The Virtue of Selffulness

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sat, 2010-12-11 23:50

In the thread, "Deborah's Delinquency," I took Deborah Coddington to task for accusing Ayn Rand of "conjuring up" her own meaning of the term "altruism" when the meaning Rand ascribed to it was the exact meaning ascribed to it by its formulator, Auguste Comte. I went on to acknowledge that the Comte/Rand meaning—self-sacrifice as one's primary virtue and duty—has long since been discarded in popular usage, where "altruism" is taken to denote kindness, benevolence, generosity and the like. I added that in deference to this fact, I personally would be substituting the term "sacrifism" for "altruism" in future, rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time the Objectivist ethics came up.

Just as we are not intrinsicists in epistemology, neither are we in etymology. Words do not come into being with a pre-ordained, immutable meaning (though it is certainly desirable to stick to the original as much as possible); where a particular term has come to mean something other than what it originally meant, the sensible approach is to accept that the original meaning is irretrievable and to find another word for it. It is an ongoing public relations and logistical disaster for Objectivism that it continues to attack "altruism" when to attack "sacrifism" would get straight to the point and obviate the necessity for all that "Of course, by altruism we don't mean what everyone thinks it means" palaver we have to go through at present (and still run the risk, if we don't make ourselves clear, of being thought of as baby-eating well-poisoners who run over old ladies on pedestrian crossings).

Ditto, I am here going to argue, the word "selfishness." It is, I submit, an incalculable impediment to our polemical efforts that we continue to espouse the "virtue of selfishness" when, as Rand allows in the introduction to her essay of that very name:

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Moreover, Rand is mostly wrong when she adds:

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.

I don't know what the dictionaries said in Rand's time, but I found only one current one that agrees with her. Sort of. The third edition of the Compact Oxford Dictionary, 2009, defines "selfish" as "concerned mainly with your own needs and wishes." Period. But even then, it offers as synonyms such unflattering terms as "wrapped up in yourself," "mean" and "greedy." And I'm sure Rand would balk at "needs and wishes" being substituted for "interests."

All other dictionaries I consulted defined selfishness as necessarily entailing disregard or inadequate regard for others.

My old Collins Paperback English Dictionary, 1986: "Caring too much about oneself and not enough about others." "devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others."

Merriam-Webster: "1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others; 2: arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others."


I believe we should surrender the term "selfishness" to those who've already captured it anyway and made it to mean all of the above; we'll never get it back, and it's a futile diversion to persist in trying. I propose that we should coin a new term to denote what we have hitherto meant by "selfish" (rationally self-interested and, as a consequence, respectful of the rights of others and mindful of their wellbeing) simply by emulating the common practice of adding the suffix "ful" to the noun in question—thus: selfful, adjective, and selffulness, noun. Again I say, in espousing the virtue of selffulness, we can cut straight to the chase, liberated from the linguistic shackles that have hitherto bound us.

Rand correctly and seminally identified that "[t]he meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word 'selfishness' is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual 'package-deal,' which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind." Rather than try to "redeem" the word as Rand suggests, however, I am advocating we accept that it has become intractably corrupted, and use "selffulness" instead.

The viciousness of the package-dealing to which Rand refers and from which we could thus free ourselves is well illustrated by the synonyms for "selfish" offered by Merriam-Webster:

egoistic (also egoistical), egomaniacal, egotistic (or egotistical), narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-centered, self-concerned, self-infatuated, self-interested, self-involved, selfish, self-loving, self-obsessed, self-oriented, self-preoccupied, self-regarding, self-seeking, self-serving, solipsistic [Related Words] inner-directed; complacent, conceited, overweening, pompous, prideful, proud, self-complacent, self-conceited, self-contented, self-directed, self-glorifying, self-important, self-indulgent, self-opinionated, self-pleased, self-satisfied, smug, vain, vainglorious

And the merits of my suggestion are well illustrated by the fact that it will be a cakewalk for us to separate those qualities listed above which are part of selffulness from those which are part of selfishness.

