Freeman

ARTICLE

The Miracle of Selflessness

SEPTEMBER 01, 1963 by JOHN C. SPARKS

Mr. Sparks is a business executive in Canton, Ohio.

Occasional flashes during man’s time on this sphere have illu­minated the otherwise dark path toward his ethereal ultimate goal.

These illuminations have shown through and have been identified with the lives of individuals, thus contributing knowledge of God’s truths to all who would listen, perceive, and know.

No one ever has been able to predict which particular man would receive and employ the blessing of deep discernment. I suspect the blessing itself is common enough, probably being available to most men, but put in­to practice only slightly by a few, and used intensively by even fewer. Whenever it is used fully, however, the human race has a Socrates, a Newton, or a Galileo to lead it another step upward. Yet no one could pick out these rare men in advance of their great achievements. In fact, too few people recognize the qualities of greatness until long after the demise of the great.

The significant point is this: no man should be prevented from de­veloping himself as he can and will, for in him may be the next impulse that pushes mankind ahead.

The miracle of the Man of Galilee is considered by many to be the brightest illumination of all that has come to bless man. He taught individual responsibility, and his parables concerned each person fulfilling his own capa­city. Yet, man-made religious dogma, coupled with total political power, effectively prevented this magnificent idea from bear­ing fruit for many centuries until the shackles imprisoning the mind were broken by the renais­sance of independent thought. Ex­amples are known of men who feared to reveal their newly-ac­quired knowledge, and doubtless there were many who died with­out ever revealing to their con­temporaries their unusual insight into truths that could have modi­fied or changed completely the un­enlightened political custom and religious dogma in their times.

Copernicus, canon of the cathe­dral of Frauenberg in East Prus­sia, became convinced that the earth was not the fixed center of the universe but revolved around the sun. He hid his findings for ten years and had his calculations published only when he was on his deathbed in 1543. Later, in the same century, Galileo was im­prisoned and tortured for ex­pounding the theories of Coper­nicus.

Today, from a vantage point of partially-opened eyes, we can hardly imagine circumstances wherein punishment such as this was the "reward" of great illumi­nation. But, nevertheless, from such dire conditions came a new freedom, a freeing of the minds of men from man-made ecclesiastical slavery. In America, an attempt was made to create a new political system that declared each man was endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights. Men like Franklin, the Adamses, Jef­ferson, Henry, and many others designed a new societal arrange­ment wherein they attempted to set up a limited government of very little power that would inter­fere in the separate lives and de­cisions of its citizens only in specified situations where those God-given liberties were trans­gressed. While imperfect in part, the concept of severely-limited government permitted more in­dividual freedom than ever known before. Recognition of a deeper meaning of ownership rights and the improved concept of limited government soon brought forth previously undreamed of advances in material goods, medical re­search, and scientific discoveries in which the prominent illumina­tions came from such men as Whitney, Edison, Ford, Kettering, the Curies, Pasteur, the Wright brothers—it is impossible to name everyone responsible for the exciting moves forward of the past two centuries.

The Fruits of Freedom

It is not impossible, however, to know what atmosphere spawned so many illuminations. Each man had come into possession of a larger amount of freedom enabling him to delve into his own area of interest as he and he alone wished—to explore the business world and produce things or serv­ices for his fellow men; to seek his destiny in the professions; to write; to compose; or to pursue philosophical and spiritual mean­ings.

Especially during the nine­teenth century, man experienced this awakening to the philosophy and the fruits of freedom in un­precedented measure. Self-reli­ance and independence were then laudable traits, not only in the world of commerce but also in the nonmaterial areas of reflective thought. It was considered good to develop the values and char­acteristics of self-confidence, self-responsibility, and self-respect. There was no reason to be ashamed of sincerely striving to succeed, to concentrate upon training one­self with special skill or special knowledge in order to reach a worth-while goal. The principles of honesty, truth, and individual responsibility were the straight­forward, uncomplicated rules of the game. And almost everyone was "winning" the game from a human-comfort viewpoint, since there are few losers when a siz­able proportion of the people fol­low these sound principles of self-responsibility.

