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Me vs. We

November 7, 2010

We’ve all heard it before- “There’s no I in teamwork”, says your 3rd grade gym teacher, “you can’t work well with others unless you cooperate and listen to everyone!” Logical? Yes. Idealist? Perhaps. In a cutthroat, selfish world where the state of nature is supposed to be man against man, all men for themselves, are we supposed to listen to Rousseau’s declaration of the general will vs. the will of all?


The general will seems to make the most sense. We all agree on something, and if someone doesn’t agree but the majority does, then they must secede and cooperate with the opinion of the masses. That said, when you are making a decision, are you more likely to think “How will this benefit everyone?” or “How will this benefit me?” Hobbes did have one thing right- we tend to fend for ourselves. When voting on a candidate that proposes tax cuts for the wealthy, if you’re in the upper percentage of wealth in our country, you’re more likely to vote for that candidate than someone who wishes to raise taxes for the wealthy. It’s not an Us vs. Them world, it’s a Me vs. You world. Decisions are not made with the majority in mind, but the individual.


Although we are often required to make decisions involving more people than just ourselves (i.e. a family budget), but, more often than not, we make decisions based on how they will affect us individually. I’m not going to vote for a candidate that I don’t agree with, and it’s likely that there isn’t a candidate that I agree with entirely, but I’m going to vote for the candidate that I most agree with and that I think will, if elected, yield the most benefit for me. Democracy is selfish- we vote for representatives that we believe will be the best and make decisions that will be most beneficial to us, regardless of what may be best for the majority.



  1. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    November 7, 2010 7:29 PM

    I agree with the view presented in this article, it may be sad, but everyone wants to benefit themselves. There is a constant state of competition between every individual, and because of this competition, we seek to benefit ourselves to be ahead of others. As already discussed in the article, this concept can be applied to politics. Therefore, we vote based on our own interest. But due to the nature of the American politics, individuals will join with others for their interest, creating a group that reflects self-interest.

    • dmalks permalink
      November 10, 2010 1:40 AM

      I agree with the most of the above comment, but I think ideally people will think about how their decisions affect others. Although this is the ideal situation, it does not work out that way because it is impossible to please everyone and therefore we often times don’t even try and just focus on ourselves.

  2. crorey permalink
    November 7, 2010 8:58 PM

    I agree that we do definitely think about what benefits ourselves the most when making decisions. I know that when I say a proposal should take place because it’s best for the most number of people, deep down I know it’s best for me and the fact that it would benefit others as well is just a bonus. People may think they are doing what is best for everyone, but they are really doing what is best for themselves, and what is best for you might coincidentally be what is best for everyone. For example, if I was poor and so was the majority of the nation, I would vote for a law that gave money to the poor, and the majority of people would also vote the same way because they are poor too. Therefore, I would be voting for what’s best for the nation and what is simultaneously best for me. Some people may vote against what others would predict them to vote for, but there is usually an underlying reason that really does benefit the voter, such as a relief of conscience. For example, If I screwed some poor people over on my way up to the top of the foodchain, I would feel bad and probably vote on something that helps the poor in order to clear my conscience. It is obvious that people do what benefits them the most and not what’s best for others unless what’s best for others benefits themselves as well.

  3. Zac Hiller permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:26 PM

    I personally think this question depends on the situation. Granted, in most instances people think for themselves and are inherently self-fish however, there are plenty of people that do put others before themselves. As you said “there is no I in teamwork” reminds me of playing sports. When I played ice hockey I was more concerned with assist then goals. Other kids were known as “puck hogs.” These kids clearly did not care about the team and instead wanted the limelight and score the goals. Teams with puck hogs never seemed to win as much as teams with passers (like myself) that thought about winning before individual statistics. All in all, I think naturally, people look to better themselves however depending on the situation people will think of the group.

  4. November 7, 2010 9:57 PM

    You cannot help anybody else if you don’t help yourself first. If your health and well being is not your own concern, whose priority will it be? Am I really suppose to trust someone to cherish my life, in conjugation with others that compose the masses, over their own? Yeah right! Besides, if I cease, as a result of neglecting myself, I won’t be around to do service to anyone, including the common wealth. That’s way they instruct you to secure you own face mask before helping anyone else, when on a plane in a dangerous situation. I’m not selfish at all. I’m all for helping people, but I come first. There’s an equilibrium between self-sacrafice and self-interest. I don’t agree with devoting your entire being to the common wealth! Ha!

  5. seangordon permalink
    November 7, 2010 10:03 PM

    I like what user crorey says here about what could cause some discrepancy in how we could account for people’s voting trends, ideas, etc. Conscience relief can play a big role in how people feel and this is argued among many of the different thinkers in our reading. In my personal opinion, however, a person’s own needs and desires come before other outliers like the relief of one’s conscience for example.

  6. maxerich permalink
    November 7, 2010 10:39 PM

    I feel that as a single individual, people will tend to fend for themselves and most of the examples above apply. People will act selfishly when they only have to care about themselves. I do not feel this applies when one is responsible for other people for example when someone gets married and his a family. When someone gets married, they may have to sacrifice things to keep the marriage healthy and their partners happy. in this instance, they are not looking out for themselves. Instead of a me me me mentality, the me becomes secondary to what can i do for my family. There are many people whose happiness comes from making their loved ones happy.

  7. yequan permalink
    November 7, 2010 11:20 PM

    I believe that a real and rational person should always act selfishly because this is people’s nature. A man doesn’t consider himself most important is kind of weird, as we are all self-interest. However, when people try to make a decision, he should also consider others’ benefit if his own property is preserved well. Because that action can lead to the stabilize society and benefits himself indirectly.

