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Specific word to replace one common definition of 'selfish'

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There is one common use of the word selfish, which I hope to find a good word or phrase as replacement. I will first give an example of the word, then attempt to give a good definition.

For my example, I'm going to use Medicare. I was watching a politically conservative commentator who was interviewing a group of 'tea-party' senior citizens. After many of them proclaimed how wrong it was for government to grow, for everyone to pay for everyone's medical care, for bailouts, and so forth, somebody said, "And they're cutting our medicare benefits?"

WHAT THE HELL? Why can't a senior say, "Yeah, you know, I voted for Medicare supporting politicians, I relied on Medicare, and I was wrong. I deserve to reap the consequences of my immoral and irrational years of evading reality." ?

Along those lines, why the hell should we send troops to stabilize regions with oil so we can buy it from the area's dictator's? We're not entitled to that oil (there's a broader argument about whether we can appropriate it directly, but lets ignore that).

Normally, these examples are of something that our modern culture calls 'selfishness'. Yes, technically, the issue at hand is self-interest. The seniors benefit from not having to cover their own medical expenses (above and beyond anything they ever paid into Medicare). But it's not rational self-interest.

So what's a good word/phrase for: a character trait that pursues self-interest in a manner that requires for its successful completion an objectively improper exploitation of others through a violation of their rights.

This is characterized too by a paranoid, vicious sense of entitlement. If I feel like I've really worked for something, I'll defend my right to it - if reality is on my side. But this sort of 'selfishness' involves a sense of entitlement to whatever might be available - only because it's available.

Another example: People with pre-existing conditions who ride mild thrill rides, and get injured, and sue. Their suits have nothing to do with the proper functioning of the ride, and are merely about "they have money, I want money, I got lucky because I got hurt". WHAT THE HELL?

So, what's the word?

I would say 'entitlement princess', but it doesn't have a ring, and barely connotes viciousness. 'terrified by reality' is maybe another. 'spiritually void'. Help me out here.

Edited by ZSorenson
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Oh my...I was actually thinking about this last night. I went to a party and they served chips or something, and this guy came and pretty much took hold of everything, without giving a damn about anyone else in the room. Everyone was so upset and started talking about how selfish he was and everything, but I was just looking for some other word. Maybe this isn't a good example, but I was basically looking for something to replace "irrational self-interest" too. Something that can also fit your examples.

Edited by 0096 2251 2110 8105
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Well, this sort of mentality is what lawyers love. I mean, heaven forbid two parties sign a contract, it goes unfulfilled, and in the end one willingly takes losses because they are honest about their role. People seem to feel they need to take all the can squeeze out of a situation. Let's say you promised something, and the other party misplaced their notarized copy, or recording or whatever evidence. You can't just screw them because they 'should have been more careful' and the court will side with you.

That's another example. And I really hate this sort of mentality, and I think 'selfish' is too dignified a word for it.

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I believe "mooch", or "leach" is apt in these situations, or dickhead like Jackethan said.

Telling these people that they have a "concrete bound mentality" can open up a can of worms in most cases.


Edited by JayR
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It'd probably be easier to just let them keep the word selfish as a negative pejorative (if only because of how rediculously entrenched it is), and within our own circles just start using rationally self interested for any cases where we are avoiding the typical negative connotation.

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Jerk, asshole, bastard ... there are many more like these, take your pick. :)

Or if you are looking for a more formal-sounding term, I think "liberal" would capture it well. It's sad to see a word that originally meant "an advocate of liberty" become so badly corrupted, but I think most people today will have no trouble guessing what you mean when you say "Did you see how that guy took all the chips for himself? What a liberal!"

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Throughout history, cultures have used the name of their enemies as the ultimate swear word. Barbarian first, cretan, papist, yankee, etc. etc.

Today we're so politically correct there is no epithet sufficiently powerful for comparison.

Asshole - yes, that's the closest, but it lacks personal emotional weight. Marxist used to work; commie was used a lot too. But those are now considered maybe good thing. Jihadi should be the ultimate epithet of our age - but noooooo.....

So I guess we can anticipate the next conflict, keeping the emotional relevance of today. Take your biggest enemy, and hit him hardest where it hurts him the most.

Collectivist elitists tend to have two soft spots. The first is the status of their elitism - they are desperate to preserve it, and perhaps their most sensitive weak spot. The second is the reality that people can get away with not agreeing with them. This has everything to do with the first, but is worth noting separately because it has more to do with people who both socially do not agree to the norms and standards of the elite, as well as and importantly having to do with people actually defending their right to make independent judgments and keep the products of their labors for their own use.

"Crimson rednecks"? - Harvard educated but just as useless and ignorant as the stereotypical rural racist (their perspective)?

That doesn't work for me, because it's sort of lame and doesn't immediately cause the proper integration of ideas. Epithets, like narratives, integrate meaningful ideas for the sake of absorbing emotional energy (correctly or incorrectly). This also has little to do with the original character trait I was hoping to describe. But I feel like I'm moving in the right direction.

I mean, we don't have one single cultural touchstone nowadays for negative attention. For the left, it's Sarah Palin - but a whole lot of people don't share that viewpoint. Tiger Woods, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson - there are a few notable celebrities that draw attention, but not in the right way.

It's as if the 'Idiocracy' movie is coming true, and the most intelligent touchstone we have in common for someone negative is "DUMB ASS". Cretin, huh? Well, Idiocrat is sort of funny...