A Changing Attitude

We are now past the middle of the twentieth century. Somewhere, somehow, during the intervening years, interest in oneself, or self-concern, has been deprived of its former admirable meaning. In­stead, it appears to have acquired a cloak of greediness that pre­cludes voluntary charitable acts, human kindness, and justice. The rightful reputation of self-interest as the means of attaining virtues has been tarnished almost beyond recognition as inhuman and sin­ful.

Examples abound to illustrate this change in public attitude. Businessmen half apologize for making a profit and, indeed, some­times assert they are in business for some altruistic purpose—profits being only incidental. Some industrialists seek ways to reduce the high progressive income tax by proposing partial rate manipu­lations and minor rule modifica­tions, instead of arguing the basic principle involved. The tone is conciliatory, rather than a stanch demand for complete recognition of the right of each person to the value produced by his own effort.

In a neighboring city, a well-known doctor won an award of appreciation from a citizens’ group for his excellent medical and extracurricular civic work for many years in his community. He was a man of numerous exciting interests, well-read, striking and handsome in appearance, athletic and capable in sports, an enter­taining and thoughtful speaker—yet he was described as a selfless man! Humble, yes; selfless, not a chance, as later discussion will prove.

Good, healthy self-interest, as a praiseworthy objective, has given way to something called "self­lessness." A young college student told me he was troubled in his thoughts about Christianity and the competitive free-market sys­tem. He could not reconcile the self-interest of competition with Christian principles, he said. And his error is all too common.

In the wish to open oneself to the will of God, perhaps we as­sume that it is not possible to mold one’s self-will into something unique and yet be consistent with the will of God. In the mid-twen­tieth century, the style is to unite men in groups under the banners of all kinds of "worthy" programs, while abandoning our individual wills. Countless organizations have meddled viciously into the affairs of self-reliant individuals until these individuals have either de­stroyed themselves in their des­perate attempts to remain inde­pendent, or have in resignation joined the collectivized mode of living. It is one thing to open one’s life and goals to God’s purpose; it is quite another thing to surrender one’s will to collectivized men.

Whatever the reason for the de­cline of respect for wholesome self-interest, it has occurred along with the decline in degree and scope of individual freedom. This appears to be more than coinci­dence!

Self-Interest Pervades Every Human Action

It is my intent to defend self-interest as a respectable and cherished actuality of individual man in society. Technically, there is no debate because self-interest (or self-concern, or self-satisfac­tion, or self-gratification) per­vades every human action.’ Conse­quently, it is present in every as­sociation or system made up of human beings, and as characteristic of socialism, communism, Christianity, agnosticism, or any other grouping of people, as of the market place. Each person selects that action available to him which provides the most satisfaction to himself. There are no exceptions to this natural law of human action unless a person is mentally im­paired and without control of the normal capacity to think. Only this latter exception, I contend, tallies accurately with the definition of a selfless person, "without regard for oneself or one’s own interest." In analysis, no person can truly act in utter disregard for his own interest unless temporarily or per­manently devoid of his thought processes.

Selflessness refers to C’s con­clusion that A has acted so as to give B satisfaction at A’s expense. But this only means that C fails to appreciate or comprehend the quality of action that brings satis­faction to A.

There is no issue to be argued concerning motivation of human action by self-interest. It is a happy fact of human life; there­fore, the accusation that free mar­ket competition has more self-in­terest than does Christianity is without logical foundation—as if to argue that horse-racing is worse than dog-racing because horses are animals. Self-interest is present in every human act.

Quality of Interest

Obviously, however, there are varying degrees of quality of self-interest. The barroom bum, except when completely inebriated, dis­plays as much self-interest as a medical researcher. Probably there is no difference in their quantities of self-interest—but the qualities are miles apart. A criminal’s self-interest may be satisfied by escap­ing capture regardless of the means used. It is not uncommon to read of a criminal threatening a hostage’s life with a declara­tion that he has already killed one person, and one more would make little difference. The satisfaction choices or alternatives available to this criminal not only have fal­len to a low level of quality, but also the range of choice has nar­rowed. To escape punishment for crimes committed, he must com­mit more crimes.

