Deep Down, Aren’t We All Selfish?
Contemporary liberal and neoliberal conceptions of the “self” rely on the assumption that individuals are naturally self-interested. These neo/liberal traditions explain the social world in “atomistic” terms by breaking it down into its smallest unit: the self-interested, self-sufficient behaviours and motivations of individuals. In this lecture, I contend that the “atomistic” individual is an impoverished understanding of what it means to be human. I argue that this social atomism reframes all ethical and political conduct as inevitably self-interested. Consequently, I claim that this “naturalisation” of self-interest leads to a valorisation of competition as a social good. To challenge the above, I consider the historical origins of this way of understanding the human through Thomas Hobbes, discuss the relationship between atomistic individualism and neoliberal capitalism, and gesture towards possibilities of thinking human existence differently.