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I asserted a while back what our society ought to be basedupon, but simultaneously I wondered what I thought society was currently found open. And oddly enough I found that the answer I was seeking might best come from the field of economics. What suggested that to me was the famous quote by the father of Economics, Adam Smith in his seminal The Wealth of Nations. In it, in words that are eminently quotable, but equally questionable, he asserts:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest.”

The first question that jumps to mine is why? On what basis should we accept Smiths sweeping statement that it is only the self interest of the baker that grants us our bread. Why not his love of his art, his profession, his desire to be productive, his simple ability to be able to help other and extend to them his compassion?

I posit all these as alternates, but I do not really contend that they are in fact viable. It stands to reason in the world that we live in that, and given the pysche of the people who inhabit it, that this is the only true and viable method on which to base a maximally efficient and properly productive society.

It is here though that the cardinal flaw of the argument appears. The essential circular nature of the reasoning is laid bare for the first time. Self interest creates the optimal conditions for productivity which is typified by the economics of capitalism which is the simultaneous philosophy of capitalistic self-interest. Self interest creates a system designed to perpetrate a society and a people conditioned to always put their own benefit above that of the other. It is not so overt as perhaps the Objectivists would hope, and for that we can be thankful that the other human virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance which have due to the kindness of the greeks and thier decency in predating Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, have embeded their thinking into the western mind.

It is this combination that takes the edge of the cardinal desire of self seeking, and it is what ultimately makes our world a better and more habitable place for it. The self seekingness proceeds to procure efficiency, but it does so at what must be considered an unacceptable cost, it demands nothing less then the very nature of humanity and compassion be sacrificed at its alter.

I believe that we live in a society that is more and more retracting from making this commitment. We understand that their are things more important than profits , that the desire to material things is not sufficient, that there is a immanent and transcendent dimension to being a human, a certain spirituality that defies just the material plane. I think that this is the story of the 20-21st Centuries. It is the understanding that man is more then the sum of his parts, and that to classify him and pigeonhole him as just that has failed. Man is not a beast, a beast of burden of the economic engine, but also its master and the navigator, free to chose how far to sail as well as determine if he desires to sail at all.

This is a hopeful conclusion I know, but hope in the last resort perhaps, hope in our own abilities and our own beliefs, in their essential correctness, is perhaps all that we have. If we hold to them only then do I think will we see a world that is better for all, and not just a few elite who by chance have been born with a whip to crack over the shoulders of their beasts of burden.