What’s the value of being selfish?

Ted Bauer
6 min readMay 19, 2022

Originally wrote this, I believe, back in 2015.

If I had to sit down and make a list of the biggest changes between age 25 and age 34, I think I’d only be 3–4 items into the list before I arrived at “Meeting more selfish people, daily.” Now, there are a lot of arguments you can make before we even talk about being selfish — for example, the nine years between me turning 25 and me turning 34 also had the advent of social media and more digital communications. You can make an argument — a legitimate argument that those have helped people become more selfish. (I mean, fuck, isn’t the point honestly to talk about yourself?) You could also argue, as you could with anyone, that I’m a pretty unique person and maybe, because of my own issues, I tend to view others as selfish. That’s also entirely possible/plausible. But recently I’ve been thinking about it more. Here’s what I found out.

I guess, on surface, that the idea of being selfish as an evolutionary advantage makes sense. After all, aren’t we hard-wired to protect ourselves and our interests? And essentially, wouldn’t selfishness be an off-shoot of that? That was argued in a 2012 study.

Later studies have contradicted that notion, essentially saying, “If we were completely selfish beings — humans, that is — we never would have survived this far.” Rather than selfishness, that study argues that cooperation is the true key to human success (and even happiness), which ties into one of the greatest ironies of modern business interaction.

I don’t personally believe pure altruism is possible. I think at some level, everything you do has a tie back to yourself. I don’t think most people, for example, give money to a homeless person simply to make that person’s life better. I think one aspect of it, however small it may be, is to make you feel better about yourself. We very rarely do things 100 percent for another person; when we do, I would auger that it’s called “love” or “best friends.”

This Michigan State University study talks about evolution punishing those who are selfish and mean, and that seems, logically, to make sense. If someone is a total dick and can’t work with others, wouldn’t they get herded out of society? It would be a sheer challenge for them to reproduce, right? Because finding a partner might be a…

Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.