Anyone who knows a writer can attest that writers are neurotically insecure about themselves. I don’t know if the following is the case for other writers, but my every act of creating something and putting it out is a plea for attention. “Look at what I did. Affirm my existence. Validate me.” I am unapologetically narcissistic – I write because I want attention, and I strive to write well because I want a lot of attention.
As such, I consider writing to be a fairly selfish activity. I’m not doing it to better the human race, I’m doing to feed my own ego. I feel that if I really cared for the human race I’d go back to college and become a research scientist.
But working for myself on something no one else will see triggers selfishness feelings as well! Right now I’m building a chicken coop with my SO (OK fine, she’s doing most of the work, I’m just helping). It feels good to be bringing something new into the world. We are literally creating wealth. Huzzah! But who will be the beneficiaries of this labor? No one but ourselves. No one else will enjoy it or get use out of it. It is, again, something I’m doing for myself. And despite the fact that it’s making a new thing, it feels tainted.
Our house renovation feels similar. Who, right now, benefits from this house being fixed up? Who will enjoy this new beauty? Primarily just us…
Oddly, I consider going to work somewhat altruistic. I’m doing something unpleasant for someone else. Or if not unpleasant, at least something they can’t do for themselves. The fact that they are willing to give me money to do it means they value what I’m doing. I wouldn’t do it without that bribe, so it’s obviously not something I want to do. Unpleasant, and for someone else – fits the basic criteria for altruism. Furthermore, since I’m working at a for-profit company, they are making some amount of money off of my labor (no point in going through the trouble of employing someone if you aren’t making money in the process). Whatever that extra amount may be, it is wealth I’ve created and not taken for myself – thus an altruistic contribution.
At some point, either in the school system of middle-class suburbia, or the Puritan churches of middle-class suburbia, or perhaps a mixture of both, I managed to internalize an ethical system that works out really really well for good ol’ American Capitalism, by keeping the working class solidly working for others and non-bootstrapping.
This is kinda fucked up.
I will take solace in my 40-hour-a-week communion.