Humans are animals.
We are not inherently “moral,” but rather we are self-interested organisms that have ‘achieved’ a level of capacity to affix ‘morality’ to actions we perceive either align or do not align with our own self-interests.
We can NEVER act against our self-interest. It is a metaphysical and logical impossibility.
Facing this reality is perhaps one of the most difficult realities to face for those of us who stand rooted in morality, as opposed to being rooted in an understanding of our own self-interest, our own preferences.
Unless someone or some thing is controlling your thoughts and your actions, you can only act by your own choice, even if that choice is instinctive, and, in some instances, rooted not so much in preference as it is in conditioned, uncritical habit.
The degree to which you are aware of what compels you to act is irrelevant if you consider this; the processes beneath the surface of your awareness have been created and maintained by aspects of you that are still, wait for it……you.
While the jury is still out regarding the degree to which humans can master what some call self-awareness, self-ownership, self-direction, humans have seen enough from other humans to understand that expanding your self-aware territory from within is fecund with potential growth and self-empowerment.
Ask any individual who has excelled in any field that requires copious amounts of directed and timed actions with finite deadlines and they will tell you that controlling the patterns of your actions in ways that satisfy a preference (a goal) is essential to achieving the goal.
Let me put this more plainly, disciplined action in a competitive field beats undisciplined action. Replace the word discipline with self-aware, and replace the word undisciplined with impulse-driven.
The degree to which you choose to act or not act on mastering your own mind, so to speak, is part of the process of serving the self. Your choice not to act is a choice to act alternatively in that space that could have been occupied by intentional development of self-awareness.
Instead of spending time studying logical fallacies, you chose to watch a football game.
You are the only owner of your actions. Your actions are always rooted in serving yourself. The very ability to choose to act is the self-evident proof that you only serve your self-interest. You cannot act unless you choose to act. You cannot choose to act ‘badly.’ The best you can choose is to act less ‘badly.’
A firefighter chooses to go into a burning building knowing he will not get out alive. Is he serving his self-interest? After all, how can you serve your self-interest by offering up your life?
This assumption is one of the most common of assumptions made by people who reject the notion that individuals only act in our self-interests. There is a subjective valuation assigned to the preference of wanting to continue to exist, or, simply put, ‘the instinct to live.’
For most of us, for most of our lives, the ‘instinct to live’ is, perhaps, the core preference in instances in which our lives might be in what we might deem ‘undo’ risk. But are we capable of serving preferences that are even deeper than continued existence, than life?
And in so doing, are we still ‘only’ serving ourselves?
Yes, of course we are, because, again, it’s metaphysically and physically impossible for us to act on at least an assumption that we are choosing the less bad option, a value that can only be subjectively, self-directedly, defined.
Some of the core preferences I have, for instance, override my desire to preserve my own life, at least theoretically (one never knows until one faces such an existential choice exactly how they’ll respond).
One such preference is to preserve my ideas over my life, if I had to make that choice. Why? What preference do I stand on? For me, I am driven to a certain type of affirmation of my own suspicions. If my suspicions are wrong, then the foundation for many of the decisions I have made in my life, especially the ones that affect the people I am emotionally connected to, might be unfounded, and the work I spent building up many of these relationships, and many of the work I have crated, would be for dust.
The root, as close as I can get to it, then, is this, a core desire to be, plainly, important, a significant contributor to the socio-cultural progress (hopefully, subjectively speaking, of course) of humanity. This core preference stands on an impulse which may be the fruit of human biological drivers that are stronger and lesser in other humans based mostly on genetic lotteries. My root might, theoretically, be an as-yet un-explorable zone of human instinct that is difficult, socio-culturally, to overcome.
There’s a lot of difficult things (based on the socio-cultural mores of current year) I would have to face about myself to explore just this particular preference. It would be much better, though not true, for me to simply say, “ideas are bigger than all of us, and even if my ideas ultimately are not ‘right,’ they can still be a key part of the process of conversations that ultimately do contribute to the progress of human socio-cultural expressions. You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea, and for that, I stand, willing to die.”
The moral claim here is that it is good to be part of advancing the socio-cultural awesomeness of humanity and that somehow I know what connotes awesomeness and what connotes something else.
It is better to stand on that moral foundation than it is to face your own insecurities, your own vanities, your own ‘qualities’ that are not harmonious with the very types of socio-cultural expressions you’re claiming to represent (selflessness is almost always one of the core values of most of these advocations).
Morality in and of itself is a permission slip to violate standards which are beneficial to other core preferences. One of the key tools morality gives us is the ability to assign different standards of human action according to claimed objective superiority or inferiority qualities of groups of people.
When individuals meet other individuals that are associated with these groups (be it real or perceived), they then choose to act negatively or positively towards this individual based solely on their valuation, their certain valuation, of the quality of that group.
The greater the size of the permission slip within them (the degree to which their morality limits or compels them to act in coercive ways to individuals who have not, perceptively, initiated such actions first), the greater the chance that the individual will feel empowered (perhaps even accountable morally for refusing) to initiate coercion against individuals based on their perceived association with groups deemed morally unredeemable.
But, we are only human. We are neither good or bad. We are. Good and bad emerge only within frameworks of preference, and preference is almost certainly always…….self-serving.