As selfish as a dog in a manger: this self-gratifying dog is found lying on the hay originally intended for the hard-working horses, and you, the witness, can only gaze in horror. In Horror, but not shock; not shock as you could have expected no less from a dog as selfish as this. You do not feel shock for the selfishness of this dog just as I feel none for the ignorance of the person in the shop last week who labelled me ‘as selfish as a dog in a manger.’ While I failed to give this encounter much thought at the time, I have since resolved to shed some light on the facts.
I don’t believe there is a single person in this world that is not selfish in one way or another. But within this melting pot of fetid egotism I would, in fact, argue that I am probably one of the least selfish; I am altruistically selfish. I hardly need to remind you that due to the infinite branching of the universe at every moment in time, an incomprehensible number of selves exist; from every decision stems a deviation between the worlds we declined and the one we live in. When you’re asked how many sugars you want in your tea, one world will involve a reasonably chosen ‘two’; another ‘one’. Another world will contain your frugal-self choosing none, and yet another will result in the entirety of the UK sugar industry loading into your cup by the truck-full. Those first two worlds are the ideal; they are murky brown paradise; they are the pinnacle of the sugar-in-tea complex. Life is short, and life is sweet, but it’s not too sweet and anyone conveyed into these two worlds knows that better than anyone.
What would those of an altruistic nature choose? We’ll consider only the simple case here: that the only decision ever to be made is how many sugars you will have in your tea. I imagine many of you believe they would choose the frugal option. You would be wrong. The true altruist would pick something closer to the final, seemingly insane option. The true altruist would not only pick the last option, but they would finish their cup to the last granule. The true altruist would willingly forfeit their teeth to rot; shred their tongue against the ceaseless pour of sandy sweet; and fill their lungs with sugary soot before choking a final dry white breath. I can think of no death more noble. In offering themselves to this snowy tempest, our altruist has, in fact, destroyed the possibility for any other self to suffer this cruel end. By requesting this absurd amount of sugar, the altruist alone occupies this branch of fate and all other alternate selves must choose a different, less torturous route. There will be other branches similar in nature, but they will be marginally more pleasant, and therefore marginally less altruistic. Had more decisions been available to the altruist, they may well have chosen to also spout vitriolic abuse at their host as they rubbed sugar cubes in to their eyes.
But the world is not as simple as this. There are more than a handful of choices to be made, and the resulting web of decisions can be difficult to navigate. Someone who chooses the sugary death as above is, while certainly a martyr, not necessarily the most altruistic. Utilitarianism argues that the most ethical course of action is that which maximises happiness. Our martyr would prevent all other selves from suffering the worst of a single decision, but over all subsequent decisions they can have no say. To maximise happiness among the various selves, the altruist would need to act along a carefully calculated route: a balance between the number of decisions they could make throughout their lifetime, and the degree of misery that they could inflict on themselves.
The true altruist would build a career that led to them making a great number of important decisions on a daily basis, but would be sufficiently incompetent so as to be disappointed by almost every one. Irritating, obtuse and a chronic liar, the altruist will receive the contempt of their peers and ‘loved ones’, but they will never behave so atrociously as to lose influence. Acts that many perceive to be selfish are, in reality, selfless. Clearly, then, the politician is the landmark of true altruism.
Counter arguments may perhaps be made: that an altruist should focus their attention on other people, not other selves. But it can be shown that worldly ‘Altruism’ is both futile and a stain on the reputation of the true heroes. The shallow refutation of ‘Altruism’ comprises a comparison between seven billion and an infinite number. The stronger argument reminds us that by helping another person, you merely trade them for their parallel selves and therefore have helped no-one. Not only that, but there is now evidence of your ‘Altruistic’ nature, leading others to doubt that you’re even really that much of an asshole. Simultaneously, one of your parallel selves is now forced into not helping the person you so ‘helpfully’ helped and receives the contempt originally designed for you. They take the hit while you waltz around not having eggs smashed into your greedily charitable face. You utter bastard.
I devote my life to taking what I can and giving nothing back so that others may receive what they richly deserve: Glory, recognition and love. In some world, somewhere, there is a person – with an incredible likeness to myself – who achieves their fiercest ambitions and is adored by all. I just hope that bastard appreciates it.
It is obvious, then, that I am not ‘as selfish as a dog in a manger’, and also why so-called ‘Altruists’ are not all they’re cracked up to be. In any case, the dog wouldn’t even be in the manger if you’d locked the bloody door properly.