Going back to my character trait, 'selfish', I think I'd now best define it as someone who lacks integrity. A brutish pragmatist: someone who doesn't live by standards, but just takes what's in front of his face with no thought to the past or future. No integrity, no perspective. So some synonyms: vacillate, flip-flop; short-sighted, clueless. An Obama? Just kidding. I'm going to think this over for a sec, write my best effort to make up this word/phrase I'm looking for, and then I'll drop it for a while.


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I think "leech" is a pretty good one, as JayR noted. There are more than one type of them, so you could use "brute" in some circumstances, while in others use "leech." I don't find it that difficult finding an appropriate word for them.

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I'm recalling a quote from head coach Sam Wyche of the Bengals during Super Bowl XXIII. He was lecturing his players on the sideline saying "Don't be a selfish ballplayer. When we give you the ball, do your job. When we don't give you the ball, do your job again."

Anyone remember this? Try substituting a better word for "selfish" in that one and see how that sounds.

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I'd use: narcissist, amoralist, thug, scumbag. And of course, the Ayn Rand classic terms of looter, moocher, and parasite.

I always cringe when I hear someone trot out the team sports admonition of "Don't be a selfish player." The implication is that a member of a team has to choose between personal glory and having his team win. Which is, of course, ludicrous. Any rational team sports athlete has to know that his best chance of success is to win, which means that not only does he have to be at his best but he has to create conditions for his fellow team members to be at their best. I'd love for coaches and commentators to use another term rather than selfish for someone who is a ball/puck hog. Maybe this type of behavior should be referred to as "team sabotaging" or "game wasting" or maybe "opportunity losing."

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I always cringe when I hear someone trot out the team sports admonition of "Don't be a selfish player." The implication is that a member of a team has to choose between personal glory and having his team win. Which is, of course, ludicrous. Any rational team sports athlete has to know that his best chance of success is to win, which means that not only does he have to be at his best but he has to create conditions for his fellow team members to be at their best. I'd love for coaches and commentators to use another term rather than selfish for someone who is a ball/puck hog. Maybe this type of behavior should be referred to as "team sabotaging" or "game wasting" or maybe "opportunity losing."

Or self-aggrandizing?

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  • 4 months later...

I haven't found a good replacement yet, but I think the right place to look is around the concept of 'exploitative'. There are unfortunate Marxist connotations with the word, but those aside, it's a good place to start.

The selfishness of mankind is a philosophical fact. In fact, it is because each human is distinct from any other human as well as selfish that love and concern for others is even possible.

Exploitation is only possible through 'forcing' or 'fooling'. Therefore, what modern and traditional society tend to think of as 'selfish' is only possible when people are fooled into not being selfish.

Unfortunately, exploitation has a historical connotation that's quite good - the conversion of resources into useful products. So I wish there were a more human and ethical related word that was synonymus with exploitation.

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I'm looking at this somewhat differently. I think Rand made a mistake in taking words and tweaking their commonly-used definition.

The MErriam-Webster definition of selfish is:

1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

2: arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>

While Rand spoke out for self-interest, she did not indicate that one must have no regard for others.

So, when someone hogs all the shrimp at a party and is called selfish, that's perfectly correct. That person has no consideration and is rude. There's no need to find another word. The dictionary already has a perfectly good one.

Rand did the same with sacrifice: Here are definitions I found:

a. The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person.

b. A victim offered in this way.


a. Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.

b. Something so forfeited.

All definitions I found include the offering to deity. Several (as above) give the definition of forfeiting something to get a GREATER value.

These definitions are not about giving up that which is precious for something less precious (although this is included in some minor definitions).

As far as I can see, playing with common definitions has led to totally needless discussions, arguments and word-salad. (Just take a look at any objectivist forum) By changing the common usage of words and substituting her own, Rand only made things more confusing.

I recall several years ago, on some objectivist forum, a young man was describing an argument he had in a bar with some stranger (already plenty of red flags there!). Seems the bar-mate was a tad liberal. As the "liberal" started to leave, the young objectivist poster, according to his own words, yelled after him: "You're an altruist!" Talk about confusing those present. The objectivist was using (without even defining, in this instance) a word commonly used as a positive and slinging it as an insult.

Anyway, I consider playing these word games a mistake which invariably leads to misunderstanding. Just take a look at some of the posts here. So many deal with definitions instead of getting to an actual idea. If you can't even agree on what a word means, there's a problem. And tweaking definitions and using them in a way the rest of the population doesn't doesn't facilitate understanding. Only arguments.

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I don't know if it's a poor definition, but it is a definition, and one that I know lots of people subscribe to. To just change definitions and expect people to understand is asking for trouble.

As for alienating other people, that's my point. By acting with disregard for other people (that's a part of just about every definition I found), you DO alient people. So by acting selfishly (using the dictionary definition), you risk alienation. I don't think that's what Rand had in mind. As a matter of fact, I think it most frequently is in our self-interest to be considerate of people instead of selfish. Take that damn shrimp on that table over there - you'll probably get more out of the evening (like a couple of cool phone numbers) if you hand the platter around rather than "selfishly" hogging the stuff.

Rand put a lot of emphasis on selfishness and, in my opinion, not enough on plain considerate behavior toward our fellow man. I mean, take her famous example of the mother with the baby who really, really wants a hat. According to Rand, if she's the kind of mother (good lord!) who prefers the hat to the baby, that's the way for her to go. Look, I don't care if the damn hat gives mama an orgasm, her responsibility is to the kid, first and foremost. Yes, since the kid can't take care of itself, and mom chose to have and raise it, it's the mother's duty (oooh, another hot button word there) to act responsibly. Buck it up, fuck the hat, get the baby food.

But really, don't you think that these word definitions (and changes thereof) have caused a lot of confusion among objectivists? Especially when the definitions have totally opposite meanings?

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