I had an interesting conversation with my friend Paul last week. We were discussing socially-responsible investing via chat. The conversation eventually turned more philosophical:
5:27:50 PM radiofreewog: I can’t let my ego control my behavior
5:28:05 PM jdroth: ?
5:28:07 PM jdroth: Ego is all there is.
5:28:13 PM jdroth: :)
5:28:27 PM radiofreewog: hmmm
5:28:42 PM radiofreewog: getting beyond ego is all there is
5:29:40 PM jdroth: “getting beyond ego” is just ego.
5:29:51 PM radiofreewog: no
5:30:01 PM radiofreewog: beyond ego is selflessness
5:30:27 PM jdroth: Selflessness is just another form of selfishness.
5:30:52 PM radiofreewog: i don’t agree
5:31:03 PM jdroth: (I don’t really agree, either. I’m just stirring the pot.)
5:31:25 PM radiofreewog: there is not pot to stir, JDsan
5:31:27 PM jdroth: (But I think it’s impossible to act without ego. Minimize, maybe. But impossible to “go beyond ego”.)
5:31:38 PM radiofreewog: not impossible
5:31:42 PM radiofreewog: difficult
5:31:49 PM radiofreewog: very difficult
This is an interesting concept, and one on which Paul and I are not likely ever to agree. He has spent the last several years looking inward, striving for a sort of spiritual realize through selflessness. He and Susan spent a week (ten days?) at a silent retreat as part of this quest. It’s an admirable thing on many levels, but I’m not ready to agree that it’s possible for any human being to achieve selflessness. I really do believe that selfishness is at the core of our interest. (Though perhaps I’m defining selfishness in a way that most people would classify as “self-interest”.) The conversation continued:
5:33:44 PM radiofreewog: it is your reaction to the entry of ego that defines selflessness
5:33:57 PM radiofreewog: complete slavery to ego is the American way
5:34:32 PM radiofreewog: there are those that do not react to the ego entering the mind and control their actions rationally
5:34:49 PM jdroth: But what is “rationally”?
5:34:50 PM radiofreewog: they experience nirvana
5:34:56 PM jdroth: How is that defined?
5:35:01 PM jdroth: Who is to say what is rational?
5:35:07 PM jdroth: And why is acting egotistically bad?
5:35:26 PM jdroth: If we didn’t act in our own self-interest, we’d still be living in the trees.
5:35:35 PM jdroth: ALL animals act in their own self-interest.
5:35:38 PM radiofreewog: ego keeps you from being successful
5:35:47 PM jdroth: Come to think of it, all living things of any sort do.
5:35:52 PM radiofreewog: we are not “animals”
5:35:57 PM jdroth: I’d argue that ego is the only thing that makes you succesful.
5:36:01 PM jdroth: We most certainly are!
5:36:18 PM radiofreewog: biologically true
5:36:28 PM jdroth: And rationally. :)
5:36:30 PM radiofreewog: psychologically
5:36:38 PM radiofreewog: not true
5:36:53 PM jdroth: What do you mean by psychologically not true?
5:37:16 PM radiofreewog: i am a different psychological animal than the dog
And here, of course, we reach a topic near and dear to my heart: animal intelligence. I find it curious that so many people elevate humans so far beyond other animals. I can understand when this is argued from a religious perspective. There’s a logic behind that. (Whether I agree with the logic is another matter, but at least I recognize that the belief has a source.) But if, as in Paul’s case, you’re essentially an atheist and an evolutionist, then I believe it’s quite clear that from fish to dog to human is simply a matter of degrees. If we don’t perceive the emotional needs of chickens or moose, it’s simply because we’re approaching them from a human-centered universe. (If you want selflessness, move beyond that viewpoint!)
5:38:27 PM radiofreewog: dog = maslows lowest level of needs
5:38:41 PM radiofreewog: no higher
5:38:44 PM jdroth: You don’t think a dog needs to be self-actualized?
5:38:53 PM jdroth: (Maslow.)
5:39:42 PM jdroth: I guarantee that most animals need love/belonging (level 3)
5:39:43 PM radiofreewog: a dog does not self actualize
5:39:53 PM radiofreewog: only for DNA purposes
5:39:55 PM jdroth: I know that some animals need esteem (level 4)
5:40:10 PM radiofreewog: how?
5:40:26 PM jdroth: You’re being remarkably anthro-centric, especially for Paul! (Who I don’t think of in this regard.)
5:40:32 PM radiofreewog: love and belonging are correlated with food and protection
5:40:57 PM jdroth: ?
5:41:17 PM jdroth: If you’re going to say that particular level doesn’t apply to animals, then why does it apply to humans?
5:41:36 PM radiofreewog: because we are different
5:41:40 PM radiofreewog: HA!
5:41:42 PM radiofreewog: I win
I’ll grant that I don’t have any immediate specific examples of a cat expressing creativity or confidence or desiring respect. (All of these would be examples of Maslow’s fourth level.) Or do I? Who is to say what my cat Simon thinks and feels. Yes, I believe it’s a mistake to project our own attitudes onto animals. But as I wrote elsewhere recently, I think that’s a mistake that’s less likely to be made than to ignore the possible mental states of animals completely. Just because we don’t understand them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.