On Selfishness

Is selfishness a bad thing?

The word itself definitely has a negative connotation. My brain associates the word selfishness with greed, pride, and arrogance. This definition makes selfishness the opposite of nice things like humility, charity, and self-sacrifice.

The best example of this kind of malicious selfishness in today's world is Martin Shkreli. People like him take every last advantage and opportunity for themselves. It doesn't matter how it may negatively affect the lives of others. They prioritize themselves and their interests over all. This is gross; this is selfishness.

My whole life, I've been taught this perspective on the word selfishness. Family, school, and church all told me that selfishness was wrong. The morally correct choice was always the one of selflessness. Take care of the other before yourself, even at your own expense. Self-sacrifice is the highest good.

This sounds good in a very lofty way. A very beautiful way. The words of Jesus Christ himself were full of these lessons:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

. . .

There is definitely value in self-sacrifice. But there's also value in self-preservation, self-respect, and self-care. These ideas need to be reconciled somehow. We need to allow room for context and nuance.

I got to witness the LGBTQ fight for equality and the Black Lives Matter movement as I came of age. These have had a profound impact on the way I view justice, oppression, and selfishness. It seems reprehensible to ask my friends to resist their oppression by "laying down their lives" and "denying themselves". Passionate demonstration and desperate outcry have proven pretty effective in actually bringing justice to the brutal systems of oppression they live under. But those actions aren't self-sacrificing. Are they good?

Maybe there's a definition of selfishness that makes it a good thing, A definition that's closer to self-care, self-respect, healthy pride, etc. Why is this a definition I've never considered or valued before? What is it about my self that created this perspective.

Let's see here . . . oh yes. I'm a cisgender, straight, white, able-bodied man. For my entire life, my society has told me that I am good and valid. I've never been in a situation where practicing self-respect and self-care would've benefited me because society was doing it for me already.

This makes it very easy to make selfish decisions. Society has trained me for it and expects it of me. It's my default. If left to my own un-self-examined devices, I will unconsciously prefer my own needs over others, dominate conversation, and think I'm a pretty great guy the entire time.

When I matured and developed the ability to self examine, I realized that this is selfishness. It's the same malicious version of selfishness practiced by Shkreli, if more innocent and less extreme.

I could always look down on selfishness while idolizing self-sacrifice because I am privileged enough to not need selfishness to survive.

. . .

I've only recently been made aware of the reverse perspective of this. Let's imagine someone suffering from depression. Their name is Jo. They're emotionally numb, can't sleep but is always tired, and has suicidal thoughts. What is their relationship to selfishness and self-sacrifice?

During particularly bad depressive episodes, Jo stays home to take care of themselves instead of spending time with a needy friend and performing emotional labor. Is that selfish? Yes. Is it wrong? No.

If Jo is constantly in a state of self-denial and tending to the needs of others before their own, they suffer. They have a greater need for self-care than someone who doesn't suffer from a mental illness, like me. And there are versions of this comparison for countless other factors: gender, sexuality, race, disability, etc.

I just happened to have hit the literal genetic jackpot, so I'm dumb and these ideas are new to me.

. . .

There's a perfect analogy that I learned from the beautiful podcast Friendshipping. If you're on a plane and the oxygen masks drop, you're instructed to put on your own mask first. Then and only then should you help your neighbor put on theirs. This sounded bad when I first heard it. How much grander, how much more morally sound would it be to put aside your own needs and help your neighbor with their mask to guarantee their safety. Only then should you tend to yourself. How good. How wonderfully pure.

Except there's one giant problem. If you're on a plane that's experiencing cabin decompression and you don't have an oxygen mask on, you're going to suck at helping someone with theirs. You'll actually hurt your neighbor and yourself if you don't put your own mask on first. Sometimes, tending to your own needs first, is what enables you to be selfless in an effective way. If your goal is to help others, you need a baseline level of self-care first. Put on that oxygen mask, then look around for those in need.

Being someone like me, a genetic lottery winner, is like having the oxygen mask put on for me . . . by society. So my delusions of helping others first are garbage. I've already been helped, I just didn't realize it. If someone less privileged than I needs to put on their mask before they can help their neighbor that does't make them less ethically pure than me; that makes them smart and healthy.

It makes them selfish. But, you know, in a good way.

