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The Gorilla in the Room: People

So---- you are a Native American, Lutheran, Rural ,Liberal, middle-aged woman. So what? Can anyone say anything about you from those labels?

The Gorilla in the Room: People

Before I can write about what we can do about Climate Change, I need to set the stage for what I want to say.  Catholic, White, Chicano, Black, Rural, Urban, Old, Young, Republican, Tea Party, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Etc. Etc. Etc.   So---- you are a Native American, Lutheran, Rural ,Liberal, middle-aged woman. So what?  Can anyone say anything about you from those labels?  They can try, but they probably would be wrong.  Even the standard labels of Republican and Democrat really do not tell how someone might feel about a specific issue.  People always surprise me that way.

I know labels divide us into groups, but those groups really don’t describe who we really are.  I’ve thought a lot about this as I have struggled to understand people, and why they think and do the things they do.  After much thought I’ve come to the conclusion that people really can be put into categories that are very accurate in describing them, but there are only two such categories.  Those categories are selfish and unselfish and everyone fits into one or the other.

By selfish I mean people that only think about what would be good for them, their family and friends.  By unselfish I mean people that think about what would be good for people they don’t know; what is often called the “common good.”  After all, most people care enough about the people they know (friends and family) to want to help them.   Not everyone cares about people they don’t know and will never meet.

People in the selfish category always think about “what’s in it for me” while the people in the unselfish category think about “what’s in it for everyone.”  Think about this for awhile and I think that you will eventually agree with me.  Think about the people you know and try putting them into one or the other of the categories.  It’s not all that hard.  Try it with well-known politicians and you will find that the self-serving ones are not so hard to find.  Chances are, if they (politicians) are telling you just what you want to hear they fit into the selfish category.

