Self Interest, The Common Good, And Quests For Power

Throughout my life, I have been most happy and content during those times where I thought I was being of real service.  It’s been through the expression of generosity or altruism when I’ve felt most deeply and easily connected to people on an individual basis, and with regard to humanity in general. 

This is not news- millions and millions of people have both direct and intuitive knowledge about the strong correlations between a high sense of well being (or general life satisfaction) and being of service to others. And science backs us up! **

Okay, the science officially stops here, and my extrapolation starts. But hey, I’m one of millions who knows that thinking and acting in service of the common good seems to be a good choice for personal happiness.  So, I might get a few other things correct as I think further on the topic. I like to think so. But remember, this next part is me talking, not science (at least not at this point in time).

People who pursue things only for their personal enrichment often appear to me to be driven to great lengths to pursue more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more in ever more desperate and often more transparently corrupt quests to feel or accomplish….what, exactly? 

For a clear illustration: Think about billionaires, already completely richer than the rest of us saps. 

Any and everyone with a net worth of 1 billion dollars could already spend their days pursuing all manner of luxury and experience, the best of what the good life has to offer. These are the people with enough power and security to live as gods in complete and utter bliss on their own islands.

These are people that are already so rich, they can spend 20 million dollars a year for the rest of their lives (assuming they have 49 consecutive years left on this planet) and still die with about 20 million dollars in the bank.  I know, right? Let’s do the math[1]

So they already have plenty of what many of us desperately struggle for on a daily basis. 

But instead of simply going off and living the good life, and thus letting others take a shot at attaining their own good lives, these are often the very people most vigorously conducting ruthless -absolutely ruthless- quests for yet more power.

These people are hubristically determined to try to control entire countries and regions of the world for what certainly appears to be their own benefit. Michael Bloomberg anyone? Here is a man obviously buying his way into the Democratic race for 2020, after being a Republican mayor a few years back who implemented (and apparently still defends) “Stop and Frisk” racial profiling.

His entry into the race clearly appears to be about trying to make a sale, not about bettering the country.

And of course this man understands, and is very good at, leading from a “power over” paradigm.  Way better than most of us. And, of course, that “might makes right” paradigm is what Western civilization has been mired in for the past few millenia.  Which brings us back to Cultural PTSD, trauma based reactions, and all the fear, greed, oppressive actions and power issues that come along with it.

But my point here is that any truly civic minded individual would take the vast power they already have and simply support others who are already quite popular and running on platforms Bloomberg says he agrees with by virtue of his platform.  

“His” platform has clearly appropriated many popular ideas from others also in the presidential race. But instead of supporting these folks he says he agrees with, he is directing millions of dollars (they could use) away from them and towards himself in order to compete directly against them.

That utterly ruthless and driven “need” for yet more power seems to be a total embodiment of someone who has thoroughly internalized the Western values related to Cultural PTSD.  And in case there’s any doubt, that’s a pretty big problem in my book.   So, what can be done?  Well, I’m working out some ideas about that.  In the meantime, I’ll point you back to my old standby: compassion. How to grow compassion in those who are immersed in might makes right mindsets is a big thorny problem, but it’s probably the most fruitful avenue. And currently I’m exploring how to leverage the flexibility of cultural norms more quickly. Stay tuned:-)


** See for example this meta analysis study: Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good by Stephen G. Post first published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2005, Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77 Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. a copy can be accessed at h….//greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Post-AltruismHappinessHealth.pdf

[1]Assume we are talking about a 50 year old billionaire with exactly 1 billion dollars net worth. Assume another 50 years of life.  50 years is 18,250 days.  1 billion divided by 18,250 = $54,794.52 dollars a day.  54,794.52 multiplied by 365 = 19,999,999.80, or about 20 million dollars a year.