Today, I want to share a transcript I created of an extremely insightful clip I recently came across. In it, Jordan Peterson talks about how selfishness, or the idea of seeking one’s interests interest at the expense of others, is self-destructive, and ultimately stupid. Peterson argues that we are all connected, especially to those who are closest to us. When we seek the good of our friends and family (and even enemies), we seek our own good. And when we damage others, we damage ourselves. Healthy people create reciprocal relationships whereby they get their wants, needs, and goals met in the same context they help others meet theirs.
Peterson draws from a lot of vivid examples, like marriage.. Check out the video and transcript down below! [update: video was removed from YouTube, but transcript still available.]
The idea that your idea is your self-interest is somehow opposed to other people’s, or if you maximize your self-interest, that you’re not operating in the best interests of other people is predicated on a poor idea of what constitutes your self-interest, because you’re not separate in any real sense from other people. You’re maybe not separated from everything in some real sense.Jordan Peterson
Transcript Of Jordan Peterson On Why Being Selfish Is Stupid:
There isn’t any such thing as self-interest. It’s not the right way to think about because you’re not alone. And so, this is why I like Piaget, John Piaget, because he thought about this intelligently. First of all, whose self-interest do you mean? Do you mean your immediate self-interest in the next second—so that would be impulsive pleasure? We’re all acting for the gaining of impulsive pleasure, and to hell with everything else. Well, obviously that’s a stupid way to behave—and everyone knows that—because you can do impulsive, short-term gratifying things, like snort cocaine now, and you can keep doing that, and it’ll pay off real well in the extremely short-term, and it will just augur you into the ground in the medium to long-term.
So, if you’re acting in your own self-interest, let’s take that apart. Over what period of time? Your self-interest in the next second? Your self-interest in the next hour? Like, if you’re impulsive, and you want to gratify an impulsive, you’re obviously acting in your self-interest in the next second, or the next two seconds, or the next minute, but you pay for that. . Maybe you punch someone, or you slap someone, because you’re so angry, and then they knock you for a loop, and then they charge you for assault. Well, it was great in your self-interest in the second, but the future. . .
Remember that Simpson’s episode. Homer drank a quarter mayonnaise and Vodka, and Marge and all his kids were telling him not to. And he said, “Well, that’s a problem for future Homer. I sure don’t envy that guy.” Which is one of the best Simpson’s lines ever.
Well, that’s it exactly. It isn’t just you. There’s now you. There’s tonight you. And there’s tomorrow morning you. That’s the one that will have the hangover, by the way. And there’s next week you. And next month you. And next year you. And old you. So, if you’re going to act in your self-interest, you have to take that collective of yours across time into account, when you make your decision.
Now, here’s the cool thing about that. Let’s say, that would be acting in your self-interest, writ large, across time spans. But the thing is future you, and someone else that you have to live with right now that’s not you, are pretty much the same people. So, if you’re going to act in your self-interest, and you have other people around you, then you also want to act in their self-interest, because otherwise, they won’t like you. They won’t cooperate with you, and they won’t compete with you in a reasonable manner. And that’s going to be a catastrophe.
And so you want to act our what’s good for you now, and what’s good for you next month and next year. And you want to do that in a way that’s good for you and your family and your community right now, next week, and next year. And you’re going to take all those things into account at the same thing. That’s an equilibrated game from a [Piaget] perspective. And it was his idea that constituted the basis for proper moral judgment, and it’s a brilliant idea. It’s a brilliant idea.
And so that’s your true self-interest. There’s no difference between your interest and the interest of others, not in any fundamental sense. Even your enemies, which is why you’re enjoined to treat your enemy as if he was yourself, because he is. You think, “Well, you should wish your enemies well. Well, why? It isn’t that you hope they get a bigger house than you. Let’s say you’re being pursued and tormented by someone who’s truly reprehensible. That person has a miserable life, in all likelihood. Let’s say they’re truly malevolent. They live in hell. What you might hope for them is that they could figure out to get out of there, because it’s not good for them, and it’s not good for anyone else. You think, well even your enemies—wouldn’t it be good if they could get their act together, and stop being so unnecessarily malevolent. And that’s in your self-interest.
The idea that your idea is your self-interest is somehow opposed to other people’s, or if you maximize your self-interest, that you’re not operating in the best interests of other people is predicated on a poor idea of what constitutes your self-interest, because you’re not separate in any real sense from other people. You’re maybe not separated from everything in some real sense. . .
Like if you’re married to someone, for example, and you’re stuck with them for the next 50 years, you can’t win an argument with them. You can make peace, because they’re you, man. They’re a huge part of your experience. You have to treat that person as if they are you. It isn’t like, “I’m going to treat you well, because you’re me,” because people don’t treat themselves well very often. It’s way more complicated than that. You don’t want to defeat your wife, man, because then you live with a defeated life. And if you think she is going to take revenge on you, then you’re not very bright. So you want to listen to what she has to say. And you want to listen to her problems, and you want to help her solve them, because she’s you. And you want to do the same with your kids. And then you want to do the same with the people around you if you can do it.
So the whole idea we’re basically wired to be selfish. Well, we are when we’re not very wise, and we act impulsively, but as you’re view of the world broadens, you start to understand. . .