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Selfishness is political poison

By Ad astra

Amid the contemporary chaos of national and international politics do you wonder what’s behind it all?

Is there a common factor that might explain our own federal government’s failures, its incompetence, and its appalling behaviour?

Is there an explanation for the words, behaviour, and punitive actions of Donald Trump?

Is there a common theme that explains Brexit, and the rise of extreme right wing and conservative movements across Europe and in America?

This piece argues that selfishness in all its forms is a deadly poison that infiltrates, damages and eventually destroys a nation’s political principles and values. It is a lethal poison because it places self-interest ahead of the common good, and thereby brings in its wake inequality, unfairness, disadvantage, disentitlement, dispossession, disenfranchisement, repression, hopelessness, poverty, despair, and eventually destruction.

Long ago philosophers and clerics spoke of the Seven Deadly Sins. They are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

Their origin is attributed to the ‘Desert Fathers’, early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD.

If you reflect on their nature, there is a common thread running through them – selfishness. Those who lust, want what others have; those who exhibit gluttony, want more than is reasonable; those who are greedy, want more than their fair share; and those who show envy, want what others have. Selfishness is at the core of most of the Seven Deadly Sins.

We don’t have to look far to see selfishness at play in politics the world over.

Let’s begin with the most grotesque example: Donald Trump.

In his adult life Trump has exhibited selfishness. He has lusted after money; he has lusted after fame; he has lusted after power. He now has all three.

Of these, power is the most intoxicating. We have seen him wielding it ruthlessly in public, showing off his signature on Executive Orders, the most potent of all being his Immigration Order that bars for 90 days refugees and people from majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya) from entering the US. Last week Trump signed an Executive Order barring Syrian refugees indefinitely, and halting the US refugee resettlement program for four months.

He has issued several other orders, but his Immigration Order is the one that has evoked the most reaction from the public in the US and overseas. Massive rallies in the US and around the world continue to protest against its unfairness. US public officials have challenged the constitutionality of his action. A federal judge in New York granted an emergency stay, temporarily halting the deportation of people detained under Trump’s Order. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates defied Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration. So, as he was wont to do on his TV realty program The Apprentice, he fired her! Yet Trump may find that the legal challenges to his power – the law versus executive power – may be what bring about his undoing. America values its laws.

Overseas governments have expressed dismay at Trump’s Immigration Order, describing it in derogatory terms. A notable exception is our own PM, who has ‘declined to comment’ in public, an action consistent with his timid behaviour. He says he will comment in private to Trump, but who believes that when he’s beholden to Trump to take our Manus Island and Nauru refugees.

Image from Occupy Democrats

Trump’s punitive and selfish behaviour masquerades under clever framing designed to appeal to his supporters: ‘Put America First’, or simply ‘America First’. To the unthinking that seems reasonable. Already our own Treasurer is mouthing ‘Australia First’, and now our Opposition Leader is talking about ‘Aussie First’, both hoping to entice those who find that an attractive proposition, and in the process draw One Nation supporters their way.

But it’s the other side of the coin that offends. While on the superficial face of it putting one’s country first might seem reasonable, the corollary is that all others are second or lower down the pecking order. It distracts the electorate from the distress, the pain, the dispossession, and the desperation of hundreds of millions around the world who through war or natural disaster have been rendered homeless and destitute. What does putting one’s country first mean for them? Already we see the answer in Trump’s suspension of the US resettlement program and his indefinite barring of Syrian refugees.

Human beings are innately tribal at all levels of society. So looking after oneself and one’s own first seems natural and reasonable. But much of humanity has moved beyond that. It has recognized that those less fortunate deserve our attention, respect and support. Trump’s actions erode those worthy ideals, principles espoused by the great religions of the world. His actions have rekindled tribal instincts among many. A contemporary survey in the US reports that over 40% of respondents supports Trump’s immigration stance.

Yet there are hundreds of thousands who do not. They are out in the streets in the US and elsewhere, shouting ‘Let them in’. They despise Trump’s actions. They see the selfishness of his Orders, the arrogance of his actions, and the ruthlessness of his demeanour as destructive of the moral fibre of the US. They see him leading compliant Americans down a path of self-interest: US first, and to hell with the rest of humanity no matter how much suffering these people are enduring. Despite his quasi-religious words, his actions and behaviour are anti-Christian, but equally anti-Muslim, and anti all the great religions of the world that show concern for the poor, the dispossessed and the destitute, and seek to improve their condition.

Trump is leading his nation, and dragging compliant nations along with him, down a path of extreme selfishness and concomitant disregard for all others. It is the antithesis of responsible and caring behaviour. It is reprehensible. It is destructive.

Is there no one, no leader, no nation that will stop him?

Justin Trudeau has spoken out. He has made it clear that Canada welcomes refugees.

Most other nations are mute. Some European leaders have condemned Trump’s action, but have fallen short of renewing a welcome to refugees. They are terrified of the electoral consequences. We are witnessing the emergence of extreme right wing groups in France, Germany, and now even in the Netherlands, so that the contest at their next elections will be between the right wing and the extreme right wing. The progressives are being left behind.

