Well, my friends, I don't agree with the unfortunate lady's conclusions.
Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu vivas: never too old to learn. But we need something more exciting: we want to discover how to un-learn! We have been bamboozled since our childhood, much of the confusion we are in is direct consequence of General Wisdom itself, of the so-called common sense, of platitudes we inhaled for years. For all our life they tried to persuade ourselves to be unselfish. This is only the first example of a larger mess. They arranged a system of prejudices that consists in the very maze we are in. Our main problem are not the chivalric barbarians who rob the old ladies in our towns or wield assault rifles and anti-Western slogans a few flight-hours far from here. Our problem is our somnambulism.
Let's wake up, my friends! Wake up! Let's hold platitudes to be just what they are, platitudes; and Conventional Wisdom to be just that, conventional. I found in a book a good support to noticing how our inner self has been fooled into erratic beliefs: the book is AWARENESS, by Anthony De Mello, first published in 1990 by Image Books - Doubleday, New York.
De Mello was a Bombay-born former jesuit (probably too brainy and witty to be stomached by his superiors who were surely perplexed by his synchretism of Khrishna's, Gautama Buddha's and Jesus' messages = perhaps even by some disturbing pieces of Nag Hammadi awareness in disguise) and his own communique' is terse, simple and explosive: most of us are sleepy robots arranged to live a soporific unhappy existence ruled by prejudices distilled through the centuries. If we succeed in waking up to our real stance, we spontaneously will find happiness. Because, De Mello says, we have to add nothing to our self, to be happy.
Forget all exhortations to do anything to achieve happiness. It's nonsense to seek for something we already have. Do nothing. We are all happy, if only we can discover ourselves. We don't need to become anything different than we are. We have been bamboozled since childhood, and most of us remain somnambulist all our life long. But small children ARE happy (in their spontaneous behaviour, which involves honestly-accepted sensible selfishness and horse-sense) until somebody does not coerce them to the stupidity of commonly accepted schemes. And then they become hypnotized robots: just push a certain button and you can foresee their reaction. Happiness is to recognize our delusions, which have been pasted on us with different labels. Happiness is not to acquire something: it is to get rid of something, it is to jettison the illusions, the labels we have been identified with. De Mello tells us a tale about an eagle who had been persuaded to be chicken, because the egg was laid among chickens' eggs, and all his life thought of himself as a chick. Wake up! Don't believe those who say "Forget yourself. Live your life loving the others". De Mello wittingly shows how this is monstrously unwise. Never forget yourselves, please. Be honestly sincere with yourself, get honestly aware of your self, LOVE YOURSELF and then you will be all right for helping others, too: in the lucid way that only rational knowledge of our selves can bring about.
There are probably many odd things to be dropped off: because we have been for years emotionally bound to our labels and delusions, among them the delusion to become perfect by becoming unselfish. And since emotions are biasing our sensible, "rational" self, we judge by our emotions, by the traditions instilled in us, we rarely try to understand, and seldom admit to have been wrong: we fell in love not with persons or theories, but with our sentimental opinion about them; and then we never want to admit we were wrong. We never understand, we never are aware, so long as we are unable to un-learn.
Well, of course you are not expected to accept De Mello's diagnosis: I am just telling you what I found, but you have to work out your conclusions by yourselves. All best persons do it themselves, at the cost of some stoicism on the side of their friends who shall endure their eureka: the trouble with self-made men is that they tend to worship their creator.
If however I am allowed to list some other book which helped me to un-learn a lot, here they are: The Rise and Fall of The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond, published by Vintage, an essential scholarly work eminently readable and compelling, I would say; then some volumes by Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene, and The Extended Phenotype (both published by Oxford University Press), then The Blind Watchmaker (Penguin) and River out of Eden (Phoenix). For those curious about one of the most recent scientific approach to darwinian selfishness I might mention The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick (the Nobel-prize winner [together with James D.Watson] for discovering the molecular structure of DNA) published by Simon & Schuster.
To un-learn further I have read The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley (Penguin Books) one of the most disturbing, perhaps, researched essays about rationality and much else. It is not only the old hat of the Prisoner's Dilemma: it's going down to the Commitment Model and "virtue"as a socially induced instinct. So that instead of trying to arrange human institutions in such a way as to reduce human selfishness as decreed from the top, perhaps we should be arranging our social environment to bring out human quasi-Augustinean-virtue as by-product of selfishness.
(7. To be continued)