- Capitalism and Alternatives -

'Self-interest' still explains nothing

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on September 07, 1999 at 22:31:11:

In Reply to: is it? posted by Gee on September 07, 1999 at 18:45:48:

: : SDF: Do the (deciduous) trees lose their leaves in the autumn out of self-interest?

: If they dont they stand a high chance of dying.

SDF: How so?

: The tree doesnt get to choose suicide, it simply does what it does in order to live.

SDF: It isn't in a tree's "self-interest" to live?

: Humans however can spend their entire life studying postmodernism if they believe it to be in their interest to do so.

SDF: Which tells us nothing about why trees lose their leaves in the fall, or why people study postmodernism.

: : SDF: Ah yes, but "he did it because his mom was angry" at least supplies some contextual clues as to the origin of Jimmy's behavior, whereas "he did it because of self-interest" tells us nothing of the sort.

: It does tell us that the central point is him and his values.

SDF: Nope. It tells us that the central point for YOU is him and his values, because YOUR IDEOLOGY believes this to be so. We still HAVEN'T BEGUN an exploration of why people do what they do.

: So when we analyse his behaviour we wont come up with something spurious, we can relate it back to him. The contextual clue is only useful if its understood in terms of the person as being motivated by himself.

SDF: "Self-interest" still means nothing. People are not motivated by "themselves," they have real, nameable motivations. Lust, altruism, hunger, curiosity, pleasure, agony, each of these explains something. "Self-interest" doesn't.

: His mother is not the cause of the brick being thrown, he is.

SDF: We don't need a concept of self-interest to explain brick-throwing, just as we don't need a concept of self-interest to explain why leaves fall from trees in the autumn.

: Exploring from there gets closer to the truth.

SDF: "Closer to the truth" = still in the land of fantasy. In fact, we are moving backward if we ignore contextual clues.

: : Upon further reflection, I have to wonder what the point of an explanation "he did it because of self-interest" really is, if there really is any point at all. Are we interested in blaming Jimmy to satisfy an emotional fetish? Bad bad bad bad bad bad (repeat as recommended) Jimmy!

: No, it isnt an excercise in attributing blame. It is relating the activity back to person making it.

SDF: "Jimmy threw a brick." I related an activity back to a person. Didn't need ANY concept of "self-interest."

: I can see this is drifting towards the 'columbine killers did it because of TV' type argument

SDF: Nope, it's drifting nowhere, it's staying on the "you are saying nothing" argument. Contextual clues help us solve the riddle of human behavior. What's necessary to complete the picture, why we can't just say that "context is in charge," is our understanding of what a human being is. And here, too, "self-interest" tells us nothing. The "self" can be any understanding of what a human being is, "interest" can be any attribution of the person's behavior. "People behave according to self-interest" is a redundancy, information content zero.

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