Lindsay Perigo: Self-Respect, Not Self-Obsession
Yesterday I was a tad under the weather from staying up very late the night before, talking & quaffing with friends into the wee hours. It was one of those "meaning of life" conversations, with some good-natured sparring punctuating its more serious threads. One of the participants must have been VERY distracted by it all ... a mobile phone announced its presence with some ghastly tune somewhere in my apartment yesterday afternoon, while I was otherwise engaged. I have yet to track it or its forgetful owner down.
Anyway, one of the subjects that came up was the mistake of equating individualism with unhealthy self-absorption. We had all noticed a tendency among some Objectivists & libertarians - usually American ones! - to have one topic of conversation only: themselves. They are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the existence or significance of anyone else other than as a sounding board for their own monologues. It's a kind of psychological solipsism, & actually, it's not confined to - nor is it by any means universal among - American Objectivists & libertarians.
It's a huge mistake to equate it with individualism. There is a crucial difference between self-esteem & self-obsession. An individualist has self-respect - or at least, seeks to earn it. He values himself, realistically. He knows that he is not the centre of THE universe, but makes himself the centre of HIS universe - in which he takes pains to include other shining stars. As an extension of his own values, he values others who embody them - makes time for them, listens to them, supports them if necessary - as a matter of justice, & self-interested benevolence. He shows respect for their status as human beings intellectually & morally, just as he respects their rights legally & politically. Just as he is not their doormat, neither does he treat THEM as doormats.
All of this is obvious & uncontentious. Sometimes the obvious bears repeating. I've seen enough of the mistaken kind of "individualism" to want to do a longer editorial about it in my magazine. I'll probably call it: Another Awry Alternative - Altruist or Asshole.
For Lindsay Perigo's daily "Politically Incorrect Show" editorials, visit: www.freeradical.co.nz or listen to Radio Pacific from noon to 2pm weekdays.