Orthodox Randians will excoriate me, no doubt, for this deviation from the Path of True Righteousness, but it's interesting that when she herself was asked to "explain the virtue of selfishness" by Tom Snyder on television, Rand immediately said, "Use another word. Self-esteem." Whoa!

So, selfful SOLOists, please join me in toasting the Virtue of Selffulness! And to hell with the evil of sacrifism!

I think it would be best,

Blake's picture

I think it would be best, especially in discussions with non-O's, etc., to use "self-interest" v. "self-sacrifice". This way, no explanation is required. You don't have to untangle previous misconceptions, nor convince people to accept a new word that sounds somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Colbert's "truthiness", in my opinion. Selffullness sounds too much like a made-up word, if that makes sense, and I am afraid it won't be taken seriously.

The whole situation reminds me of when some restaurants here in the US changed the All-You-Can-Eat buffet to All-You-Care-To-Eat, after patrons actually injured themselves over-eating. They later tried to sue the restaurants for "encouraging" them to eat beyond their comfort level.

Or more recently, I don't know if anyone knows what "Puppy Chow" is, but it's basically a homemade chex-mix flavored with chocolate and powdered sugar that people eat here around the holidays. Anyhow, a lot of stores had to change the name to "People Chow", after people filed complaints about their dogs getting sick from it. Point is, I love Puppy Chow, and People Chow is a terrible name. If people don't know what Puppy Chow is, we should call it a chocolate flavored chex-mix before we call it People Chow.

I am not fat.

Battle Royale

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

The battle over words, their meaning, and a tiny number of popular one-word ideals (and counter-ideals) is the battle for the fate of the world. This article, and the subsequent discussion, makes many good points.

Still, there's something to be said for shocking people, overturning their complacency, and making them ponder a bit. I think, for example, it's good strategy to aggressively, confidently tell people "to hell with peace -- I favor justice!" and "to hell with democracy -- I favor freedom!"

Otherwise they might go for decades, or a lifetime, never realizing that these word-pairs are essentially opposites. Determining what is the proper one-word standard and ideal is absolutely crucial to life and society.

Essay Contest 2010

gregster's picture

In case this was missed.

"Man is restored to his full worth only when he acts as a trader, for the trader “earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved” (1021). He exchanges value for value, seeking fairness above all else. For this reason, Galt dubs the trader “a man of justice” (1022) and decrees that in Galt’s Gulch, the vivid converse of Starnesville, the doctrine of fair trade be practiced to the last penny. This means, to Dagny’s initial incredulity, that Midas Mulligan charges twenty-five cents for the simple service of a car ride. Galt explains the situation to Dagny, warning her, “there is one word which is forbidden in this valley: the word ‘give’” (714). Even the most negligible of services is performed only for just compensation. In Galt’s capitalist utopia, selflessness—the free rendering of a service—is sinful. Man is expected not to deny himself, but to strive towards the fullness of his life through all the honest means available to him. In this way, he rises from the level of beggars, victims and parasites, emerging anew as that practitioner of justice, that celebrator of life—the trader.

Condemning the code of altruism, Rand thus achieves a profound indictment both of socialist ideology and of Christian ethics, Christ’s gospel being, after all, a “social gospel”—that is, not merely an exaltation of the world to come, but a guide to living on earth. The socialist precepts of collectivization and payment according to need all find their root in Christ’s example of serving others and his commandment to act as our “brothers’ keepers.” This means that in exposing the fundamental weaknesses of such a system, Rand overturns millennia of ethical thought: Atlas Shrugged stands as her subversion of a moral code that has gripped the western world for two-thousand years. It is a staggering philosophical revolution, promising, through its reversal of the ethical code, the redemption of man himself. For under the creed of selflessness, to be human—to be alive—is to be flawed and sinful: you have not sacrificed totally, you have not given your life, and so “you are guilty every moment of your life” (1033). By aligning morality with the effort to live, rather than to die, Rand makes it possible for being human to be a point not of shame but pride. As the Judeo-Christian God and his crooked commandments are put to rest, man is resurrected—a creature not of guilt but joy, a being whose endeavors to preserve his life render him not less moral but more so. He does not confess, shamefully, the fact of his humanity, but proclaims it to the world. Rewriting the framework of ethics, Rand reclaims our right to exist, enacting through the figure of John Galt, the salvation of human life."