On the other hand, a well-trained surgeon may face avail­able choices to practice in a medi­cal center and perform highly spe­cialized surgery, or to take his skill to a smaller community, or to work in a foreign mission hos­pital. One of the alternatives will provide him with the most self-gratification—and that one he will choose. I cannot know which it will be. But according to my ob­servation, any one of the three alternatives of expressing his self‑ interest is infinitely better than any of the expressions of self-in­terest available to the criminal above.

A Free Society

Rather than judge an economic system, a political form of society, a religious belief, or any human grouping on the presumed pres­ence or absence of self-interest, one should instead evaluate on the basis of the quality of self-interest that the group, system, or belief fosters.

How does a free society (in which competition is the natural result) measure up in this re­gard? How does it compare with an unfree society (without com­petition)? People strive to achieve the highest degree and quality of self-satisfaction regard­less of the political system under which they live. They attempt to increase their material posses­sions. They want to win the fa­vorable acceptance of their fami­lies, friends, and acquaintances through business, civic, or other accomplishments.

In a free society, each man is responsible for himself—there­fore, must rely on himself to pro­vide the level of living or what­ever else gives him the most self-gratification. The amount and de­gree of his success depends solely upon his ability and will to choose the actions that will produce for him the highest quality of satis­faction. A higher quality of self-interest is thus encouraged in a free society, for with it comes better material and nonmaterial rewards for him.

But rewards alone are not the only incentives. There are also in­centives of a negative nature, so that failure to exert effort and to make good decisions will bring him such penalties as hunger, cold, inconvenience, discomfort, and material loss. Since it is comfort­able to have enough food and un­comfortable to be hungry, and since each person is responsible for feeding himself in a free so­ciety, there is no doubt as to the presence of this motivation via self-interest. As wants beyond food and the basic necessities are attainable to individual persons (that is, if they are free to try to attain them), the quality of self-interest undergoes a change. It points unmistakably upward toward a higher quality of satis­faction choices from which all so­ciety benefits. The good is ampli­fied and the bad minimized when men are free.

Under Collectivism

The opposite results occur in an unfree society of no competition. An authoritarian political system primarily is concerned with retaining its political power. Since man acts in a manner to obtain his necessities with the least effort, the clever politician de­velops governmental policies that "play" on this human trait—a weakness in this instance—result­ing in surrender to the "some­thing for nothing" sickness. Thus, voting support is won by men in power interjecting government in­terference in the market place, so that exchange is on some basis other than mutual satisfaction.

If such exchange is other than mutually satisfactory, it follows that at least one party to the ex­change—if not both—is less pleased than he would have been if the exchange had taken place under terms prevailing in a free market. This generates no incen­tive to try harder. One, however, always receives a politically-cal­culated advantage over the other. And if the one is symbolical of many voters, while the other is symbolical of fewer voters (such as in progressive taxation), then numerically larger voting support has been bought by the authori­tarians in power. Accomplished is their prime objective to remain in power, but at the expense of in­dividual incentive.

Government Planning

When government planning en­ters into the economic decisions of its citizens, their freedom of choice is narrowed—at least pro­portionately; perhaps more. Not only are the choices narrowed in quantity, they are lowered in quality. Man’s higher quality choices that would otherwise re­sult from new ideas, inventions, and creations, if he were free, simply do not come into being, la the times of Copernicus and Galileo. The area of human en­deavor, out of which comes the wonderful illuminations that lift mankind onward and upward, can­not live in the planned society. The good, therefore, is blocked substantially from coming into existence when men are not free. Errors of human judgment, on the other hand, when multiplied by the full force of government, unduly affect even those who would not normally subscribe to these poor decisions if they were free to choose. Thus, the bad in an au­thoritarian society is amplified.

These are the comparable levels of quality found in the self-inter­est of man living in an atmosphere of freedom, and man living under the drawback of coercive govern­ment planning. The first leads on to evolutionary fulfillment; the second retraces man’s steps toward the primitive.

Before concluding this study, we should take a quick look at the advocates of selflessness.

When Other Interest Gains Ascendancy

Those who oppose human action based upon self-interest often as­cribe to themselves, or to their objectives, the presumed quality of being selfless, and as being con­cerned with others. Part of the description is accurate; part is not.

