Friday, February 03, 2006

What is "selfish"? - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I recall my sister musing that, with all the modest lifestyles among her relatives, she might be the only one on either side of her extended family who was paying enough taxes to support the basic services relied upon by said family. Services like roads and schools.

She implied that we were all being selfish.

To avoid being selfish, then, we should all go out and earn more income (to pay more income tax) and buy more goods (to pay more sales tax).

That way there would be more money for schools to teach our children how to clean up the environmental messes we created while earning more income, buying more goods, and driving more often because we'd have such wonderful roads.

I guess it's clear that I don't think we're being selfish by living modestly. My point of view should come as no surprise.

Still, I wonder where the line is. I want to live in a society that maintains sufficient technological and industrial capacity to have dentists, steel roofs, and maybe even satellite imagery. I find it difficult to believe that I must eat takeout pizza rather than homegrown food in order to maintain that society, but I don't know where the balance point might be.

Obviously there won't be a simple answer. Yet as I think about it, I wonder if the answer at the individual level really is fairly simple. There are those who want us all to trust in economic growth as the answer, and they keep pointing out how effectively market forces balance supply and demand. If that's the case, then all an individual needs to worry about is choosing to demand the things that are really needed for life, and refusing to demand things that aren't. The market will take care of the rest.

5 comments:

madcapmum said...

I think in some kind of ideal set-up, we'd all be fulfilling our own basic needs, plus a little extra for the "common", like roads. Roads (etc.) wouldn't need the constant upgrades if people weren't forever driving for pizza (etc.).

I_Wonder said...

The US talks about the right to "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Being a consumer and contributing to "sustainable growth" doesn't meet my personal "pursuit of happiness". My personal theology has evolved to "life is a gift to be enjoyed". Selfish? I don't think so. I'm willing to work for what I have and willing to pay for things that contribute to the common good. I'm not willing to accept the propaganda that "more is better, bigger is better" or that I "deserve" something or "owe it to myself". I'm willing to pay taxes for benefits that I may not see but that others will see. In return, I ask that a small part of the world be preseved in it's natural state so that I can enjoy life. For me, nature, sustanability and self-reliance are like food and water -- I can't live without them. They are not choices or preferences -- they are necessities. I don't think that's selfish

Eleutheros said...

The first thing to consider when refining our handling of 'guilt' is that it is used as cudgel to get us to behave to our disadvantage for someone else's benfit. Much like the vacuous portesters. You get the telemarketer call representing this or that charity and how much your donation will help this or that cause. But at least here in the US, if you ask them, they are obliged to tell you what percent of the money they collect goes for overhead, to pay for their salaries, etc. And they can't fudge, the definition of overhead is prescribed by law. Several have boasted that they keep only, ONLY, 85% of what they collect for their own use and deliver a whopping 15% to the beneficiary. And that's so, since most are around 95%.

Yet you are supposed to feel guilty and fork over the money without questioning it.

Guilt is a good thing, but we mustn't overuse it and wear it out. Else when there is something we SHOULD feel guilty over, our guilt is jaded and we feel no remorse when we well ought to.

I'd be willing to consider organ donation so long as the organs did not go to anyone willfully obese, who smoked, who abused drugs or alcohol, etc. Absent of such a surety, forget it.

I'm not willing to send money to United Way (which consumes 96% of the donated money on it's own expenses) but I am willing to supply a sack of potatoes and a sack of meal to anyone who really needs them.

LuceLu said...

For me, I guess if I was to donate anything, I would donate stem cells and blood. They are renewable and can be harvested more than once.

I used to donate blood more, now, working M-F I never seem to have the time. With the amount of platelets and blood we give to patients, I should put in more of an effort. I would feel better about it if they didn't charge so much money for these products since after all, they were "donated."

If I were a selfish person (or at least acting in my own self -interest) I would balk at donating these things as after all, they are mine, I own them, I should be paid fair market price for them--or at least be able to write off my charitable "donation" on my income taxes. One could argue--who owns your body?

One of our recently deceased patients actually had a family situation where his brother came to the door looking for money for his stem cell donation! The guy is dying, and his brother is there at the door with an invoice! Imagine being the cop that responds to that domestic situation.

Anyhoo, for the leukemia patients I know and love, I would donate my stem cells if they would work. It is very hard to find a match that is unrelated to you--siblings are best. I would definitely pay to have them harvested if it would save my brother or sister.

Mary Ann said...

I should mention that I continue to be honored to be listed under "Folks with something in common." Occasionally, lately, I've found myself defending my modest lifestyle. I'm proud of my debt-free, nearly tax-free life, driven by an effort to make morally and ecologically sound choices (and hoping that moral and ecological coincide). But I find I''m having more trouble speaking out about it than I did when I was younger. I live in a delightfully progressive, green community. But I've moved outside my comfort zone and I find myself encountering more and more people baffled by my choices.

Your ongoing effort to make informed decisions is inspiring. Your thought process about organ donation mirrors so many daily decisions. What's the cost? What are the consequences?