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Nature of the Beast

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In my November 9, 2009 OpEdNews article " Social Capitalism , " I pointed out that a common element that is found in all forms of mental illness is selfishness. We have to engage the world and take risks to be mentally healthy. This is not truly possible for any person whose impelling motivational force is selfishness. People who think only of themselves will, sooner or later, end up alone late at night, with no one to share with, even if they are surrounded by multitudes of people whose loyalty and companionship they have bought. To quote the great psychologist Erich Fromm, " Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either." ( Man for Himself, chapter 4; 1947.)

I will quote (with some additions and corrections in italics) from my article " Social Capitalism :"

" If selfishness is an invariable component of mental illness, which it is, then what does that have to say about an economic system that is based on selfishness? Can an economic system that distorts the fabric of civil society through its overriding emphasis on selfishness be considered healthy? Can we actually draw the conclusion that the economic selfishness exhibited by our society is a component of a deeper underlying mental illness within our society? I think we can.

Almost sixty years ago, the Rand Corporation created one of the most important models of game theory, 'The Prisoner's Dilemma.' Their assumption was that if presented with a choice between cooperation and self-interest--where the outcome of the dilemma was, unknown to the participants, weighted toward self-interest--the participants would choose self-interest. When they tested it on their secretaries, they were surprised that the secretaries overwhelmingly chose cooperation over self-interest. The people at Rand ignored the outcome of this iteration of their test, stating that the secretaries lacked the sophistication necessary for a valid test.

John F. Nash--whose life was featured in the film " A Beautiful Mind" -- at the same time proposed the Nash Equilibrium, in which Nash assumed that individuals acting in their own self-interest would always arrive at the best possible outcome. While brilliant, Nash was also a paranoid-schizophrenic, whose view of the world was tainted by his illness and its innate selfishness. However, Nash and the Rand Corporation's conservative outlook of fear and selfishness appealed to the military and more conservative and authoritarian elements of the government, who used this fear and selfishness to create America's nuclear policy of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Twice this policy almost ended civilization, in 1962 and 1983. Yet when Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon instigated the policy of detente, or cooperation, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, tensions between the super powers decreased until Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, and repudiated detente. In 1983 a Norwegian weather rocket almost triggered an automated Soviet nuclear attack, and this time it was the Soviet Union's Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev who began the new era of cooperation and disarmament.

What is true for international affairs is also true for our economic system. The basic result matrix for the Prisoner's Dilemma says that if both parties cooperate they will get 90% of what they want. If one is selfish and the other cooperates the one who is selfish gets 100% of what he wants and the person who cooperates gets nothing. Finally, if both sides are selfish, the two parties can, at best, only get 50% of what they want.

When most of us look at the matrix, we see that if we are selfish, we are theoretically guaranteed getting at least 50% of what we want from a particular situation, and we may get as much as 100% of what we want. On the other hand, if we cooperate, the matrix states we only have a 50% chance of getting 90% of what we want, and a 50% chance of getting nothing. This seems like a perfectly sane rationale for selfishness, and as Marx pointed out, it is, in a purely materialistic sense. This simple fact is why we should never approach things from a purely materialistic point of view; and why Marx, as brilliant as he was in laying out the faults of laissez-faire capitalism, was doomed to fail with his solutions. Unfortunately for Marx, when he died in 1883, Freud was only two years out of medical school, and had not yet created psychoanalysis.

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In a purely human and societal sense, selfishness is insane.

In order for it to work, it requires us to treat both ourselves and other people as 'things,' not human beings, which as I have said elsewhere constitutes the basis of evil. We must alienate ourselves from our own humanity, and that of our fellow humans, in order for this system to succeed. It is a system which makes perfect sense to a criminal or a paranoid -schizophrenic, like Nash , or anyone who is fearful that they won't get what they believe is their 'rightful' share, which, given human nature, is generally more than they are justly entitled to. It is not a workable system in the long term for any society, because without cooperation, there can be no society.

The matrix for the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' says that honest cooperation will always get both sides most of what they want, while experience has shown us that selfishness will potentially get us an unexpected and undesired result, such as global thermonuclear war. If the long-term interaction of large groups of humans is viewed as an indeterminate, non-zero sum game, which the experts say it is (even though parts of the interaction between individuals may be a determinate or zero-sum game), then logically, for the group as a whole, honest cooperation is the best choice for group interaction."

One of the most important bits of information that is contained in the above paragraphs is the fact that more-or-less mentally healthy human beings have an innate understanding of two concepts: selfishness and fairness. Altruism is not an idea the average person automatically grasps. This is another reason why I believe that it is fairness and selfishness are opposites, while altruism and selfishness are inverses. (See my two OpEdNews articles " Illuminating Dichotomies ," and " Parabolic Thinking ," for more on this idea.)

Over the last three years, it has become more and more obvious that the selfishness of the One Percenters: the Wall Street bankers, hedge fund managers, and merger and acquisitions specialists; are incredibly destructive for America's economy in particular, and the World's economy overall. The tax breaks given to the wealthiest Americans over the last thirty years, and to many of the Western Democracies wealthiest citizens over the last fifteen years, have demonstrated that the rich as a group cannot be fully trusted with their money in terms of what is good for their nations or the world. The large speculative bubbles in the world of finance, especially the derivatives bubble that nearly wrecked the World's economy in 2008, are a direct result of the One Percenters around the World using the stock and commodity markets as if they were a gigantic casino, with fewer rules and more risk, not only for themselves, but the World around them.

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Classic economic theory states that much of the money that capitalists make is supposed to be plowed back into the source of their capital: farms, mining concerns, manufacturing plants; small shops and factories; transportation. communication and other logistical systems; all of the sources that originally generated the capital. This is done not only to improve the quality and quantity of items produced, while lowering their per unit cost, but also to increase both workers' wages and shareholders' dividends. This in turn allows both the employees and the shareholders to afford either more of, or a newer version of the item, or even completely new and innovative products, from Henry Ford's Model T to Apple's i-Pad.

Part of the purpose of the tax system today should be to help insure that corporations and their owners reinvest most of their profits in improving their capital assets and expanding their workforce, rather than take all of the profits and spend them in a frivolous or predatory fashion. Because of the Michigan Supreme Court ruling in Ford v. Dodge (1919), corporations no longer have any responsibility to the public good, or that of their employees, or the long term fiscal health of the company. The corporation's sole responsibility is to maximize the dividends paid to its shareholders in a given time period. Only by assessing taxes that make it advantageous to do the right thing--according to classic economic theory--are corporations forced to act in a socially and, in the long term, financially responsible manner, rather than greedily gobbling up competition, engaging in dangerous financial speculation, and providing often undeserved bonuses and luxuries for the chief officers and board of directors.

These facts are making Vladimir Lenin appear to be as much of a prophet as Karl Marx, as Paul Craig Roberts pointed out in his October 6, 2009 OpEdNews article "Marx and Lenin Revisited." To quote from former Reagan Assistant Treasury Secretary Roberts article:

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)

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