Why isn't self-interest a valuable motive?

In this article:

It talks about a stormy reception by British citizens over David Blaine’s 44 day hunger strike over the Thames river. Now, I’m not saying that there is ANYTHING AT ALL wrong with the British reception, what I do question is the idea that self-interest is not a valid reason to do things.

Why do we expect artists to always have some sort of altruistic method to their madness? Why isn’t it enough that an artist can say, “I just feel compelled.”, why is that considered posturing? I think that’s about as honest as one can be. For the most part, when I do any sort of art, I do it just because it’s how I feel. I don’t do it to help anyone else, I do it because it makes me feel better. I write angry poetry because afterward, I don’t feel quite as angry. I “Just feel compelled.”, at most my altruistic goals are to make other people aware that someone out there feels like I do, in the case that there is someone reading it who it touches in some way. That’s as far as the altruism goes however.

So what are your thoughts on this subject? Why do you think that people feel the need to always be doing something for others? Why is there some political message that must be inherent in a piece of artwork for it to have any validity? Why can’t a guy hang himself over the Thames and starve for 44 days just because that’s something he wants to do? Why is it wrong for him to enjoy the celebrity that this brings?


Enlightened self-interest is one of the only valid motives there is. Most others are flawed or tainted by overriding social programming of some sort, be it religion, tradition or upbringing.

Alright, I agree with that.

There is a myth about the creative arts, that there is a Higher Purpose to the creative process, of necessity; this comes with the romanticisation of, for example, the starving artist in the garret, and pointing at various well-known artists who died young and tragically. One Must Sacrifice For The Cause, that whole dealie.

At the same time, the arts are often degraded and not considered “real work”; they don’t produce a lot of fundamental economic productivity, unlike making cars or doing accounting, and so in some minds they don’t count. (There are a fair number of writers, the group of creative-arts folk I’m most familiar with since bunches of us hang out and talk shop, who make their living from their work; however, one of their top five questions received seems to be, “No, I mean, what’s your real job?”)

Combine these mythologies, then, and you get the idea that the creative realm is not a real job unless it has an overarching cause, a calling, something that it’s worth being driven into starvation and ruin to pursue. At best, it’s a hobby, right? Something to do in the spare time in between Real Work. The work itself isn’t taken as important.

. . . 'scuse me. Need to go scrub off my bitter sarcasm. And write chapter 35.

The key word in the phrase “enlightened self-interest” is enlightened.

Lilairen: Yeah, that’s my experience as well, luckily though, I live in New York City, where I can completely submerge myself in a fantasy world where art is of the highest importance to all around me. :wink: I get really annoyed and pretentious with anyone who tries to sell me on a “real” job. Because I’ve had a “real” job and was quite unhappy with it, and why they would wish that awful fate upon me must have to do with some sort of sadistic pleasure they derive from seeing me suffer. ;p


with all due respect, mswas I think you’re conflating two different concepts: enlightened self interest and artistic inspiration. The two aren’t mutually exclusive but they don’t always coincide. Think of someone who is inspired to spend his or her life writing a horrible unreadable novel at the cost of career, family etc.

Also as far As David Blaine goes, I think a lot of the reception he’s getting isn’t out of some philosophical dispute but rather beacuse, IMHO and apparently in alot of Brit’s HO, He’s an annoying attention seeker. Think irritating street mime raised to the nth degree. The British reception is rude and unclassy–far better to ignore him–but the motivation behind it is understandable.

Also, Zenster I don’t see why enlightened self interest is any less tainted by social programming than any other motives. In modern American culture there seems to be a hell of alot of social programming directed at getting ahead at any cost. If I choose to give a dollar to someone who really needs it or to spend it on a cheeseburger, why is the one necessarily more socially programmed than the other.

Larry: First of all, I did not use the word “enlightened” in my post at all.

