Sow in the slough

I’ve been very suspicious of empathy (and by association altruism) since the beginning. Ha ha. It always seemed (to me at least) like a psychological deadfall, meant to pin you down in a bad situation.¬†Especially when empathy is employed (often against you) as a factor in a decision making process. This also likely explains my libertarian bend. I much prefer a more ‘honest’ approach to doing ‘good’ in the world…

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Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time mud-coach that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. His fellow-passenger was antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge that spanned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razor-backed sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough and were in danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr. Lincoln called out, ‘Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?’ Then Mr. Lincoln jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked. ‘Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?’ ‘Why, bless your soul, Ed. that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?’

-‘Mr Lincoln once remarked’, C Daniel Baston et al , ‘Where is the altruism in the altruistic personality?, Journal of personality and social psychology 50 (1986).

Abraham is my second favorite US president… in so far as I’ve thought about this sort of thing, where one person is ranked over another in a certain sphere of proficiency and (often) perceived personality. Theodore is… and likely always will be my #1. If only because in a celebrity death-match I give more credence to Teddy’s barrel physique and penchant for firearms over Abes tall and wiry build. Although maybe that expertise with axes could count for something…

In any event, be more selfish, do more good.