The stage is set for next week’s blog on what can we do about Climate Change.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carolyn Renaud April 12, 2012 at 03:56 PM
This article should be required reading in every classroom from grade school on up!
Bob MacDonald April 13, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Selfishness is not always a bad thing, and altruism is not always a good thing. Especially in economics, but also in other areas of life. Selfishness makes things a bit easier because it is predictable...everyone is selfish in some way and most people can be expected to act on selfish impulses. OTOH, altruism is extremely unpredictable. It can also get in the way. Take a 4 way stop, for instance. You may be feeling altruistic when you let someone go ahead of you, rather than taking your turn through the intersection. The trouble is, the other people at the intersection expect you to take your turn...IE they expect you to be 'selfish'. If you ARE selfish, then the whole 4 way stop thing works wonderfully. If you are kind hearted and altruistic, you may slow things down and hold everyone up. The fact is, things like this work better when we act on our 'selfish' impulses, and less efficiently when we try to be altruistic. That's not an excuse to go out and eat all the peanuts at the bar...but the next time you are at a 4 way stop and it's your turn to go...please, just go :D
John Locatelli April 13, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Hi Bob-- Taking your turn at an intersection is not selfish. Someone that "thinks of the common good" will know that the most efficient use of the intersection for everyone is that "everyone takes their turn in order". Following traffic laws is also unselfish in the way I intended it; it is best for the common good. Selfish impulses at an intersection is "pigging" out of turn which may benefit the "piggy" in the short run, but will eventually end up in dangerous intersections for them also.
Bob MacDonald April 14, 2012 at 10:59 PM
I suppose it depends on your definition of 'selfishness' and whether a person is aware of the impact of their actions. I stand by my point: sometimes it is better for the common good if a person puts themselves first. It is not always a good thing when a person puts the 'common good' before themselves. And what, exactly, is the 'common good'? That is a fairly loaded term that will mean different things to me than to you. For instance, I think it is detrimental to the 'public good' to take money from the public to fight this unproven global warming theory in a time of economic distress. The concept of a 'common good' isn't universal...when I take actions that I believe will help the 'common good', you may see those actions as 'selfish'. Who is right, you or I? This is what politics is for.
Bob MacDonald April 15, 2012 at 12:57 AM
I think it is a mistake to look at everyone through this lens of 'selfish/not-selfish'. Questioning people's motives behind their positions on issues is probably not the way towards understanding and bridging the gaps between us. We all have different priorities and motives that drive us, and we are all complex in that way. And we all change our priorities and motives over the years based on our experiences and the people in our lives. Parents have a different set of motives and priorities than non parents, and so on. I don't see how dividing us into yet another set of arbitrary groups (selfish and non-selfish) is going to help us accomplish unplugging a toilet...let alone solving a great big mysterious problem like global warming. We really need to get over the whole idea of selfishness. The things that are important to us drive us to do what we do. When the things that are important to me are not important to you, you call me selfish. Think about that.
John Locatelli April 16, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Hi Bob-- The recent article in the Seattle Times linking the die-off of oysters in Washington State and the increased acidity of the oceans due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is pretty telling. Is this bit of scientific research also "unproven"? The motives behind people's actions are very important in judging their trustfulness. The tobacco companies fought the link between cancer and smoking for years. Knowing that the "scientists" that promoted this junk science were funded by the tobacco companies was important is determining the truth. The tobacco companies were selfish as they put their own profits ahead of the good of the smokers and society that had to pay increased costs in work lost. loved one's early death, etc.
Bob MacDonald April 16, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Yes, John, and that cuts both ways. Many of the pro-global-warming crowd of 'scientists' rely on the 'facts' of global warming in order to make a living, just as those cigarette company 'scientists' did. We can both play this game of impugning the motives of each other's experts. Where does that get us? It gets us nowhere. Sitting around calling each other 'selfish' or 'bought off' does us no good. It just serves to divide us even more. Privately, we all do this. Doing it publicly...probably a bad idea. In formal debate, there are rules about this. You must assume the best intentions and the best interpretation of what your opponent says. This is important to do in order to assure a calm and reasoned debate. Unfortunately, people would rather call others 'selfish' than try to understand their position and interpret the things they say in a fair way. This is one of the problems with public discourse nowadays. Everyone wants to take what their opponent says and portray it in the worst light possible, twisting words in order to make a person look bad or 'selfish'. Can we just...not...do that?
John Locatelli April 17, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Hi Bob--- I know a few global warming scientists and they would get grants to both confirm other scientist's warming ideas or to look at new information that might negate the warming. Either way they got paid for research. Scientists live to catch other scientists in a mistake. It is really hard for me to believe that the hundreds of scientists that support the idea of climate change are working a giant scam since it would take only one more to expose them. John
John Locatelli April 17, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Hi Bob— A family made up of “me first” people would not function very well. At dinner one child grabs all the potatoes. The next in retaliation hogs all the gravy. One parent takes the entire desert for himself while the other walks away with the roast. By being selfish each person gets only to eat a small part of the dinner. In an unselfish family the common good in this story is that each person gets to enjoy all parts of the whole dinner. I’ll take the whole dinner any day.
Bob MacDonald April 17, 2012 at 09:24 PM
We're not talking about someone grabbing the potatoes. We're talking about people who have a different opinion on a political issue than you do. What you are doing is 'setting the stage' to call those (like me) who do not agree with you about global warming "selfish". I have a problem with this. Can't I simply have a different opinion without somehow being selfish or evil? Could it be that I just have a different set of priorities than you? Not a better or worse set of priorities, just different? If you want to call me 'selfish' because my priorities lie with middle class tax breaks and economic growth rather than Al Gore's environmental fantasy, fine. Go ahead. Set the stage to demonize all those that disagree with you as "selfish".
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 17, 2012 at 10:55 PM
I could say that most everyone in America over 46 (the Baby Boomers) are selfish, but that might be against my self-interest because, apparently, they seem to in charge most of the time and control the money, power, etc. while the restive remainder of the rest of us react to their latest whim, and attempt to deal with the consequences, financially and otherwise.
John Locatelli April 18, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Hi Bob Science, engineering, and technology are all based on field studies and controlled experiments. No one would ask people’s opinions on what size of beam to use in a bridge. They would consult proven equations and tables of load, etc. In the study of Climate Change opinions are not important either, unless they can be backed up with solid peer reviewed science. However individual opinions are very important when it comes to deciding what should be done about Climate Change. A cancer patient has to decide if the trauma of going through treatment is worth a possible favorable outcome. Doctors have to give the patient the facts; the patient has to make the choice. I don’t think that you’re selfish if you would rather take your chances with a changing climate then change how you live, anymore then I would think that a cancer patient is selfish not to want to suffer the traumas of treatment.
