Looking for a Rand quote on 'selfish'


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Where is the quote that Rand opines on the oddity that there is no word for her concept of 'selfish'. In popular usage it tends to imply uncaring and/or short sighted. There is no popular term for intelligently cultivating a life and relationships for your own sake.

Does this sound familiar? Where do I find it?

My first post! Cheers,


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I believe the quote you're looking for is in the introduction to THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS:

"It is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

"In popular usage, the word 'selfishness' is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment. Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word 'selfishness' is: concern with one’s own interests."

Ayn Rand; Nathaniel Branden. The virtue of selfishness: a new concept of egoism (Kindle Locations 78-83). Signet/New American Library.

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1 minute ago, Opar said:

I'll take it. Thanks, Guy!

Glad to help. Here's another quote from the same intro that answers more of the question: 

"If it is true that what I mean by 'selfishness' is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites—that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men—that it permits no concept of justice."

Ayn Rand; Nathaniel Branden. The virtue of selfishness: a new concept of egoism (Kindle Locations 117-120). Signet/New American Library.


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Welcome to OL.

Let me add two other things.

1. That dictionary where Rand got her definition of selfishness has never been found. Lot's of people have looked. Nobody has turned up anything, at least as of a few years ago when last I read about this.

2. Nathaniel Branden has a comment somewhere about Rand using the word "selfish" by itself without qualification to create controversy. He said that was her approach. He objected, if I remember correctly, because it would antagonize many people, but she was adamant.

After studying marketing and creative writing, I easily see NB's comment as describing a feature, not a flaw. 

One of Rand's fiction writing techniques, which she later used for her nonfiction, was to take a cliché and spin it upside down. You will see this in all of her writing. Both neuroscience and modern psychology explain why this is effective. 

Without going into a lot of links and books and so on (although I can later if you are interested in this), the simple version is that for something to have maximum chance at success and impact, it has to have a highly familiar component with a wholly new one. An upside down cliché suits this requirement perfectly The people in Hollywood, more than any place, knew that. (Think of the hooker with a heart of gold and things like that.) And Rand sharpened her writing chops in Hollywood.

She constantly used incongruent things as a spark to probe deeper, so deep in fact, she often arrived at the end showing they were not incongruent at all. This was a way to give throughlines to her writing. Or call them miniplots, or arcs of coherence, or any other similar names.

The concept is to start with something incongruent. This does two things: (1) It gets immediate attention (incongruencies are proven by science to do that in the brain), and (2) It establishes a clear position or implication or description of that position and its problems. This sets up, and sets off, a process where she can arrive at the opposite position by the end, but first going through several steps. That way she moves along a path of change as a structural element.

I know you asked about her meaning of selfishness, and that's a good thing, but my own fascination with her has changed over the years. It has moved from the ideas, which are not difficult to learn (and I agree with most of them, but not all), to the writing itself. The more I study writing in general, the more I see just how good a writer she was.


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