upon which money can be made. They’ll merely have the inconvenience of switching their investments to less volatile markets and wait for the storm to settle. It will be a media storm at first, but not a lot will change. Police will still kick the crap out of native Americans, and drones will still kill civilians. IS will be pleased as punch, their caliphate one step closer in their eyes. Putin will welcome another nut job to the growing list of complete bastards that run countries. Big Oil rejoices as the Paris accord gets put back on the shelf. Big Pharma will sell even more antidepressants and Big Celebrity will go into overdrive to provide distraction and succour to an even more duped population. God Bless America.

Now, we’ve all had a bit of fun with both Brexit and Trump. Markets will get in a tizzy for a while because they don’t like uncertainty. The economic infrastructure will not change much as the capitalist class will readjust and will welcome someone in the White House who does not like to pay tax and is contemptuous of health, environmental and social regulations. They publicly abhor his redneck views on women, gays and non whites but these groups are only useful to Capital as reserve armies of labour. Their concerns are not Capital’s concerns. His chief crime is not being Ivy League or Oxbridge and thus speaks like an angry docker whose beer has been spilled. Their own noxious views are of course spoken with far more finesse in boardrooms and banks. Capital does not care who is in the White House as long as the structures remain. And they will. Capital looks with disdain on the culture wars on abortion, gun control, gay and women’s rights, as long as they don’t affect the bottom line. These culture wars are poor people’s wars and it suits Capital very nicely to keep the populace arguing over the cultural superstructure as important as it is for the living breathing individual who experiences the sharp end of bigotry. No, the end of the world as we know it has not arrived, it has morphed into a nastier bigoted version of itself. The nuclear option however….I do shudder to think of Trump in a room full of US hawks. Yet he may work with Putin in mutual backyard Empire building, leaving NATO out in the cold.

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