John Locatelli April 18, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Wow Tony! This is a curve ball I wasn’t expecting, being in the Baby Boomer generation. Take health care for example. Lot’s of people in “my generation” have great health care plans through their employers. However some of them are willing to give those plans up in favor of a universal plan so that everyone can be covered. That’s being unselfish and thinking of the common good. No generation has a lock on selfish or unselfish behavior. Though, it is my observation that young people are often idealistic and do think more of the common good then older people who change as they struggle with the trials of life.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 10:18 PM
John, Your last two comments, I attempted to post from the moderation queue seem to have disappeared. if you want to repost, I'd be happy to try again. Tony
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 10:47 PM
From John Locatelli: Wow Tony! This is a curve ball I wasn’t expecting, being in the Baby Boomer generation. Take health care for example. Lot’s of people in “my generation” have great health care plans through their employers. However some of them are willing to give those plans up in favor of a universal plan so that everyone can be covered. That’s being unselfish and thinking of the common good. No generation has a lock on selfish or unselfish behavior. Though, it is my observation that young people are often idealistic and do think more of the common good then older people who change as they struggle with the trials of life.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 10:48 PM
From John Locatelli: Hi Bob Science, engineering, and technology are all based on field studies and controlled experiments. No one would ask people’s opinions on what size of beam to use in a bridge. They would consult proven equations and tables of load, etc. In the study of Climate Change opinions are not important either, unless they can be backed up with solid peer reviewed science. However individual opinions are very important when it comes to deciding what should be done about Climate Change. A cancer patient has to decide if the trauma of going through treatment is worth a possible favorable outcome. Doctors have to give the patient the facts; the patient has to make the choice. I don’t think that you’re selfish if you would rather take your chances with a changing climate then change how you live, anymore then I would think that a cancer patient is selfish not to want to suffer the traumas of treatment.
Bob MacDonald April 19, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I think the whole concept of 'selfishness' is arbitrary, subjective, and almost completely useless. I remember 26 years ago taking a philosophy course at SCC and debating whether such a thing as a 'selfless act' exists. As a philosophy exercise, it's fun. One student would come up with something like a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades. Another student points out that it's possible he did it for the glory of it all, negating the selflessness of the act. My point isn't that one group is more selfish than another. My point is that the entire concept is useless. You can't know another person's motives or what experiences they've had and what drives them to make the decisions they make. I've long ago discarded 'selfish' as a guide to people because I learned long ago that what may appear to be selfishness may simply be survival. People are too complex to guess at their motives. If you want to know why someone does something, you have to start by engaging them and finding out about them. As far as climate change goes...I don't think you've ever considered that you might be wrong. I don't feel like I'm taking my chances with climate change any more than I'm taking my chances that a giant meteor may hit the greater Shoreline area Monday morning. I remember the 1970's and all the dire predictions. I don't think there is any greater danger now than there was then. This has all been done before...some don't remember, some aren't old enough.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 20, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I appreciate the back-and-forth and comments, but I have to say the label of selfish and unselfish, like other labels, is pretty hard to judge unless a jury of one's peers has judged someone to be a serial criminal of significant proportions. Heck, even serial criminals take care of their families in some ways so maybe they aren't purely selfish.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 20, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Maybe not purely selfish, just evil.
John Locatelli April 20, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Hi Guys— Bob—I don’t see any scientific basis for your certainty (as likely as a comet hitting a spot on the earth) that climate change is not a reality. So----I’ll have to leave the discussion at that. I’ll be happy to discuss science backed arguments on either side. Bob/Tony----I’ll stick with my original definition which really applies to those big decisions on a state or national level that we make by signing petitions, voting or voicing our opinions. “By selfish I mean people that only think about what would be good for them, their family and friends. By unselfish I mean people that think about what would be good for people they don’t know; what is often called the common good”. This definition should not be applied to interactions on a personal level and I never intended it to. However, I like the “Forest Gump” definition for personal interactions. “Selfish is as selfish does”. We all know it when we see it!
Bob MacDonald April 21, 2012 at 01:55 AM
You're asking me for a scientific basis to show that something will NOT happen? That's not how science works, John. I have no scientific basis for my certainty that pink dragons will not lay siege to Shoreline...it's just a hunch. Science isn't in the business of proving negatives, and someone who relies on science should know that. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to prove a positive.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 21, 2012 at 05:58 AM
It seems that Mitt Romney's private business self has done things that have primarily benefitted himself and those close to him without a lot of regard to those aren't in his inner circle. When it come to his public self it seems he's branched out a bit more to do "public service" but in my opinion a broader range of people, maybe not as many as some would hope, but still more will benefit with the Obama administration. I bet there's mathematical formula doing that kind of cost/benefits analysis. Going back to the environmental issues raised in this discussion, cost benefits analysis, usually used in economics, can be used in environmental economics to include things such as air quality, water quality, park use, pollution levels, etc. You can assign a numerical value to those types of things and find out what is > or < for the majority of us.
Bob MacDonald April 21, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I think that would be hard to quantify, Tony. However, I think Romney has significantly better business chops than Obama and he may do a much better job of improving the economy. No one is going to do well under Obama, regardless of what he does, if he cannot improve the economy. And apparently, he cannot improve the economy. I'm not much of a Romney fan, but I'll vote for him because Obama has utterly failed to improve the economy. That is the number one issue that is holding everyone...rich and poor alike...back.
Tony Dondero (Editor) April 22, 2012 at 08:43 AM
I disagree, Bob. Not everyone has benefitted yet but the economy sure seems better to me than it was back in 2008-2009 at the end of the Bush regime. I can't speak for everyone, but I see definite improvement personally and based on what's in the news.
Bob MacDonald April 22, 2012 at 04:38 PM
The economy would have...and will continue...to improve, even if nothing happens. This economy has improved very slightly despite the things that Obama has done...namely Obamacare. Mort Zuckerman laid it all out recently in US News: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/mzuckerman/articles/2012/04/20/mort-zuckerman-president-obamas-economic-programs-have-failed At this rate, we won't return to full employment for 35 or 40 years. Technically, the economy is improving. But that is despite anything Obama...and Washington in general...has done.

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