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Continuing the analysis of the Yahoo! Finance article 21 Ways Rich People Think Differenly, a condensed “interview” with Steve Siebold, author of How Rich People Think.

2. Average people think selfishness is a vice. Rich people think selfishness is a virtue.

“The rich go out there and try to make themselves happy. They don’t try to pretend to save the world,” Siebold told Business Insider.

The problem is that middle class people see that as a negative––and it’s keeping them poor, he writes.

“If you’re not taking care of you, you’re not in a position to help anyone else. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

This is wrong on so many levels . . . and yet it contains a kernel of absolute truth.

The main problem with this “way” lies in the definition of “selfishness” and in how Mr. Siebold thinks he’s using it. The common definition means one thing, but there’s also a different definition, the Randian definition, which is somewhat non-intuitive.

First of all, let me say that, while Ayd Rand was quite likely a sociopath (and most of her ideas were entirely wrong-headed), she wasn’t quite the cold-hearted elitist bastitch that many people believe her to have been. She did indeed write a book called The Virtue of Selfishness, but, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya .  . she did not think it means what you think it means.

On the one hand, the common definition of selfishness is along the lines of “acquiring or hoarding resources at the expense of those around you.” But Rand defined it much more broadly and inclusively, stating that any action that brings a person benefit—be that benefit monetary, spiritual, emotional, educational, or anything else—is “selfish”; that is, you do it because you want to do it, because it makes you feel good or benefits you in some way. In this light, donating to charity is “selfish” because it makes you feel good to help others; learning CPR is “selfish” because it gives you a useful skill; and (an example that Rand herself actually used) taking a bullet for a loved one is “selfish” because death may be preferable to life without said person. In fact, by being “selfish” in the common sense, one cannot be “selfish” in the Randian sense, because hoarding resources at the expense of those around one is actually harmful to oneself in the long run.

The problem is, Siebold seems to be trying to use both definitions at the same time. In the first paragraph, he describes common selfishness, the kind of selfishness that people rightly believe to be a bad thing. But in the third paragraph, he invokes the Randian definition of selfishness . . . and then goes on to imply that, somehow, only rich people think this way.

This is so much bullshit!

I think I’m not making too bold a statement when I say that everybody who isn’t a) a raging asshole or b) a sociopath is “selfish” in the Randian sense. Why? Two main reasons.

First, we learn pretty early on that being “selfish” in the common sense pisses people off, and people who are pissed off at us likely won’t help us when we need it. It’s all part of what we learn about community as we grow up. Usually, by the time we’re adults, we know that taking stuff away from our neighbors will likely mean that said neighbors won’t lift a finger when, say, our house catches fire or we lose our job.

Second, we also learn pretty early on that being “selfish” in the Randian sense makes people like us. Generally, as long as we’re meeting our own needs and don’t feel taken advantage of, we’re happy to help those around us when they need it, because sharing and helping others makes them more well-disposed towards us and more likely to help us out when we find ourselves in a bad way. Some people extend this only to immediate family, others to family and friends, and still others to a much larger community, but pretty much everybody does it to some extent.

Here’s the thing, though: according to every scientific study on the subject, the more money a person has, the less they care about those around them. Think that’s bullshit? Then read these articles:

Scientific American: How Wealth Reduces Compassion

Association for Psychological Science: Weathy lack empathy, generosity of lower classes, study finds

Wired Science: Greed Isn’t Good: Wealth Could Make People Unethical

So, to put it bluntly, Randian selfishness decreases as you go up the wealth ladder . . . and common selfishness increases. So, far from being the paragons of the Randian ideal, rich people are, in fact, far more likely to be assholes. And “average people” are right to call that a vice!

Oh, and the kernel of truth? “If you’re not taking care of you, you’re not in a position to help anyone else. You can’t give what you don’t have.” And few know this better than a poor or working class person.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into a little thing called “energy” and why the rich have so much of it, whereas the poor have very little.


Previously in this series: Prelude and Introduction | Part 1

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