let's analyze the dictionary definition

Doug Bandler's picture

concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself

What would this mean in practice? If a person was only concerned with themselves to the exclusion of others it would mean this person was not honest in his dealings with others. It would mean that he was not dealing fairly with others; that in effect he was not trading value with them. Which leads me to:

seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

But look at what this definition does. It equivocates on the word "regard." What does regard mean here? And what should it mean? Seeking advantage is ok according to the authors of this definition (and their university professors) if it is done with regard for others. But that right there is smuggling in the altruist premise. Why can't securing an advantage to the self be done through trade and mutual advantage with others? Where no one is defrauded or harmed? The assumptions in this definition really piss me off.

Also, how does one actually go about securing advantage in society? Well, I guess one could kill, rape, rob, pillage, etc.. That would secure pleasure, booty, spoils, etc for the short term. But long term? And what is meant by "advantage"? How would we determine what is really an advantage to a human being living in society?

What's going on here is the predatory premise that is embedded in the entire mainstream world's conception of self-interest. For anyone infected with altruism (just about everyone on the planet except Objectivists) to be self-interested entails indeed even mandates predatory behavior. Now, coming up with an effective answer for why that isn't so (and that isn't the length of a phd dissertation) is not easy. This is one of the toughest things to convey about the Objectivist ethics.

Greetings all. Just to set

MichaelD's picture

Greetings all.

Just to set context, and so there are no false pretences, I'll mention that I am not an Objectivist. In fact, for the most part I am not even an ally. You can think of me as a good faith opponent if you like. Smiling

That being said, I largely agree with Ayn Rand's views on altruism and self-interest. And I want to make the case for continuing to vigorously oppose the common notion of altruism as a virtue (or worse, as the entire basis for morality).

See the thing is, I only half agree with Linz when he says
'I went on to acknowledge that the Comte/Rand meaning—self-sacrifice as one's primary virtue and duty—has long since been discarded in popular usage, where "altruism" is taken to denote kindness, benevolence, generosity and the like.'

It's quite true that people often do use altruism in this way. And if altruism were consistently used in this manner I would agree, and be quite happy to write off the Comte definition as a historical anachronism. Words' meanings do change after all.

But the word is not consistently used in this manner. Altruism in common usage is actually a blend of the benevolence and the Comte definition. And in fact the equivocation is the main problem with the word.

Altruism is commonly used to mean "putting others' interests above your own" (or worse, you often hear that to be genuinely altruistic, your good deeds must be totally divorced from your self-interest!) Allow altruism as a virtue, and you concede that in order to be kind and benevolent, you must put others' interests above one's own. To conventional morality, the one does indeed imply the other. To oppose this I think it is vital to oppose the use of the equivocal word "altruism" as a virtue as vigorously as possible.

I also agree with the point some others have made about rhetoric. It's true that continuing to rally against altruism will alienate many people. But that's not merely because Objectivists are using words differently to everyone else. It is because of a substantial disagreement between Objectivist morality and conventional morality, as I tried to show above. As such, it's actually a good thing if many people are shocked, because it brings into focus very clearly where Objectivists part from the received wisdom.

In fact, Ayn Rand used a similar tactic with many other words. For example duty, sacrifice, selflessness, pragmatism, democracy spring to mind (though I'm sure there are many, many more); they are all equivocal words, but Ayn Rand focused almost entirely on the negative side of the equivocation, I assume (though I don't know) in order to make her own distinctive views very noticeable. For the same reason, I think, she focused on the positive side of equivocal words such as selfish, self-centred, greed, egoism.

All that being said, I agree with Linz about selfishness. There are a couple of reasons for this.

(1) As far as I know, equating the word selfishness with self-interest has no historical basis, unlike altruism and Comte's definition.

