LETTER TO EDITOR: United States considers more than self-interest

Daniel Quick

Dear editor,

Despite whatever tongue-in-cheek qualities John Valdespino’s article, “Neo-colonialism fuels the American way,” might have had, it did bring up some interesting points.

Humans are creatures governed in no small part by self-interest, and national governments are governed almost entirely so — after all, a government that does not look out for the interests of itself and its people is hardly doing its job.

Morals as practiced by individuals can never fully apply to a government — its interests are, at best, directed toward maintaining the safety, welfare and happiness of its people; at worst, toward increasing the government’s power to the exclusion of all else. In either case, a healthy self-interest is necessary.

However, governments are composed of individuals. A single person’s motives for taking an action may be quite complicated, even if they are motivated by self-interest: hunger can be restrained by a desire to be attractive, lust restrained by an individual’s ethics or the tenets of his faith.

The level of complexity involved in decision making increases in proportion to the number of people making the choice. Even when assuming self-interest to be the primary motivation, not only of governments but also of the whole human race, this self-interest never operates in a vacuum.

To further complicate the issue, people are not (in spite of economists’ claims to the contrary) simply machines acting out of self-interest. We have codes of morality, be they founded upon a religion or upon individual beliefs

We act even at our own expense: we involve ourselves in conflicts not only for material gain but also for the sake of our friends or for our beliefs.

Some insist that all human action is an extension of self-interest, but simply because an act imparts something desirable does not render the act itself any less selfless.

“We throw ourselves onto the grenade to save our buddies in the foxhole. We rise out of the trenches and charge the entrenched enemy and die like maggots under a blowtorch.

We strap bombs to our bodies and blow ourselves up in the midst of our enemies. We are, when the cause is sufficient, insane,” wrote Orson Scott Card, American author, in “Ender’s Shadow”.

Card’s point remains valid: when governed by logic, self-interest would seem to be the best course. But we are not logical beings — we are a mess of contradictory emotions, tenets and drives, and, whatever else it may be, a government is composed of hundreds of these messes all working to their own ends.


Daniel Quick

History junior