Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Tiger Woods's Alleged Selfishness

On the recommendation of a friend, I watched Tiger's full statement on CNN to judge for myself what I might see.  I had chosen not to watch it previously because I felt that it was none of my business and that he had no business apologizing to the public.  I feel vindicated now after watching it.  

Tiger says everything that I would expect a person to say given the atrocious moral state of society today, which is a variant on traditional religious morals, namely altruism.  He calls his actions selfish, and based on the way he uses the term we may consider it a psychological confession that he either holds or is pandering to the idea that anyone acting in their own interest is evil or at least vicious. 

Tiger comes out against achievement as such.  He says that achievements on the golf course don't as much matter as what you overcome, which he defines vaguely as character and decency.  But I think he's at least half-wrong on this.  I'm going to put aside decency for a moment and focus on Character.  The contradiction is the question of what is it that makes achievement possible in any area of life, personal or professional, if not your character values and specifically rationality, honesty, and integrity?

(Decency, which Princeton Wordweb defines as "the quality of conforming to standards of propriety and morality" is dependent on what set of moral values you hold and based on what I've seen him say earlier in his statement I can only assume he means acting in the interest of others - which I don't think is a good in and of itself. )

Tiger's mistake is that the range of his consideration in his personal life was short and narrow.  His method was irrational.  The problem was *not* that he was selfish, if we mean by selfish that he acted in his own interest.  For clarification on this issue, I will refer to Ayn Rand's definition from the Virtue of Selfishness:
"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.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions."
Tiger was clearly unselfish.  He wasn't concerned with his own interests.  He should have stopped for a moment to figure out whether his actions were in line with the full context of his values.  He permitted a breach of integrity; a dichotomy between his values on the golf course and off the golf course.  He is right to think that his behavior was attrocious, but for the wrong reasons.  His biggest failure was the choice not to think, but instead to evade the truth of what he was doing as if action could be divorced from consequence.

Tiger goes on in his apology saying that he needs to be a better person for his family and a better man for his friends.  Who does he leave out?  Himself.  This implies that he doesn't think that it's important enough to discuss what person owes to himself as to what kind of person he will be. I disagree with that.  I have values so that I can have a good life.  I live according to principles, which are right *because* they make possible a good life.  Tiger promised to be less selfish and he sure does seem to be off to a good start.

Which brings me to Buddhism.  I am forced to despise Tiger for feeling the need to talk about the role of Buddhism in his upbringing.  In relating his connection to Buddhism, he describes it as something his mother taught him when he was young, as if the idea that it was handed down to him from a previous generation should add any weight, truth, or value to it.  If he thought that the upbringing was valuable to his life, it certainly didn't seem to help him very much when temptation came knocking.

He quotes:
"A craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security"
First of all, you can't help the need for things outside yourself.  Your existence as a human being means that you exist on this world and you need to feed yourself, and cloth yourself, and act productively to exist.  Remember that anytime people argue that the point of Buddhism is not self-destruction.  He says that it teaches him "not to follow impulse and to learn restraint". He didn't need Buddhism for that, he only needs to touch a pot on a hot stove once and then to think (godammit)!

I don't think it's a value of character to have faith or to even take things on faith.  I think it's a value of character to live according to a set of rational principles that you have formed based on the integration of the totality of your knowledge.  This has nothing to do with faith and requires that you think in essentials, to reason, and to prove (therefore to know with certainty). 

Everything in this apology is pandering to today's predominant cultural ideal of abject selflessness and ignoring the need to be concerned with one's own interests which is part of our nature as human beings.  Personally, I think that Tiger is on the road to becoming the shittiest golfer from here on out if he applies any of what he has said he believes in on the golf course.

You don't become a great golfer or a great anything by being unselfish.  When you can do something in large enough quantity to become good at it as Tiger was good at golf, you do it because you love to do it.  That is selfish.  And it is good.