(2) Selfishness is also an equivocal word today and it's by equivocating between the self-interest definition and the solipistic, indifference-to-others definition that the two concepts are often equated. This can't really be solved by adopting selfishness as a virtue; if anything, this just feeds the problem, just like praising altruism does. Plus, when finding words that describe my own positive beliefs I like to choose them to be as precise and unambiguous as possible. So, for rather similar reasons to why I oppose altruism as a virtue I also oppose selfishness. But others' mileage may vary.

I'm unconvinced

gregster's picture

"fullness" in the Oxford Concise means "1. the state of being full 2. richness or abundance"

Whether Shakespeare coined neologisms isn't relevant in this case. Correct definitions are important. Where would this lead if one was forever adjusting according to common acceptance of a term's definition?

I don't mind "selfish," and further prefer "selfism;" "the concentration on one's own interests," and potentially less off-putting, if one concerns oneself with the moods of the rabble.

As far as "sacrificialism" (I like that over sacrifism) goes, we here understand it, as we did altruism, but it still won't sink in to the neanderthals we are attempting to deal with. I think we should remain clear with definitions and fight them therewith.

I know from certain friends who read SOLO, that selfishness, and that Rand being childless are a common criticism of my favourite author.


F L Light's picture

Cotton Mather used the word pejoratively in 1692: "Untimely Abortions of a Self-full, Distempered Spirit."
The word, according to the OED, has not been used since the 17th century.
It was also used to mean "self-sufficient," as in
"[God's] being is self-full, self-joy'd, self-excellent." Henry More, 1642.


Frediano's picture

If we were to preserve the word 'selfish', what word should we level at the recalcitrant solipsist who eats babies for breakfast?

If baby chickens, the word could be "Omeleteer."

Deb raises a question for me

Jameson's picture

"... I can keep using the word selfish as an insult. Like hurling lily-livered liberal at tossers on the left."

If we were to preserve the word 'selfish', what word should we level at the recalcitrant solipsist who eats babies for breakfast?

Full vs Less/Empty

Jameson's picture

... good point, Liv. Though I remained determined to take back 'selfish'.

Setting our terms...

Olivia's picture

I'll go with sacrificialism over sacrifism for no other reason that it sounds better to my ear, sacrifism sounds too truncated.
I like selfful simply because when using the term to convey what we mean by it, its opposite is selfless, which is really selfempty and can be pointed out easily enough to be so.

War between I and the Tribe

Frediano's picture

In the war between I and the Tribe, and the reclamation of I/self from the political criminal side of the ledger, I think it is important to assert the difference between "anti-"S"ociety" and anti-social. This war is political, and it has largely been waged via the hijacking of words while a sleepy free world was enjoying its freedom.

Is "anti-social" a characteristic of what you call selfful? I don't think so.

But is "Anti-"S"ociety" a characteristic? I think it should be, as explained below.

Being 'anti-"S"ociety is not the same as being anti-social. I don't regard myself as being anti-social, even as I have for years been waging a quiet personal written campaign against "S"ociiety. I am vehemently anti-"S"ociety, just as I would be vehemently against a totalitarian theocracy based on religious nonsense. I am against it because it is a threat to my freedom, the biggest. Singular "S"ociety is a term of totalitarian religious political word-art, just as the phrase 'the economy' is. (It's 'the economies.')

I have been clear about what I mean by "S"ociety, and that entity is not the same as the aggregate of all societies. The entity "S"ociety I am referring to is the entity defined by Durkheim in his summary of Religious Forms. It is the definition I was led to years ago, when searching for the meaning of this entity "S"ociety constantly referred to in the political arguments of collectivists. A dictionary search is all but futile, because it leads you on an endless circular path between 'social' and 'society.' A comparison between the Latin root "socius" and the entity defined by Durkheim clearly illuminates the subterfuge foisted by the religion of Totalitarianism, Social Scientology.

I wrote about that in one of my first posts here. I regard it as critical in the war of the tribe against the Individual.