Second of all, it seems you assume that family and career is somehow a more worthwhile goal than writing the novel. Personally I think the opposite. However, I don’t really believe that one way is inherently better than another. If society did a better job of taking care of it’s own, then it wouldn’t be so much of an issue, and the art that DOES benefit society is created by the same manner of single-mindedness that the person who writes the crappy novel possesses.

Personally I think the British reaction is great. F*** class. They are making it a much more interesting art piece than it would have been otherwise, and if he’s doing it for some sort of spiritual motive of his own, that we don’t necessarily know, then I’d imagine he’s getting a lot more out of it because of the British reaction than he would just starving on his own, but hey, that’s why you would do something like that publically right?

I’m not so interested in convincing people one way or another about it, just in understanding why people care so much about politics. Politics is self-expression much like art, and killing an Arab is just as much an act of communication as painting a portrait. It’s when we elevate politics to a level above art that the dishonesty enters the equation. All we can do is express how we see it, claiming a certain level of importance beyond one’s own simple desire to express is disingenuous in my opinion. However, don’t take this to mean that I think such communication is not important, as that would be the exact opposite of my beliefs on the subject.


Why isn’t self-interest a valuable motive?

Well mainly because there is no such thing as self-interest. Humankind is a collective creature and the acts of the individual within only have merit or non-merit when considered with the desired direction of the whole.

I wish I could tie this truth in with the guy in the box but I can’t.

Well, while I agree with the idea of collectivism, I believe a collective is made up of individuals, and therefore if we are truly in touch with the collective, then whatever our actions may be, then they are the correct ones. Otherwise it’s like the arm telling the uterus, it’s doing it’s job incorrectly.


You are, of course, wrong: the whole itself has no desired direction, any more than evolution has a desired direction that culminates in human intelligence. I have a direction. You have a direction. You and I have nothing together. If we did, it would only have meaning because you and I are both individuals with individual goals best satisfied by confederation.

How to tie it in with the guy in the London sky? He’s in it for himself - for attention. No other reason than that. It’s not wrong, necessarily, but it takes a lot of hubris to think people would find that interesting. If you don’t like hubris, then you won’t like Mr. Blaine.

If you use odd definitions, this’s prob’ly true.

I don’t think that “hunger strike” is an accurate term.

"Why isn’t it enough that an artist can say, ‘I just feel compelled.’ "
If it’s enough for an “artist” to say “I just feel compelled”, why is it not enough for his detractors to say “I just feel compelled”? “Why are you throwing things at Blaine?” “Eh, I just feel compelled.”

Why? And who get’s to decide what is enlightened and what is not?

**“Why isn’t self-interest a valuable motive?” **

**Well mainly because there is no such thing as self-interest. Humankind is a collective creature and the acts of the individuals within only have merit or non-merit when considered with the desired direction of the whole.

I wish I could tie this truth in with the guy in the box but I can’t.**

Eeek! Please don’t close down this thread. After thinking about it a bit, I think, I know I can, draw an analogy between what I said and the crazy man in the suspended box. Forgive me for quoting myself, but listen…

Like the man in the box suspended by wires in a box over a river in London,and no one seems to give a damn , any man who exists totally in a vacuum, for example, like a man isolated on Mars, has no relevance to the continuity of human life on earth.

Only continuity has relevance. It is obvious that only through the interactive minds of all mankind can the purpose of mankind be realized and discovered. And our wee little bitty human minds can’t conceptulize the extistence of anything, including ourselves, without a purpose.

But these thoughts are fundamental, don’t you think?

Whence existentialism?

…**existentialism? - SimonX

Why no SimonX, Determinism with an asterisk!**

Wow, did it get all colourful in here all of a sudden? My eyes!

For the record, we (Blain-baiting-Brits) see nothing particularly wrong in his self-interest, it is the extraneous cant and pseudo-spiritual pretension that he wraps his pointless little performance in that riles us.

There’s a current thread in The Pit that’s never too far from the top that expands upon this.

Well now isn’t it cute that a Brit has interjected a non sequitur into this discussion. Ha ha, the brits, what a ball of laughts. And to think that once they were decadent.