Confession: I’m a Selfish Voter

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Introduction

Narcissistic nationalism has turned selfish voting into a cultural drama show, with many layers of emotional lashings being aimed at various parties. However, under the clear “us vs. them” attitude of selfishness is a much larger issue of how a holistic understanding and application of selfishness is essential for the health of a free society. Although the collective actions and the colloquial understanding of the concepts reveal the levels at which most people are operating, it does not cut off the possibilities for enlarging the discussion of what it means to be a selfish voter.

Narcissistic Nationalism

First some definitions when considering the concept of selfish voting:

Narcissistic: Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism. (Mayo Clinic)

Nationalism: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. (Merriam-Webster)

Nationalism is narcissism taken to a cultural level of embodiment, and this has been the overwhelming trend around the world. The United Kingdom’s choice to leave the European Union is one of many reflections available in the rising international tide of nationalism which ultimately stems from the pressure put upon communities through dwindling resources, inflation, and lingering prejudices. However, at one level it is natural for voters to be selfish, for they are voting in their self-interest. One of the issues with this limited freedom of voting is that sometimes people do not know what it truly in their best interest. 

This could be due to propaganda and misinformation, religious beliefs which contradict the needs of reality, prejudice which puts the value of hate before quality, mistakes made due to being emotionally overwhelmed, or pure stupidity. Philosopher Paul E Meehl who wrote, “The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument” had a deep understanding of the complexity of this issue of selfishness, and he is quoted as “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything whatsoever upon insufficient evidence” (Meehl; Grove). However, it appears that insufficient evidence is what supports most ideas today, especially the idea of the self, which if not understood “selfishness” has no foundation on which to have a meaning. 

The Self?

First a definition:

Self: a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action. ‘Our alienation from our true selves’ 1

This question begs a host of questions in examination, namely “What do people use to distinguish themselves from others?” [and] “Do those qualifiers have anything to do with the concept of a ‘true self’?” Usually people define themselves by what they do, their likes and dislikes, their heritage, and socioeconomic factors. These are the elements which will motivate people when voting, but even when mixed up into the soup of collectivism, people really do have far more in common with each other than they are different: “On average, in terms of DNA sequence all humans are 99.5% similar to any other humans.” 2  This is incredible, but it begs the question if all humanity is only 5% different from each other, what makes a self in that mix capable of being selfish?

Those who come at this question from the point of spirituality vary differently on the question extremely. Buddhists say there is no such thing as a self, new agers say that the self is a construct of a limited ego cutting one off from the limitlessness of their essential nature, and others claim that the self is the divine manifesting itself through each and every unique person, 5% difference or not. 3 However, usually such in depth inquiry is not what people are referring to when they confess or accuse someone of selfishness. The common colloquial meaning of selfishness is “that which does not benefit me.” Therein lies a paradox, for to accuse someone of selfishness even colloquially one must engage in selfishness, but usually people will not own up to this, and hide their selfishness through the concept of altruism, or the “common good”, whatever that is. 

The issue, or stigma of “selfishness” is a relatively new one to even be discussed because for hundreds of years of Christian oppression it was considered a cardinal sin, and not discussed. However, selfishness is not a black and white issue of always putting ones needs above others no matter what, for, to love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of , is capable of love – because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed value. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone. (Rand).

Thus, the effort of the European Union is to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the collective, which ideally would provide a context for everyone to be selfish as the EU’s mission is to increase stability and economic growth through peace. As “In a free society, one does not have to deal with those who are irrational. One is free to avoid them” (Rand). The read and dangerous issue of selfishness is when it turns violent, threatening the fabric of the community. 

This violence of irrationality is seen throughout the world as terrorism, mass shootings, and the insanity of people attacking themselves and others. How the community responds to this threat is through proposing changes and voting on them. However, for those who cannot see where their personal interests coincide with the collective, voting is no simple issue. After all, “Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer – and that is the way he has acted through most of his history” (Rand). While this is true, the efforts of the EU are trying to overcome man’s tendency to destroy himself and the biosphere, promoting peace throughout the continent. 

Brexit and Selfish Voting

The issue of being a selfish voter saw a resurgence with the vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. While the entire issue was complicated by the many reasons people may not act in their best interests (propaganda and misinformation, religious beliefs, prejudice, age, emotions, stupidity, etc.) the Brexit vote revealed one key aspect to the discussion that has yet to be broached-laziness. Two polling predictions warned the U.K. of the impact of who voted, “Those with the least to fear from a Brexit were most likely to vote for it. Those with most to lose, and therefore more inclined to vote against it, were less likely to vote at all” (Daly). This is what occurred, and the younger generation is terrified and offended by the “selfishness” with which the older generation voted to leave. 

However, the question remains what right have they to be upset when they did not vote? In this case, Britian could have used a lot more selfish voting, as a good amount of self-interested people missed out on safegaruding their long-term self interest for the short term self-interest of sleeping, movie watching, video gaming, and all the little things which in hindsight do not seem as important. 

This reality was only realized too late, after the media reported to the younger generation who did not vote what they just gave up. One comment which went viral after being posted on Financial Times speaks one the tragedies of being wrongly self-interested in moments of important collective choices; the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors…we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in Wells novel. (Daly)

A man in a strong position to know how the collective tides have turned, Bill Bryson, American expatriate, and British writer, commented with simplicity. He said, “‘Britain used to be a much more orderly and well-behaved society,’ he told The Times. ‘Now, the British have become more greedy and selfish, more like the American model, except they haven’t quite mastered it yet…he felt the EU referendum was ‘a completely emotional event, not an intellectual one’, and reflected a Euroscepticism in the UK that he remembered from the 1980s. (Vulliamy). 

This sums up what happens when narcissistic nationalism is confused with selfishness, mixed in with a heaping serving of laziness, and general malaise. 

Conclusion

Selfish voting could be the act of self-aware individuals making rational choices based on the best of many limited options. However, today selfish voting is a catty dance of cruelty, trickery, and prejudice masked over as democracy. It is up to each individual to see the lines of falsity which run through such actions, and detach themselves from the petty and paltry in service of their authentic selfishness which is a balanced and compassionate approach to living in community with others. However, the trends of evolution, public education, and violence do not suggest this is occurring right now.

Notes

1: Result of a Google Search: what is the self?

2: Found in Human genetic variation in Wikipedia-a truly amazing fact, which if people embraced in their minds and hearts should eradicate all prejudice. 5% difference is nothing. 

3: Pretty much everything and nothing has been said about what is the self, and ultimately it is up to each individual to decide what they believe is their self, and to what degree they will hold to it through selfishness, and what that looks like.

Works Cited

Daly, Susan. “’A vote for selfishness’: The battle of millennials and Brexit-voting boomers.” The Journal ie, 25 June 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.thejournal.ie/millennials-baby-boomers-2843596-Jun2016/

Grove, William M. Thinking Clearly about Psychology: Essays in Honor of Paul E. Meehl, Volume 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. 

Mayo Clinic. “Narcissistic personality disorder.” Mayoclinic.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20025568

Meehl, Paul E. “The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument.” The American Political Science Review. Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1977), pp. 11-30. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1956951?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Merriam-Webster. “Nationalism.” Merriam-webster.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism

Rand, Ayn. “The Virtue of Selfishness Quotes.” Goodreads.com, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/443285-the-virtue-of-selfishness-a-new-concept-of-egoism

Vulliamy, Elsa. “Bill Bryson: 'The British have become more greedy and selfish' like the US. ” The Indpendent, 25 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/bill-bryson-brexit-american-us-election-eu-referendum-british-have-become-more-greedy-and-selfish-a7102706.html