Society, from the Latin route 'socius' Ally, known companion. We individually choose our socius, friend from foe, via free association. The "S"ociety that the collectivists lift their legs and claim to speak for has nothing at all to do with free association. The "S"ociety that the collectivists refer to is a totalitarian religious totem once represented as God by ancient mankind and now represented by "S"ociety in the modern secular tribal religion of Social Scientology, the basis for a theocracy selling Scientific Statism. Colelctivism, Totalitarianism. A theocracy, because it is based on a religious definition of "S"oceity.

The religious fanatics have succeeded in making "Anti-"S"ociety" mean the same thing as 'anti-social,' and the religious thugs have long been at work in public schools looking for 'anti-social' tendencies in their war against the Individual. That should be a theocracy.

No. Anti-"S"ociety is not the same as anti-social, nor vice-versa.

An example of a society is a group of people who meet once a month to discuss bird migration. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers is an example of a society. The 82nd Airborne is an example of a society. PETA is an example of a society. The folks who bring us the Outback Steakhouse are an example of a society. Mobil-Exxon is an example oif a society. Each of these 'societies' might well have elected leaders who 'speak for them', but only in the context of that socius, that society.

The aggregate of all such ... has no political meaning as an entity. In fact, that aggregate is not what Durkheim refers to in his summary of Religious Formes, when he finally coughs it up and defines "S"ociety:

Society is not at all the illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which has too often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life, since it is the consciousness of consciousness. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at every moment of time it embraces all known reality; that is why it alone can furnish the minds with the moulds which are applicable to the totality of things and which make it possible to think of them.

This is not a fringe marginal comment in Religious Formes. This definition is placed prominently in his summary, at the end of 400+ pages. This is what Durkheim (one of the 'still seminal' founders of Sociology)and his mean by the phrase "S"ociety when they leg liftingly refer to it in their political arguments, and claim to have scientific theories as to what is best for 'it' when they roll their eyes into the back of their heads(did you reed Durkheim's definition above???) and speak for 'it.' The 'it' is a dead giveaway that the topic at hand is totalitarian in nature. This leg lifting is the oldest religious political trick in the book. The old voodoo priests used to speak for God, the new voodoo priests told secular modernity 'not so fast' and seamlessly substituted "S"ociety for God. By claiming to be the 'science' that classifies all other competing religions as mere religion, Durkheim and his fellow religious acolytes attempted(and succeeded) in elevating their 'science' over all other mere competing religions.

The question is, why did free people let them? We didn't buy it with 'Christian Science." We didn't buy it with "Scientology." But "Social Scientology?" In America, at around the turn of the last century, as this totalitarian religious nonsense was sweeping the entire globe, they kept knocking on the door of the First Amendment until they wore down the door. They let themselves in over a hundred years ago in America, and we've been trying to purge ourselves of this invasion of the theocratic barbarians ever since.

Cleaning up a century of political propaganda word-art is going to take time...



Sam Pierson's picture

Nope. All my own work. I stand by my initial words, and reserve the right to chew out loud.

Bollocks, Pierson

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Someone got to you.

You initially said:

Both put the essential elements of the ideas in the forefront of the meaning of the word whereas the other words required wading through conventional understandings.

This is absolutely true. Wot's changed, apart from your woman's mind?

'Selfishness' has no titanium tip to it, except as an exocet for collectivism.


..all the timid souls... A

Sam Pierson's picture

..all the timid souls... A shame Pierson rejoined them in a matter of minutes.

Oy! I was calling *you* soft!

'Selfish' has a titanium tip to it that 'selfful' does not. As for 'selfish' getting results - I think it has. For me it musters the soul to clarity.

'Sacrificialism' on the other hand is excellent.

BTW ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I intended in this article to show how the adoption of my terms would help us in dealing with one of the most evil sources of sacrificialism in the world, Goblianity. To do so would have made the article too long, so I made the generic point without reference to Goblianity.

My terms would enable us in one fell swoop to unpackage the package deal of which Rand spoke, so eloquently represented in these quotations from biblical websites and the Bible itself. Treat the following off-cuts from my article as an exercise in separating selffulness from selfishness, and spotting package deals and phony dichotomies!


