Selfish is a word that is gaining currency in the coronavirus crisis. Those who oppose excessive lockdown measures can easily find themselves shamed by this latest word in the liberal lexicon, comparable to the expression anti-choice.
The word is common enough. A dictionary definition of selfish is the state of being “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself.” It describes one who is “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.”
Thus, the word always has a negative but not necessarily dangerous connotation. A selfish person is often to be pitied but rarely to be feared.
Using Words as Weapons
The left has always manipulated the meanings of words to favor its class struggle narratives. A well-employed word can be a powerful weapon of mass manipulation in the psywar against Christian order. Words can neutralize an adversary with astonishing efficiency.
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira wrote an essay titled Unperceived Ideological Transshipment and Dialogue. In it, the Catholic thinker analyzes this tactic and describes the unperceived process of word manipulation. He shows how the left employs what he calls talismanic words to change people’s opinions and mentalities, especially in times of fear and crisis.
These words have legitimate but elastic meanings that can be artfully manipulated to evoke a constellation of emotions, sympathies and phobias. The media can easily exploit these and apply increasingly radical meanings to these words.
The author explains the need to “exorcise” these words, stripping them of their power to influence. This is done by analyzing and exposing their false meanings.
The Many Meanings of Selfish
Selfish has now become a talismanic word. The left uses it to intimidate all those who oppose the radical Chinese style measures during the lockdown or in the future.
It has several elastic meanings that represent a range of attitudes and emotions.
The word’s simplest and most harmless meaning designates someone childish and immature, and thus self-centered. This meaning is readily seen in the selfish child who will not share toys with others.
A more complex meaning would be materialists who amass fortunes by looking after their legitimate interests yet have little concern for friends and neighbors. In this case, these selfish individuals are so focused on themselves that they forget others.
Then, there is the selfishness of the individualists, which is much more egocentric. These hold that all individuals are sufficient unto themselves and that this turning toward self is virtuous. Their attitude toward others can be uncaring, but need not be.
Finally, there is the contrived meaning of the word promoted by the left. It depicts those whose care of self reaches such a point that it proves dangerous to others. Thus, all who disobey the lockdown to put food on the table for their families are selfish, leftists claim. The sense of responsibility and work ethic of these hardworking and patriotic Americans is supposedly a threat and danger to the health of everyone else. This skewed perspective favors a class-struggle interpretation of the word selfish. It is a recast of the Marxist tenet that all who have more are oppressive egoists and naturally hateful. Their property owning is labeled a threat to all who have less.
Casting Selfish People as Killers
In the coronavirus lockdown debate, the word selfish has been used in all of the above senses. Those who question a draconian measure are made to appear as immature, materialistic and individualistic. Leftists use the word to create a climate of hostility and even hatred for the non-conforming.
As the alarm around the crisis accelerates, the most radical definition (the Marxist one) tends to crowd out all others, including the legitimate one. Turned into a label, the word is hung around the neck of all who go about their work responsibly. These people are not selfish at all. They are taking care of their legitimate interests and their families.
The hysteria of the moment causes people to disregard the facts and grossly exaggerate risks. Thus, a selfish man might even be called a murderer because, by working to feed his family, he might remotely be exposing others to the coronavirus. So also, the mother who forgets to wear a facemask at the supermarket might be tarred as a selfish killer because she might be infecting others.
Gradually anyone labeled selfish is considered the worst villain. Not being willing to face public scorn, most people conform and change their mentalities and positions. The heroes who resist are the exception. Shelley Luther, who flaunted the lockdown to open up for business, was one of the few. District Judge Eric Moyé, in Texas, asked the hair salon entrepreneur to apologize, North Korean communist-style, for being selfish, or face a $3,500 fine and a week in jail. She rejected the pejorative meaning he attached dishonestly to the word, saying: “I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I’m selfish. Because feeding my kids is not selfish. . . . So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
The mischaracterization of any act of legitimate self-interest for family, community or country as a threat to the general public is key to the left’s weaponizing of the term selfish. Leveraging the widespread fear generated by the crisis, public frenzy can be twisted into considering these innocent acts almost as acts of terrorism. The misperception denies the most basic commonsense and justice.
Falling back on truth is the sure way of popping the left’s wicked hot air balloon. As long as sound health practices are followed, there is nothing wrong with desiring to care for oneself and loved ones in times of crisis. On the contrary, this is a good thing. People have the right and duty to protect and sustain themselves and their loved ones. They are not selfish because of this, but selfless and worthy of praise. Their efforts are directed toward the common good.
It is time to de-weaponize the left’s hijacking of the term selfish. Leftists who use the word need to be challenged to return the term to its legitimate and true sense, as so well done by Shelley Luther. They must be shamed into abandoning its exposed Marxist hijacking.
The Marxist use of the word psychologically shackles anyone who tries to do something to quicken the recovery from this terrible plague. By this tactic, leftists promote the class of the unselfish. By unselfish, they mean all those who are unwilling to address any problems by themselves, all those who are unwilling to take any risks to help others, all those who rely completely on an omnipotent State. Leviathan will supply them with money, benefits and security. Good becomes evil, and evil, good. Marx and Lenin will beam proudly on these truly selfish Americans.
Leftists Are Projection Champions
As often happens, liberals accuse others of what they practice. They project their own selfishness onto those who would resist their subversion. Leftists are the first to demand rights over duties. Their self-centered agenda insists upon government handouts for everything. Their narcissistic activists shout “my body, my choice” and proclaim their pleasure to be supreme with utter disregard for anyone else—even a tiny, defenseless and innocent baby. When it comes to selfishness, liberals come in second to none.
Using the word selfish to stigmatize those who oppose excessive government action is repugnantly dishonest and offensive. Insult is added to injury when the selfishness champions do it.
Conservatives must call out the left for its shameless hijacking and weaponizing of the term selfish.
The American people deserve more than empty slogans, exaggerated fears and insults aimed at dividing the nation in its time of perils. They deserve the truth, unity and respect.