Luxury Gyms Don't Help the Poor

Julia Belluz at Vox:

Higher-income Americans are already the group that exercises the most. According to the American Time Use Survey from 2015, the poorest quartile of the population gets about half the exercise of the wealthiest quartile:

I know plenty of people who pay absurd amounts of money to be members of gyms like SoulCycle. I grew up as a runner; I'm currently a cyclist. I've always shunned fitness trends, especially those that require you to go to a special class, buy special equipment, or pay a lot of money. Why not just go out for a run? Or lots of people own bikes already, just go for a ride, right?

What I didn't realize is that I was lucky to have grown up in a fairly rural area of Massachusetts. Nothing about my environment made it difficult for me to exercise outside on my own. All I had to do was get to the end of my driveway and there were miles upon miles of safe road for me to run or ride on.

Then I moved to Austin, TX. The neighborhood I live in has multiple luxury gyms within an easy couple minutes walk. But the roads are not good for running or cycling. It takes me about five stressful miles of riding before I'm on road where I feel safe on my bike. And I'm sure there are areas of the city that are worse deserts of exercise-safe space.

These luxury gyms are great, and super effective . . . if you can afford them. If not, you may be stuck in an area that discourages you from exercising.

To Thrive and Flourish

I'm divorced. It happened in May 2016. But it really happened much earlier than that. Things were bad, then they were really bad, and then we decided to get divorced.

Gradually, then suddenly.

You could say that 2016 was a real shit year for me. In addition to the social and political nightmare that everyone else in America experienced, I also dealt with the destruction of my marriage. That took up the beginning of 2016; the destruction of my self took up the rest.

I didn't realize it while I was in it, but my marriage was almost the entirety of my identity. A marriage can be all-consuming. I threw myself into it. I didn't spend time with many other people or do much of anything outside of work and home. When my marriage disappeared, so did I.

I've spent the latter half of 2016 grieving the loss and allowing my previously constructed self to evaporate, hopefully leaving behind pieces of a personality and life that I could then cultivate into something of strength. I wanted to flourish and thrive, but I didn't have the soil to nourish or the seeds to plant.

So what was left? The big one is my faith. I never lost it. I abandoned it, but it remained. There's not much to my Christianity. I believe God exists. That's about all I can say. But I do know that I love the Bible and I love theology. I plan to join a church community this year. I've also hung onto my love of cycling. I've started taking it more seriously and want to start entering races in the spring. I need to work on these things for them to grow into healthy parts of my personality, but I'm grateful that they remained with me through my deconstruction.

What else do I need to cultivate? My social life. This is the hardest one. I would be a hermit if society or my student loans allowed me to. I recognize that this is a tendency to resist. I am going to make a strong effort to develop meaningful friendships.

The other thing to cultivate is creative work. That's what you're seeing now. I've long been cursed with a low burning urge to write. I don't know how to do it, but the desire is always there. I'm resolved to write more in my future. I also want to explore podcasting. I've been producing Unprepared with my friend Kevin for a few months. It's been the highlight of my year. I have so much fun recording and editing that show with him. I want to explore this more.

Look. We're living in a dark time. I truly believe that. I have no fucking clue what to do about the global rise of fascism and the impending downfall of America. These problems are beyond me. But I am filled with hope at the fact that I can just be a person. I know a little bit about myself. I have a bed of healthy soil. I've got a couple seeds. My plan is to grow and contribute some joy to my tiny sphere of influence in the world. Maybe that tiny world can get bigger slowly too. We'll see.

Maybe one day I'll be ready to save the world in a big way. But for now, I'll be joyful, kind, supportive to everyone in my life, helping them to thrive and flourish too. This is my contribution. This is how the world gets better.

Gradually, then suddenly.

An Introduction

Hi. My name is Jesse Jardim. I started this Minor Planet project at the end of 2015. I had hopes that it would be an outlet for me to link to and write about what I thought was interesting on the internet. I kept it anonymous because I work for Apple. I wasn't planning on leaking secrets (and never did), but I didn't want to worry about crossing a line with Apple's confidentiality policy. So I chose anonymity to solve that problem.

The past year turned out to be creatively paralyzing. It was the worst year of my life, personally, and probably the worst year in the collective life of my generation. Limiting myself with anonymity didn't help either. Constantly worrying about being identifiable via my writing was a major block. I'm hoping that Minor Planet can move forward to be my creative home on the internet. I constantly feel an urge to write and this is the place to do it. I already exist on the internet at my Instagram and Unprepared, the podcast I do with my friend Kevin.