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On Sacrificing Selfishness
Submitted by tvr on Fri, 2013-03-01 08:53
Two years ago in his blogpost "The Virtue of Selffulness" (http://www.solopassion.com/nod...), Lindsay Perigo advocated for Objectivists to abandon the fight to (re-)establish Ayn Rand's correct(ed) meanings for the terms 'Altruism' and 'Selfishness' and to instead direct one's efforts towards employing neologisms such as 'Sacrificism' and 'Selffulness'.
Whilst I agree with most of Lindsay's points and find 'sacrifism' to be a most fitting and useful neologism, I emphatically disagree with his call to surrender 'selfish(ness)' to "those who have captured it".
Our individual attempts to have non-Objectivists accept "Selfishness" as a virtue can be likened to trying to convince Westerners to (re-)adopt the 5000 year old Swastika as a symbol of good, except that our task is even more arduous, that is because there has been no history of "selfish" ever having had a positive connotation - not until Ayn Rand started waging philosophical war on it's behalf. Also, our task is, of course, vitally more important. Miss Rand's heroic battle to overturn 300 years of misuse and abuse of the word 'selfish' has not helped with the popular appeal of her philosophy, for sure, but then again attaining popular appeal was never Miss Rand's primary concern. Nor should it be ours.
I submit that to sacrifice 'selfishness' to the Sacrifists would be both an unnecessary and incalculably costly offering that can only benefit our moral and mortal enemies. What is needed is neither a surrendering of words nor a redoubling of efforts to antagonize others with them, but a multi–pronged lexical offensive. We are not facing an either-or dilemma here (looking at everyone's arguments to date one could be mistaken for thinking that we were). If enough Objectivists - including those who are in a position of influence - were to adopt and use appropriate neologisms for both the corrupted and uncorrupted meanings of 'selfish', and at the same time selectively employ 'selfishness' per it's corrected meaning, the triple whammy approach would make espousing Objectivism easier for everyone without making a compromise on Miss Rand's vision.
Going right back to the time of it's coining in the 17th century, the definitive meaning of 'selfishness' has always been that of having a disregard for others, and so using "self-" as the subject makes no morphological sense. A correct morphology should have produced a word such as "inaltruish" (comprising "in-" meaning "a lack of", "altru-" meaning "others", "-ish" meaning "having the character of"), and so 'inaltruish', together with it's variants 'inaltruishness' and 'inaltruistic', is the neologism I propose be used to flank 'selfish(ness)' in the lexical offensive. It is vitally important to realise that without employing an additional neologism such as 'inaltruish' to displace 'selfish' to mean "having a disregard for others", non-Objectivists will have little option but to continue to use 'selfish' to convey it's traditional meaning.
As for a neologism to convey what we Objectivists mean by 'rational selfishness', Lindsay has proposed and himself adopted the term 'selfful'. The reason why I am not in favor of using 'selfful' myself is that the word openly invites the ridicule of being called 'full of oneself' or perhaps 'fooling oneself' ('self-fool'). Others have already pointed this out. While being labelled 'full of oneself' could be construed as a compliment by the hardened Objectivist, the fact is that like with 'selfish' presently, the idiom as used by others will not be used to convey an Objectivist meaning, and so I see no point in adopting new terminology if it is not going to serve the purpose of conveying what one wants it to convey in a non-antagonistic way. If one wants antagonistic, there already is "selfish", right?
Which brings me to my choice for a positive neologism: 'self–ended'. I attach Lindsay's definition to it, namely: " rationally self-interested and, as a consequence, respectful of the rights of others and mindful of their wellbeing". I like this term the most because it highlights the fact that every man is an end in himself and at the same time it is difficult to disparage or misconceive.
In summary then, here is my proposed expanded list of terms and their definitions for a lexical offensive to make selfishness a virtue:
Sacrifism – the ethic of sacrificing people and/or their interests, esp. for the sake of others
Whenever someone misuses or objects to the term 'selfish', I now respond by asking whether they mean in the self-ended or inaltruistic sense of the word.
And finally, let us be reminded what Miss Rand's thoughts on this subject are:
"I hear once in a while: 'Why do you use the word selfishness to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean'? To those who ask it, my answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it'" [from The Virtue of Selfishness]
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