Do you ever wonder about the craziness of our world? On every side people scramble for power. Wealth is flaunted, while in contrast, millions live in heart-wrenching poverty! Justice is perverted by terrorists and slippery politicians.

Where do these conditions come from? Why are some people so selfish and uncaring? Will things ever change for the better?

The primary cause for our ills can be summed up in one word: Selfishness. Throughout all of creation, there is nothing, except the selfish human heart, that lives only for itself. God planned that everything in His creation would be a blessing to others. But His plan first met defiance in Heaven when Lucifer entertained the desire to be above everyone else (see Isaiah 14:14).

The tenth Commandment is God's warning against harboring an attitude of covetousness, self-seeking, looking out for number one, and the desire for selfish gain (Exodus 20:17).


Psalm 119:36
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

Proverbs 18:1
An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.

Romans 2:8
But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

Romans 15:1-2
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Galatians 5:19-21
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Philippians 1:17
The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

Philippians 2:1-4
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

James 3:13-15
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.

James 3:16-17
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

I hope ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... Doug, that you haven't opened yourself up to ludicrous charges of "sycophancy" with your post.

I *am* right. We *do* have to create a new lexicon. Eighteen years ago David Kelley wrote an article called "May We Have the Word 'Liberal' Back?" Of course the answer was, and is, no.

No point in fighting battles that are already lost, and non-essential—and enormously debilitating if we choose to persist with them. What have we to lose by adopting "selffulness" and "sacrificialism"? Nothing. What have we to gain? Everything, including the ability to get right on with it, undeflected and unimpeded by semantic tangents.

Pierson noted my article was "daring." Of course it is, especially given all the timid souls within Objectivism, treading on eggshells lest they offend some authority figure. A shame Pierson rejoined them in a matter of minutes. He has a good brain, and I sure could use his help.

Objectivism right now, more than when SOLO was formed, needs non-conformists. With lashings of audacity. ARI via the McCaskey business has reverted to form, in the reincarnation I call ARSI: the Ayn Rand Scientology Institute. KASSless still can't even front up to the Donway business, let alone the PARC Wars.

Our revolution will not be wrought by bullies and cowards.

Selffulness has potential

Doug Bandler's picture

Selffulness may prove to be a useful tool in waging war against the altruists. So might the term sacrificialism (much better than sacrificm).

If you go to any Leftist website, and even some Conservative ones , you will see this argument:

Rand was nuts. The last thing we need is to tell Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs to be more selfish. Its their selfishness which is killing the country.

Hitchens has used that very argument. You couldn't cut through the ignorance contained in that with a diamond drill bit. But if you are to have any chance, you have to unpackage what they mean by selfish. No easy task.

Lindsay may be right, that we have to in effect create a new lexicon to convey what we mean by "selfish" and "altruism". Just the way that "liberal" seems to be lost, so too with selfish. It just may be past the point of rehabilitation.

I know it's your word, Lindsay

Jameson's picture

But surely a double L is optional, like the acceptable spelling of 'fullness'... no?

Yeah Glenn

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Double f, single l. Selfful. Selffulness. Do keep up. It's in your selfful interests to do so. Eye

Oh dear...

Jameson's picture

I guess it'd be a good idea to use the correct spelling on your new word: 'self—double f—fullness'. : /

Interesting to note the definition of 'fullness' ~ 1. The state of being filled to capacity.

Certainly nothing wrong with the self being filled to the brim by, and for the benefit of, oneself.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I don't think there's anything to fear from "full of self." It means everything is informed by self. To me that conjures up images of exacting deliberation and introspection, not the assholism implied conventionally by "full of oneself.

Anyway, the great beauty of a new term is that its coiner gets to define it! Eye

Thanks Frediano and Glenn for the selffully helpful comments. Eye

Worthy Wordplay

Jameson's picture

This is an important development in the language of Objectivism. Well done, Lindsay.