Why have these extreme groups arisen? Selfishness again. They resent the levels of immigration from the Middle East and Africa that has seen millions of refugees trudging into Europe or arriving on the overcrowded boats of people-smugglers. The Brexit outcome demonstrated the unexpectedly high level of anger and resentment many Britons felt at the high level of immigration to the UK from Europe. They wanted their country back again.

We here are not immune from these sentiments. From Abbott to the arrogant Morrison to the loathsome Dutton, the anti-immigrant sentiment has been handed down, echoed by our timid PM, and applauded all the time by Pauline Hanson and her supporters. Collectively they have garnered the support of much of the electorate.

Wherever we turn, we see the ugly face of selfishness, an attitude of ‘me-first and too bad about the others’. Politicians have it within their power to counter this but few chose to do so. Justin Trudeau has. But our weak lily-livered PM and his conservative puppet-masters have chosen not to. Their self-interest is incompatible with concern about the common good.

If decent people feel despairing about the morality of governments around the world; if they feel deserted by our own federal government, it is because of selfishness, obsessive concern for personal survival, disinterest in the principles so poignantly expressed in the actions of the Good Samaritan, all the time accentuated by weakness and ineffectiveness in caring for anyone but their own.

Is selfishness the ultimate Deadly Sin?

Image from topfamousquotes.com

What do you think?

Do you agree that selfishness is the root cause of most political conflict and discord?

If not, name what you regard as a more basic ‘sin’ in politics.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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23 comments

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  1. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks for this, Ad Astra. I agree. Yes, Trump has appealed to the self-interest of Americans. The big lie, of course, is that Trump’s self-interest is the same as the self-interest of his voters. Things will probably have to get lot worse before the penny drops for the people of America, and for the people of Australia, too.

  2. bobrafto

    What do you think?

    Do you agree that selfishness is the root cause of most political conflict and discord?

    If not, name what you regard as a more basic ‘sin’ in politics.

    Is this a classroom? if so, in how many words?

  3. bobrafto

    I couldn’t help myself with the above comment, and so sorry for being a smart arse and as someone once said “It’s better being a smart arse than a dumb arse’.

  4. helvityni

    I have found out that most selfish people suffer from a lack of love in their lives, therefore they are unhappy, they become envious of other people who seem to have their lives in order; they are loved by their families, friends, and even neighbours.

    The selfish people then compensate that void in their lives by HAVING things, money, top jobs, many politicians come from that group. Of course not all of them… 🙂

    Their egos seem very fragile behind all their big pretend smiles, they sulk, they blame others…

    I could give plenty of examples, but I’m sure you all know many..

  5. Mike

    Bollocks… trump got elected because the globalization, neoliberal system that has been hollowing out the middle class in america for 30 years and the people had had enough. Combine that with the protection of the 1% in the financial system and you have 60 million people voting for trump. The first duty of a government is to support and protect the people. Many us presidents have demonstrably failed at this… the rise of the right wing is Europe is because many European governments have demonstrably failed at protect the people by importing millions of muslims from the middle east and notrth africa who have no respect for the culture and law of the countries to which they are going… its not selfishness to want a job… it’s not selfishness to be a woman in Europe and want to walk home from work and not be pack raped… the extreme right wing will protect the population if the left won’t…

  6. Keitha Granville

    Your evidence please Mike that Muslims are responsible for the lack of jobs and an increase in attacks on women. In the USA there are far more people killed by other WASP Americans than have EVER been killed by Muslims. And the destruction of manufacturing jobs and the like are due to the cheap labour in the third world where most major corporations have relocated their factories. NOTHING to do with refugees or migrants, even the Muslim ones. In general terms an increase in population means an increase in jobs, services etc . Have you never played SimCity ? Your comment is the same old bigoted racist narcissistic view that has seen Trump elected on a platform of hate, making promises he knows his voters want to hear, but will not be able to fulfill.
    And the protection of the 1% ? That would be Trump and his billionaire friends. You think he has the interests of the working and middle class at heart ? Boy are you in for a shock.

    A response to your question AdAstra – totally agree. The political class wants all they can get to have a nice life, if it happens to trickle down that’s fine, but they are not bothered if it doesn’t. All of the 7 deadly sins apply

  7. Zathras

    The reason for much of today’s conflicts and disharmony is not so much selfishness as plain old intolerance.

    Add the dumbing-down of the population by simplistic sloganeering, media manipulation and ignorance into the mix and it’s welcome to the 21st Century.

    People like Trump (and the growing number of refugees) aren’t the problem – they are the symptom of a much larger problem.

    There have always been zealots of every type throughout history but until now, most have been kept away from the direct control of governments. Now they ARE the governments.

    Unfortunately, things may need to get very much worse before they start to get better.

  8. Harquebus

    My nomination for worst political sin is ‘deliberate ignorance’. Surely our politicians can not be as stupid as they appear. Can they?

  9. Freethinker

    Mike, first Trump was elected by a minority.
    Second in USA more people get killed on the hands of Americans that on the hands of immigrants.

