Tuesday, April 8, 2008

self-interest versus national interest

I had an interesting conversation today regarding self-interest versus national interest. I agreed with the argument that popular and national issues do not affect many Americans on an everyday basis, yet those same Americans focus on and become emotionally invested in these causes. In short, a person who does not feel affected by immigrants or the economy will still buy into these as factors directly linked to self-interest. Some one(s) or something(s) has succeeded in framing the debate.

This experience moved me to realize that I too conflate national and self-interest, partly because I lose myself thinking about the "whole" or dwelling upon what makes a group strong. The truth of the matter is, I would rather be more self-interested, and the issues that affect me on a daily basis are gender oppression and religious tyranny. I realize that, if it were not for my blog, I would lose sight of these given the bombardment of issues I face reading the news, working on the hill, and taking Political Science courses. Ah, the days of pure academia where I could ponder theory and conceptual frameworks all day.

Don't get me wrong--as I become older, the issues that directly affect my self-interest will change, especially as I will join the workforce and become financially independent after law school. And I would never ignore the needs of humanity as a whole--but the truth remains, I need to prioritize what affects me the most.

There are definitely classist dimensions to my frame of thought. Clearly, job availability, gas prices, and school tuition are not at the top of my list. I have the luxury to spend my free time worrying (among other things) about how independent thinking is squashed by compulsory monotheistic dogma, how small children are emotionally abused by religious indoctrination...don't even get me started on gender, sexuality, and "nature v nurture". But these are still my issues, and I will not lose focus amidst a national debate.

I could see another concern that encouraging self-interest as opposed to public/national interest may ignore certain classes or groups of people. However, I would never become apathetic, would certainly never live under a rock and ignore the discussion, nor would I stop caring about the human family.

I am simply reminding myself and all of my readers that the public world will push issues that likely don't even affect you, and you should not forget about the ones that do.


Tall Asian Guy said...

That's an interesting article. My friends and I had that kind of conversation a month ago, but I disagree with you.

America, as a nation, keeps a strong emphasis on individualism. And due to the nature of its origin and the diverse population, it is understandable why our systems are shaped in certain ways for us to voice self-interest. But as a person with comparative perspective, I would argue that such way of thinking only helps to further divide the nation into a 'nation of strangers' in which people only care about their self-interests and view others as "them" as opposed to us Americans.

I don't deny that there are great benefits to keeping self-interest alive, but sometimes you got to think beyond what your narrow interests are and care about people of one's nation.

Of course I come from a country with compulsory military service and an ethnically homogenous (used to be) society, but I think--from my personal experiences in discussions with people from other nations--they all agree that Americans are very individualistic and self-centered. There are benefits to crying out loud who you are and what you represent as an individual, but I think sometimes you got to sacrifice for the good of your country at large.

And that's what I like about the Obama campaign. A lot of college kids regardless of their personal need for national healthcare or tuition reduction are voting for him because they feel all Americans need to get a healthcare (similar to Hillary but her plans are flawed; i can tell you more about it later if you want).

And I, for instance, supported Hillary Clinton even before she publicly announced her run because despite my personal interests, I feel that women's rights need to be dealt with in deeper and fairer ways. (i'm sure you remember me wearing that stupid Hillary '08 shirt to MDA). Now, when comparing to Obama's policies, I feel that a lot of Clinton's policies are mere popular rhetoric, and that's why I changed to Bama. But getting back to the point, I think it's important to think beyond your immediate needs/ideological priorities and think about what's best for America at large.

Forgive me if I don't make sense, I have a bad fever.

Tall Asian Guy said...
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Tall Asian Guy said...

posting comments is weird i'm confused

Vanessa said...
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Vanessa said...

I understand what you are saying, but you can't allow national issues to tell you what your issues are, or shape what is important to you--not saying that national issues are not worthy of consideration, but they need perspective.