Ellen De-Generous? (and Hobbes)
I’m not really a fan of talk shows, but I love The Ellen Show. I think Ellen is absolutely hilarious, I (usually) love her guests, and she makes my weekday mornings a little brighter. The only thing that slightly bothers me is how Ellen DeGeneres is portrayed as, well, so generous.
Ellen has giveaways on her show quite often. Most of the time, these prizes are electronics or gift cards, but she also gives away brand new cars to viewers who she thinks especially deserve it. Obviously, that’s not pocket change (well, to most people – maybe it is to Ellen), but to me the whole process can seem a little insincere and filled with self-interest.
Basically, this is what happens: A viewer writes Ellen a heartfelt email detailing his/her various struggles and car-lessness – knowing very well that Ellen gives cars away. Ellen gives a car to the viewer on her show, making them happier and consequently making her look like a saint. While doing so, she also advertises the perks of that car, making the car manufacturers look good. All in all, everyone wins. But doesn’t everyone act out of selfishness here?
According to Hobbes, humans are selfish by nature. I don’t disagree, but I don’t think that being selfish is always such a bad thing. While humans may be selfish by nature, I don’t necessarily think they’d be at war with each other to get things they want – unless they wanted the same thing. However, I think that’s more about competition and less about self-interest. The idea of “selfishness” has such a bad connotation that sometimes it’s easy to forget that good things can come out of selfishness, too.
I know, it’s a stretch – but Ellen made me think about it. Maybe she depends on her viewers to make herself look better. Maybe her viewers depend on her for a shot at a new car or some other prize. Maybe car companies depend on celebrities like Ellen to advertise their cars. Maybe I depend on Ellen to make my mornings a little more enjoyable. So what? Even if everyone acts out of selfishness, we still depend on each other. I don’t necessarily think Hobbes was wrong, but I do think those who aren’t in competition with each other (in other words, they don’t have the same selfish desire) can use each other to get what they (all) want. There can be win-win situations, even when people act selfishly.
What do you think? Is being selfish always a bad thing, or is it possible to help someone else as you get what you want? What would Hobbes say about this?