Politics: The Integrity of Self and Self Value

Tue 06 November 2012

This compelling essay was written by my dear, departed friend Rev. Jeff Russell in an e-mail to my dear friend Q. 


Politics isn’t inherently evil. It’s inherently evil only with the connotations we tend to associate with politics. That is, manipulative, selfish, one-sided, etc. But being manipulative isn’t necessarily evil, and “selfish” is one of those words I have a philosophical problem with. I’m an Objectivist, so “selfish” has a specific meaning to me and I consider it a virtue. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Politics and honor aren’t mutually exclusive if you consider them essentially the same thing. I know that sounds bizarre, but it really isn’t. Politics, in its most basic sense, is a system of cooperation between individuals in order to achieve specific goals. So is honor, really. They are both something like manners. Polite politics. IMO, this is pretty clear so far. Here’s where we trip: being nice.

Honesty is considered a virtue, but there’s an exception for being”nice” that’s called a white lie. White lies are supposed to be gloss, a small dishonesty for the sake of being nice. For the sake of being polite. For the sake of being political.

No, dear. That dress doesn’t make you look fat.

Yes, honey. That dress emphasizes your ass, which seems to be carrying most of your extra weight, even though you are only 10 lbs. heavier than you should be, and your stomach is slightly more convex than it should be.

The question itself is a wash under normal protocols, even if you’re the sort of man who prefers women heavier or proportioned differently than models and stars. But the question asked wasn’t about your preferences, or even about your subjective truth; it’s reflective of herself-perception. You’re being asked to be supportive, not to be clinically accurate. Since the filter is hers and not yours, there isno moral imperative to the question. You’re free to tell her that you don’t like red or that you don’t like the style, or you can tell her that you’re looking forward to removing it, or some variant of those answers.

That classic trap isn’t actually a trap if you’re with someone you love and value, and if you can realize which set of filters is being used. Maybe that seems like I’ve just played 3 card monte with the truth, but in fact I haven’t. I just recognized that men ask literal questions and demand literal answers, whereas women ask metaphorical questions and require metaphorical answers. That isn’t to say that a woman won’t sandbag you with a serious, literal question at the worst possible moment, because they sure as hell will, but that isn’t the point.

As for other situations where being “nice” or not is the moral equivalent of committing suicide, the idea is to avoid being around those kind of people. Or in establishing a relationship with them in away that allows you to be honest instead of completely “nice” where”nice” is equal to lying against a situation of blackmail or another form of coercion.

Force and value are what I look at. Is being nice a result of some sort of force? IOW, if I don’t tell the boss he’s smart, am I going to get fired?

My value to myself is paramount. And I’m “selfish” about it. Selfish, to me, means that I have an obligation to consider my profit over the long term. Both my honor and my value require that in considering myself-interests, I actively look to enhance the self-interests of othersalso. It isn’t unusual for me to initiate a transaction where I profit only a little or not at all (although I don’t lose by it), where others may profit quite a lot. This is honor, politics, self-interest, and selfishness all at once. I advance my friends, and they will remember it. Even if they don’t, everyone else will. That’s good politics, although it’s no less manipulative than the other kind. The difference is that friendship actually assumes that sort of manipulation. Not “for their own good” where your judgment supercedes theirs (which is always bad, even if you’re right), but where your judgment and theirs agree.

I flatly don’t get into situations where I have to tell someone that they’re smarter than they are, or whatever, because the situation itself is against my self-interests and dishonorable from the start. You/cannot/ win in such a situation. All you can do is fight fires, and you’re going to get burned in the process no matter what you do. It’s the nature of dishonorable situations.

What I essentially do is make myself respectable. I try to earn respect, on my terms, in a consistent manner, by behaving in a way that I respect. Those people I’d prefer to associate with will consider my behavior attractive, establishing the first link necessary to being able to work with them. That doesn’t mean we will always see eye-to-eye, but it does mean that I’ll operate at a level where like-minded people are attracted to me. And I’ll manipulate it, always to mutual gain viewed over the long term. I’ll also actively feed you what’s necessary for you to manipulate me and my self-interests along the same lines. The basis for true friendship is a mutual bootstrap process.

Trust is always the most basic element of a relationship, but true trust is unlikely. Trust isn’t, “I trust you” and you presenting a vulnerability. That’s an abstract that rarely applies. Self-interest, OTOH, can define trust objectively. If you give me $50K, where is myself-interest? To take the money and run? That’s the usual answer. After all, whatever deal we have that may have motivated the transaction could fail and I’d lose the $50K plus whatever benefit could have come from it. This is short-term bullshit. It’s lack of thought, among other things. For self-interest to be involved, I’d want you to succeed, even if you succeed more than I do. If you succeed, I’ma resource. If you’re smart, you’ll want your resources to be valuable in themselves so you can consistently use the bootstrap process, always at an increasingly higher level.

Politics is establishing your value to others. Self-interest is establishing your value to your yourself. Honor is the bridge between the two. If I’ve been fairly clear, you should understand when I say that “give until it hurts” is one of the foulest things someone can say.

That concept isolates people, and the only thing it gives back is an equal amount of pain. Giving someone $50K really isn’t a nice thing to do. It hurts you and it leaves them stuck with only $50K. But if two heads are better than one, then so is mutual profit better than single profit. You may have divided the profit, but you’ve gained an additional resource, and that resource is going to think along lines you don’t, covering more bases, giving you more options, expanding your capabilities. Also, that divided profit really isn’t divided, because the profit can be combined again for more profit. The fact that you aren’t the only one profiting is actually ultimately more valuable to you because others will see it and want in, which gives you an ability to magnify profit that you couldn’t do if you only profit. Less is more, because less leads to more.

It all starts with your ability to assert your value. It then follows that you attain a following of people with a high value who believe in your value. You then leverage their value along with your own, creating even more value. When I say “profit”, I don’t necessarily mean money, but it doesn’t matter. No matter how you work this, if you do it right you will always end up with more money along the way. It builds up the same way stalagmites do, steady accretion.

For this sort of thing to work, you have to be honest. You have to establish your self-interests and promote them actively. You have to broadcast what you’re doing. And most people won’t believe you. It doesn’t matter. Eventually the results start kicking in, and then it snowballs.

People will tell you that giving a bum $5 is nice and the good thing to do. It isn’t. If you really want to be nice and compassionate, you’ll keep your money. It squeezes the bum and forces him to do something other than subsist on others’ misunderstanding of generosity. OTOH, it’s worthwhile to invest in children. Not to promote an expectation of receiving without merit, but to promote the idea that generosity can be socially profitable and personally profitable. It doesn’t matter if someone else sees you being generous to a child. The idea is that the child understands it. Leave a sea of grateful children behind you. Ignore the adults.

Playing stupid games may make you a rich SOB, but playing to yourself-interest will make you an honorable rich man.

*—Rev. Jeff