Keep in mind that no conscious human being, with his mental fac­ulties intact, can act except with the intention to satisfy his own best interest as he sees it. There­fore, the opponents of self-inter­est deceive themselves with the delusion that they act or seek to act selflessly. It is not possible. This is the inaccurate part of their self-analysis. The balance, however, is accurate; that is, they are concerned with others. Hold your cheers, however, until you find out in what way they are con­cerned.

Other-interest is not an uncom­mon characteristic among men and certainly not peculiar to the ad­vocates of selflessness. It is prob­able that all persons utilize their other-interest to determine the de­gree of self-gratification in their own acts. Thus, the husband works to win the approval and the plaud­its of his wife and family. The shoe manufacturer employs other-interest to help him keep his prod­uct "in style"—that is, he com­plies with a standard of market acceptance that ultimately leads to the self-satisfaction of profit. Other-interest is as common as self-interest, since it is so closely related as a means of measuring self-satisfaction. Therefore, it is not logical to label other-interest as the distinguishing characteris­tic of the advocates of selflessness.

The all-important difference is in the kind of other-interest they display. Do these advocates of self­lessness try to persuade others on a voluntary basis? Do they recog­nize independent wills in other human beings? Are they willing to allow others the right to dis­agree and to retain a right to dis­sent completely?

Or is persuasion only the frost­ing to disguise the ugliness of compulsion? Do they push toward their objective even if it requires a law to be passed enforcing the outcome as they visualize it? Do they force the dissenter to com­ply? Does the dissenter’s right to decline the proposition merely re­fer to his "right" to be out-voted?

Herein lies the telltale charac­teristic of the other-interest found in the advocates of selflessness. They are willing to promote their ideas involving the lives and ac­tions of other persons—not by noncoercive persuasion that wins voluntary acceptance, but by force of law.

Social Uplifting

Before jumping to the conclu­sion that those responsible for this erosion of self-concern are some diabolical rascals living in other places and other communi­ties, and are knowingly plotting the downfall of individual liberty, take a good look in your commun­ity. Read your local newspaper. Who are the ones working to pro­mote full employment in your area by asking federal assistance? To distribute charity more equitably through law? To build up the school system through local ac­tion to qualify for more state and federal help? To rejuvenate the downtown business district by condemning privately-owned prop­erties of some for the benefit of others? To increase medical serv­ices for population segments by misnamed "security" laws? To stabilize the local economy by sup­porting federally-enforced mar­keting laws involving the legal ex­change prices of wheat and milk, only two of many products thus controlled? The list goes on and on—illustrating the many evil results of this type of other-inter­est political action in your area.

Who commit these deeds? Are they professional communist schemers?

There is little chance that avowed communist plotters are making this assault on human freedom in our nation. The cul­prits more likely are to be found among the active members of such reputable institutions as local civic associations, community bet­terment planning organizations, PTA’s, church social action groups, charitable societies, pro­fessional associations, and cham­bers of commerce. The list is in­complete, but illustrative. These groups seem to have a ravenous appetite to improve others. They advocate whatever means are available—and the easiest means in this twentieth century of de­clining regard for individual choice is to "get a law passed."

A Disease

If this desire to meddle in the affairs of others were called a disease (as it might well be), every community and remote cor­ner of our country is being sick­ened with its terrible plague. We may be inclined to blame the law­makers of our local, state, and na­tional governments. But law­makers do not get that meddle­some, planning-for-the-good-of­-mankind feeling without consider­able encouragement from their constituents.

Self-interest is a fact among men. It enables mankind to move forward in his evolution toward God’s purpose. We must no longer deceive ourselves into believing that self-interest is inconsistent with God’s destiny for mankind. We must recognize that selfless­ness is not only a paradoxical im­possibility, but also its pursuit is exceedingly undesirable.

The national fad of the twen­tieth century is to pass a law and force acceptance of both the pro­fessional and the nonprofessional planners who thereby lawfully meddle into affairs that rightfully belong to individual persons. This must be reversed.

We must reopen the door to il­luminations of truth that flow most rapidly within the minds of free men. Unless we return to an atmosphere of human freedom, our day on this fleeting stage of time will have no significance whatsoever toward the evolution of human destiny, except that we dragged our feet in a mirage of nothing, called "selflessness."

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September 1963

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