  8. amoyes permalink
    November 7, 2010 11:34 PM

    I do agree that people think primarily for themselves when making decisions. We live in a greedy society and thus, its about bettering ourselves. However, in reality we do not make decisions like that. Yeah, its nice to gain status in anyway in a society, but if one person decides to do something in a country, he cannot guarantee success or moving up as it requires certain aspects of the society to move up with it and certain to move down. Some business man wanting lower taxes isn’t only to make him more successful. Straight up lowering taxes cannot guarantee this business man will succeed. He needs the lower taxes in order to higher more people and expand his company, especially in economic downturns. With many companies expanding, it benefits the entire economy. Whether he is selfish or not, he has to think how it is going to affect other parts of the economy because he needs other growth in order to get any benefits from these lower taxes he desires.

  9. xiaoyzhang permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:36 AM

    I agree with what Yequan said. To say that we conduct ourselves in a way where we don’t think about what benefits us would be kind of weird. It’s in our nature to promote our own self-interests before we think of others. There are some instances where we think about others, such as sports. However, in most cases, we think about ourselves. I believe that when we act to make others happy, that is also self-interest as well because not every benefit has to be a tangible benefit. I think that people who act to make others happy receive self-satisfaction, which is kind of promoting self-interest as well.

  10. britneyrupley permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:49 PM

    I agree with what is presented in this article. When making any decision in my life, may it be political or personal, I will always think, “What’s in it for me?” Yes, this may be selfish, but this is a selfish world where we must fend for ourselves. It similar to social darwinism, survival of the fittest. We must do what is good and beneficial for ourselves to survive.

  11. November 8, 2010 4:32 PM

    I think the issue presented here is one that all political writings we have read have touched on. In my opinion the verdict on this matter is consistent with the poll i just took, that people always are looking out for themselves. However, even though people are always out for themselves, this does not mean it is impossible to form a government between people. In fact people’s selfishness is the basis of our own government. Since people are selfish and want good for themselves, they in many cases have to compromise with other people to get what they want in a particular situation . Also, people’s selfishness protects the minority in our government through the clashing of selfish majorities. This analogy is similar to a court cases where if both sides make strong arguments, where the are clearly trying to support their own side, eventually at the end of the trial the truth and the right thing to do will come out of these selfish arguments that both sides were making. Hence the clashing of of selfish people works more towards forming a government which protects both the majority and the minority.

  12. Alexis Biaggi permalink
    November 8, 2010 5:26 PM

    I think we need to find a balance between self-interest and what benefits the community at large. More frequently than not people try to horde as many goods as possible or acquire whatever it is they are seeking without caring about how their actions may affect others. When taking a step back to look at these actions that occur in front of us everyday, it is interesting to see how the community suffers because of such selfish mindsets. For example, on a large scale, our capitalist society has been set up so that a small percentage of the population has the majority of our nation’s wealth. Although there is the obvious benefit of giving each individual the opportunity to succeed without limitation, we must also consider the negative consequences. Because of this capitalist system there is a growing number of poor people in our country. If this number continues to grow, it will eventually affect all people because our economy will plummet, crime rates will increase, etc. So in theory, this individual selfishness could come full circle and be a burden to those who were selfish to begin with. I agree with corery in saying that people ultimately do what is best for them. However, at what point should we be forced to control our actions and wants because of their impact on the lives of others?
    In response to the original post by Kathbail, I don’t necessarily think democracy is entirely “selfish”. Yes, we each vote based on what would benefit us individually, but democracy as a whole in my opinion is a way to control man’s natural want to benefit himself. If the majority of people vote a certain way, is it more important that their vote was guided by self interest or that the majority of people agreed on a certain action or law? For example, is it more important that the majority approved a higher tax on the upper class or that each person who voted for or against the law was acting in their own self-interest? The answers to all of these questions usually result in some sort of balance of the importance of both aspects.

  13. mattwales permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:50 PM

    I think this comment presents an interesting idea regarding the individual and the inherent selfishness of man and I think that given your example, the element of pity can be examined. Given the choice to elect a candidate that will benefit me or my neighbor, what reason will I have to detract from my well being to satisfy another? Democracy is designed to accommodate the general will; many will vote for the losing candidate, but their concerns will ultimately be thrown to a less favorable leader. It is by this design that many win yet many also lose. The wealthy man may put aside his own concerns in pity for the lower class man and vote for a less favorable candidate, yet the general will of the people would not be represented by the vote and pity will have influenced the decision. Alternatively, this view could be reversed if we consider Locke’s ideas regarding property. The wealthy man may lose money if unfavorable taxes are enacted, yet he will still retain sufficient property for his own subsistence.

  14. Andrew Berman permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:44 PM

    Most of the ‘social contractors’ believe that people go after their self-interest. That is why Rousseau believes that when the general will matches the will of all, it is an ideal society. In order for this to happen EVERYONE must trust the 3rd grade teacher in that “there is no I in teamwork”.
    I disagree with you in your point that people only vote for people thinking about themselves. People also vote for reasons that have nothing to do with them, but for reasons that will benefit all of society. People disagree how the government should help the population.

  15. Chrisbbarnes permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:36 AM

    This is a major issue of collective theory, and in my opinion is the basis for government.
    There are many situations in which what is most efficient, and conducive to human betterment (a somewhat vague criterion, I know) cannot arise from individual interests. This is why we must have a government which can determine Rousseau’s “general will” and act on it for us.

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