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Weren't people like Hitler, Stalin and Jeffery Dahmer acting in their own self interest?

asked Sep 17 '10 at 05:32

Martin%20Gasser's gravatar image

Martin Gasser ♦

edited Sep 17 '10 at 19:49

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

A clue to the answer to these questions is to ask the fashionably modern question, "so, how's that 'selfishness' working out for ya'?"

The selfish goal of your actions is, properly, your own happiness. Do you imagine, by any stretch, that any of the men (or Bernie Maddoff, or John Gotti, or any criminal, drug addict, embezzler, liar, thief, et. al.) were/are happy???

Out of context, you may wish for the power they amassed, the wealth they expropriated, the lifestyle or fame, but it would be a mistake to believe that a human consciousness can be twisted in such a way as to have any of these courses of action yield geniune happiness.

Clearly, the examples given are of men who were self-destructive. That they dragged countless others down with them doesn't transform their actions into selfishness.

(If you still think there's a difference, or dichotomy, between being selfish, being self-possessed, self-focussed, self-caring, self-loving, self-controlled ... it's time to question your premises ... specifically, what have you come to accept as "selfishness" ... and does that definition include being your best, living your life to the fullest, treating your life as precious, and as an end in itself?)

answered Sep 17 '10 at 17:03

Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

Robert Nasir ♦

There are two issues that a person asking this question would have to think about. First, what does "self-interest" mean? Second, what is the psychology of evil?

As a factual matter, it is obvious that none of these in individuals ended up with a happy, successful, flourishing life. Just compare Roark at the end of The Fountainhead with Stalin at the end of his life.

But it would be a disastrous error the conclude that evil people like Stalin just happened to pick the wrong means of achieving their happiness. It's not that they were after pleasure, or happiness, or some kind of reward for themselves, but just went about it the completely wrong way.

The subject of the psychology of evil is complex, but in short, Rand's view is that through a lifetime of evasions, these people have destroyed their self-esteem, are ruled by fear and anxiety, and their evil represents a twisted attempt to escape their self-hatred. Her most in depth portrait of that psychology is James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, and she addresses it in various places in her non-fiction work (for instance, see her essays "The Age of Envy," "Selfishness Without a Self," and "Philosophical Detection.") You might also find Onkar Ghate's essay in Robert Mayhew's We The Living essays book helpful.

The point is that evil people aren't merely choosing the wrong means for achieving their self-interest--they aren't even aiming at self-interest.

answered Sep 18 '10 at 11:18

Publius's gravatar image

Publius ♦

The men named in the question may have thought they were acting in their self interest, however they were all stark raving mad. The objectivist idea is rational self interest. None of them were rational.

answered Sep 18 '10 at 12:16

adamsdad's gravatar image

adamsdad ♦

Actually, in many cases, the altruist-collectivist really believes he's acting for the greater good ... and Hilter and Stalin may well be put in that category (though certainly not Dahmer)!

(Sep 18 '10 at 12:57) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

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Asked: Sep 17 '10 at 05:32

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Last updated: Sep 18 '10 at 12:57