There are few things I enjoy more than learning a new word, or making up one of my own. Ten percent of all the words Shakespeare used were his own invention — over 1,700 of them by the time he shuffled off, including: accommodation, aerial, amazement, apostrophe, assassination, auspicious, baseless, bloody, bump, castigate, clangour, countless, courtship, critic, critical, dextrously, dishearten, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, exposure, fitful, frugal, generous, gloomy, gnarled, hurry, impartial, inauspicious, indistinguishable, invulnerable, lapse, laughable, lonely, majestic, misplaced, monumental, multitudinous, obscene, perusal, pious, premeditated, radiance, reliance, road, sanctimonious, seamy, submerge, and suspicious.

These days the only new words that make it into the latest editions of dictionaries are slang that sticks in the social media — airhead etymology. So it's exciting to see these worthy inventions of yours, Lindsay. 'Sacrificialism' is brilliant — I enjoyed making my system dictionary learn it just now, and watching the squiggly red spellcheck line disappear from beneath it. I think I prefer it to the shorter 'sacrificism', which I've also added to the dictionary. I won't know which will stick until I've field-tested them both. In terms of its usage, either is a clever sidestep around the problem of redefining altruism; while the concept needs explaining, the definition itself is self-contained.

'Selfullness' doesn't quite work for me, though I've added it to the collection. I think Fred is right: it'll inevitably be corrupted by those who'll unpack it as 'full of oneself'. While it has a novelty factor it'll still require the time to spell it out. I don't mind jumping to the defence of 'selfishness' whenever it crops up in conversation — in fact it's an excellent conversation starter. I've honed my spiel over the years with great success. Very few with whom I discuss this concept don't get the redefinition — in fact, many of them tell me they've held similar ideas of their own. I think there's a lot of stock in recruiting friends and acquaintances in saving 'selfishness' from the advocates of selflessness. Anecdotally, a good deal of them have reported that whenever they've encountered it in day-to-day conversation, they remember the discussion and are reminded of the important philosophical angle underpinning it.

War between I and the Tribe

Frediano's picture

When discussing the hijacking of the word 'selfish' you are on the very front lines of the war between I and the Tribe.

The herdists must seek out and destroy 'I' wherever it stands up, and 'I' for sure stands up whenever 'self' appears.

What is surprising is that many of the same adjectives associated with 'selfish' have not also found their way to the definition of the word Individual. But, give it time:

Adj. 1. individualistic - marked by or expressing individuality; "an individualistic way of dressing"
individual, single - being or characteristic of a single thing or person; "individual drops of rain"; "please mark the individual pages"; "they went their individual ways"
2. individualistic - with minimally restricted freedom in commerce
capitalistic, capitalist - favoring or practicing capitalism

Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2008 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.
adjective individual, original, unique, particular, distinctive, special, independent, typical, characteristic, idiosyncratic, self-reliant, egocentric, egoistic
Most artists are very individualistic.

Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002

compare with:

col·lec·tiv·ism (k-lkt-vzm)
The principles or system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, usually under the supervision of a government.
col·lectiv·ist n.
col·lectiv·istic adj.
col·lectiv·isti·cal·ly adv.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusLegend: Synonyms Related Words Antonyms
Noun 1. collectivist - a person who belongs to the political left
left-winger, leftist
pinko, pink - a person with mildly leftist political views
socialist - a political advocate of socialism
Adj. 1. collectivist - subscribing to the socialistic doctrine of ownership by the people collectively
collectivistic, state-controlled, collectivised, collectivized
socialist, socialistic - advocating or following the socialist principles; "socialistic government"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2008 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

Could not find 'herdist', but when I found Herding Behaviour, I found a delightful political smear of individualism, a kind of rear-flank defensive move by the herdists: read the following, and laugh along:

Herd behaviour in animals

A group of animals fleeing a predator shows the nature of herd behavior. In the often cited article "Geometry For The Selfish Herd," evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton said each individual group member reduces the danger to itself by moving as close as possible to the center of the fleeing group. Thus the herd appears to act as a unit in moving together, but its function emerges from the uncoordinated behavior of self-seeking individuals.[1]

Symmetry breaking in herding behavior

Asymmetric aggregation of animals under panic conditions has been observed in many species, including humans, mice, and ants. Theoretical models have demonstrated symmetry breaking similar to observations in empirical studies. For example when panicked individuals confined to a room with two equal and equidistant exits, a majority will favor one exit while the minority will favor the other.