    Kate Ahearne, I agree with your comments

    helvityni, I share your views, unfortunately greed and consumerism is the reason why we are in this trouble and we will destroy the ecosystem.

  10. Freethinker

    Harquebus, they are not stupid at all, they feed their greed exploiting the disunity and selfishness of the electorate.

  11. win jeavons

    I agree ; selfishness is the underlying sin, as it is a failure to admit that we are a social species, who need each other, and evolved to this nature. Even billionaires needed the laws, infrastructure and community to make their achievement possible. Ignorance is merely the conviction that you are already better and more deserving than others, so need learn no more. If you call yourself Christian, it is opposed to Jesus ‘ teaching, so you must be a hypocrite!

  12. Freedom

    Keitha Granville,
    As for evidence of what Mike is saying, try reading something other than MSM. It’s not necessarily the alternate news that delivers fake media reports as they would have you believe which is exactly what I posted above at 2:46 pm.

  13. susan

    I agree that selfishness is the root cause of so many political problems right across the spectrum. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that selfishness can be cured so it is time that we made some rules for prospective politicians. The first being that every candidate must have spent ten years in a real job outside politics and cannot receive at the end of their career a salaried job in conjunction with their excessive pension and super.

  14. Freedom

    susan,
    Their excessive pension and super is probably half the reason they enter politics…

  15. Steven Forsyth

    The basic sin???
    That’s your problem right there. Delusional thinking.
    Trump and his religious cronies are fighting a judeo-Christian war against secularism and Islam.
    Religion is the problem. While we allow this delusional thinking to be respected, we will always have problems.

  16. NL

    Selfishness as the ultimate sin? I think it is deeper than that. The “sin” that stands out in my mind is the universal human instinct to demonize groups that seem to or actually demean or threaten our own. I think it is this ‘othering’, this complete shut-out of the other, this refusal to humanise those we dislike (or believe dislike us) that is the root of human conflict and spluttering in social progress.

    I want to emphasise here that it is not exactly about a lack of empathy or compassion. It is very easy to empathise with an individual, whether he/she is a progressive or a conservative, an immigrant or a ‘true-blue Aussie’, a dole-bludger or a bank executive. Or at least, easy compared to empathising with whole groups. It’s why we keep hearing about progressives trying to destroy their own country, or conservatives hating poor people, or anything controversial that has been said about the other four groups I have mentioned.

    It just seems to me that in ANY political discussion between two people with a shared belief or circumstances, no matter which side of the argument they sit on, it is always the ‘other’ being someone who “doesn’t make sense”, or “can’t be human”, or “is willfully ignorant”, or “doesn’t care about people”, or “lacks common sense”, or “stuck in groupthink or their own bubble”, or “doesn’t exercise critical thinking”, or “blind to their own hypocrisy.”

    Or “too selfish”.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t call out selfishness, callousness, ignorance, or impracticality when we see it. After all, feedback is what keeps democracy healthy. But I do wish that we stopped assuming there is evil or stupidity in those we really disagree with, or malicious intent in any negative thing that happens. Maybe then people will start working together again.

  17. @RosemaryJ36

    It seems to me that the fear in the USA of Communism in the form it took in the USSR has led them to link a social justice program with socialism in the communist sense. Despite maintaining their old belief that anyone can become President, so shaking off the concept of the inheritance of kings, they ignore the fact that only extreme levels of wealth will put a candidate in the running and believe that it is weakness to seek help from the state.Even worse, they think that everyone should stand on their own two feet, completely ignoring circumstances of health and birth which make that impossible. Many of those who derided Obamacare and shouted for it to be abolished are going to regret its passing in the absence of any adequate program to replace it.
    It is true that cultural differences can create problems for both migrants and the host country where they settle, but – just as we educate children to enable them to behave in a socially acceptable way (we hope!) – so too we need to assist migrants to integrate while respecting some aspects of their cultural difference.
    But the theme that selfishness is the major cause of social difficulties is well founded IMHO.

  18. jimhaz

    [Is selfishness the ultimate Deadly Sin?]

    It sure is…..and the problem is that both technological advances and the media/entertainment industry are very much enhancing this selfishness. The former indirectly and the latter directly.

    Rather than a deadly sin, it could be referred to as the “original” sin.

    It is a logical necessity that the more control over the environment a being or collection of beings has, the more selfish it must become. Increasing control over an environment means more external factors are under the control of a central factor (which induces a form of increased consciousness in a way) and selfishness is needed to manage this.

    Normally other emotions will step in and curtail excessive selfishness, but a lot of those other disciplining emotions are under threat due to resistance from experience – we see too much suffering (real and fake) on TV etc and are becoming more immune to it. It takes more to move us now.

  19. wam

    When does ambition become selfish?
    Is it selfish or selfless for a mother to want ‘xxxx’ for her children
    spot on helvityni, possession is the danger in selfish.
    For me, greed is rooted in possessing and discontent(violence) is aroused by the sight of (the perception?? others possessing.

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