The Unorthodox Virtue of Selfishness


Sigmund Freud invented a theory about Ego and categorised it as Id, Ego and Super Ego. Id, the instinctual drive, unorganised in nature, is our unconsciousness. Ego, the reality principle, is our sub consciousness and Super Ego, the inner critic, is our consciousness.

While he emphasised ego under the structural model of the human psyche, I feel it is sometimes incomplete without a correlation with its silent comrade, Selfishness. Before we conceive it as something negative, let us reflect on how much is too much! Or better yet, beyond what degree does it become appalling; since a part of it is the core of a human being?

Freud wisely explains that Super Ego is a socio-cultural influence; a moral control by parents, teachers, models, that prohibits the drives and fantasies of the Id. Man is an individual before a social being. Considering Maslow’s need hierarchy theory to support the former, social needs are secondary to physiological and safety (self defence- a practical form of selfishness) needs.  So Super Ego is effective given the presence of society, which makes an external system of human life, but the core desires fulfilment of the Id. Conflict happens only after the need for it has been identified. It may be prohibited later, but it was there, and may recur. For example, hunger is a basic need. To fulfil that need, the way food is procured is what determines how ethical or unethical the process was. If the food is cooked or bought, it’s legitimate, but if it is stolen, it becomes forbidden. Adam’s apple, the forbidden fruit!

Sigmund’s theory excludes children, as their impulses demand immediate satisfaction; sleep, hunger, urination and defecation. But I believe children are the closest to, and most apparently so, to their Id or selfish selves. They are the most intuitive and away from the authority of social pressure. They are at harmony while playing, but rush to the mother only for sustenance. A child cries until his mother stops doing everything else and attends to him. So is the case with pets, they love their masters as long as all their needs are being taken care of. There’s an animalistic streak in both animals and humans, just that animals stick to their core, and humans get socially influenced. Sometimes for the good, say while avoiding crimes, but not as much while unreasonably following the social codes, say not protesting for justice.

Can a man indulge in altruism before or without being responsible for his own happiness? The real question is not as much of the order, as that of the individual definition of happiness and compromise. It is proper to follow ethics, to think of goodness, to forgive and maintain peace; but is it also proper to compromise, to forget, to bottle up and always think of the larger picture? Aren’t larger pictures a manifestation of several smaller pictures?

Human psyche is too multi dimensional to be absolutely selfless. Integration of various layers is possible when all of them are aligned, and that can never be a perpetual state. Human Ego and Selfishness can be as subjective as human evolution, if we choose to look beyond the binaries of right and wrong.


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