How is that for a flanking maneuver? See, the only problem with mobs/herds is, too many Individuals. Otherwise, they'd just be happy collectives.

You can hardly smell the politics afoot in our institutions of wordery, can you?

The word 'Individual' is a kind of litmus that immediately elicits a kind of knee-jerk snarl from herdists; they know the enemy when they see it.

One criticism, I hope helpful, of the suggested selfful, is that it too easily conjures up 'full of one's self.' I think that is collateral damage from the decades long attack on 'self' that makes it a difficult fortress to storm.

selfful: having not yet had the individual legs kicked out from one's self, and therefore, not yet ripe to be snookered by carny hucksters selling slavery to their worldview. Unwilling to throw one's one and only life involuntarily onto the sacrificial pyre of someone else's wish list... even as they may yet be willing to voluntarily do so.

Gradients drive everything. Love is the biggest gradient of all. We don't all love each other equally, that is the fallacy of the herdists. We love incredibly unequally, often limited to only a handful of others. And for those we love, we are often willing to throw ourselves willingly onto the pyre of their wishes, but when doing so, that isn't a sacrifice. It would only be a sacrifice if we loved them less or not at all, which is what the herdists demand of some individuals in service to others, unseen and unnamed except by tribal elites.

To which I simply say "fuck 'em." What else is there to say to such nonsense?

(Note to self: I'm going to have bumper stickers made for the war between 'I' and the Tribe: "Fuck 'em.")

We choose our socius. We judge who we love, and we choose. Human emperors demanding unconditional love of all by all are doomed to fail. We are individual humans, not collective interchangeable bees.

Instead of...

Marcus's picture

...inventing the wheel why can't we use the terms "self-sacrifice", "sacrifice" and "sacrificial"?

As you can see here Rand is already using the expression self-sacrifice:

"What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good."

"Selffulness" is a good one too. However I would opt for "self-interest". Why? Because you will spend just as much time, in my opinion, explaining your new word and where it comes from. Although the meaning is obvious you will not get around the reaction. "Selffulness, is that a word?"

Rand writes:
"Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests...The reasons why man needs a moral code will tell you that the purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions."

Good points well-made though. Objectivism would definitely benefit from more clarity.

Are you ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... a woman? Evil

Not only are we taking the enemy on head on with my suggested changes, we are taking him on without all the time-wasting attendant upon insisting on "selfishness" and "altruism." "Shock value" hasn't worked for us. You say the results may not be instant but they linger. What results??!!

I don't expect my proposal to be a "game-changer," since there's little chance it'll be taken up where it counts, but I do think, naturally, that it ought to be. In any event, "selffulness" and "sacrifism" will be the terms I'll be using in the future.


Sam Pierson's picture

Ok, within a few minutes I've changed my mind Smiling There is a shock value in 'altruism' and 'selfishness' that has merit. They do take on the enemy head-on and while the results are not instant they linger.

Are you going soft? Evil

Pierson ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Thanks for the comments.

I'm not wedded to "sacrifism" over "sacrificialism." I was mindful of modern attention spans for which five syllables are too great a challenge.

"Sacrifist" would be both the adjective for the behaviour and noun for its practitioner.

Game-changer Linz &

Sam Pierson's picture

Game-changer Linz & appropriately daring. Both put the essential elements of the ideas in the forefront of the meaning of the word whereas the other words required wading through conventional understandings.

But "sacrifism" over "sacrificialism?" While longer I think the latter runs off the tongue better and we also talk of a person being sacrificial in their behaviour. And it is about behaviour.

Fine work.

A toast to the virtue of Selffulness

Sandi's picture

"No man exists for the sake of another man"

You have hit the nail on the head. No doubt that the word selfishness has been hijacked by religion because without sub-ordination of the self , god would have no worshippers.

Selffulness!! KASS work.

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