Commenting has been turned off for this post

Ooh... I want to debate this topic. I believe it is the key to everything.

"First is a bleak Nietzschean society where every individual asserts their own will wherever they can, where their "self-care" is actualized by relentlessly pursuing their naked self-interest at all costs."

Let's start here. Correct me if I am wrong, but many of the same people that would dismiss the self-care domain would also dismiss the domain of religious faith... especially that of traditional Judea Christendom.

And that is important... very important.

Here is my simple perspective. The natural state of human behavior is to be free to pursue individual self-interest. Any system that attempts to thwart that natural state to excess will fail because nature ALWAYS wins. "Natural liberty" is an embedded and instinctual interest for the human animal that cannot be eliminated except by death.

Please meditate and think deeply about this. Most of the people that I know demanding a more collectivist and authoritarian system (we might already be there) for the reason that they see signs that freedom of individual pursuit is a race to the bottom for humanity, and that the collective needs to put up copious boundaries, rules and controls to ensure optimum outcomes for the collective... within that ideological dream they also ASSUME that they will be MORE FREE to have a wonderful life. In other words those boundaries, rules and controls will be applied to the other people, and they, the collectivist dreamer, will fly outside impact from those "simple inconveniences". In other words, the collectivist dreamer assumes that their pursuit of natural liberty will be better achieved by a system that prevents the same for others.

There is absolute historical proof that this is the fatal flaw in the collectivist dream... it ALWAYS results in a more miserable human condition for the masses... and only a small set of elite administrators lives high on the hog.

But back to the point about religion.

Capitalism is a 500-year old design that seems to have started in northern Europe. Adam Smith wrote of capitalism in Wealth of Nations as the system was proving its benefits to the world. But Adam Smith also wrote "Theory of Moral Sentiments". Individual morality is a key topic of interest for all great promoters of Capitalism. Ayn Rand, for example, got all tangled up in that domain in her Atlas Shrugged weird sex fantasies.

Capitalism relies on a "strong commitment to the soundness of the ordinary human being’s judgments, and a concern to fend off attempts, by philosophers and policy-makers, to replace those judgments with the supposedly better “systems” invented by intellectuals."

But the soundness of ordinary human being's judgement without a binding moral framework means that the individual can invent his own morality to justify almost any means to an end.

This is where we find ourselves today. We don't have a crisis in capitalism... we have a crisis in morality. And unfortunately our politicians have led the way in training the nation that individuals are moral if they get away with it.

It started with Nixon and Watergate. At least we made him pay the price. Then Bill Clinton telling his baldfaced lie on national TV, and obfuscating the definition of "Is". The secularization of the county (and the West in general) combined with a steady flow of immoral actors elected to office... has resulted in devolution in individual moral compass that would otherwise support the soundness of the ordinary human being’s judgments.

The same forces that reject foundation morality then jump to the opportunity to blame capitalism as being responsible for the mess... and demand collectivist remedies... instead of waking up to the truth that it is the loss of foundation moral compass that is the source of most of our troubles.

This is argumentative stuff. However, the simplifying fact is that everything boils down to this simple truth that a democratic capitalist system, however flawed, is better than any other system in terms of supporting the overall human condition.

Expand full comment

"The natural state of human behavior is to be free to pursue individual self-interest. . . . Please meditate and think deeply about this."

I find Mr. Lee's claim interesting and I've been meditating. Here's the best I can do.

First, I've never thought of "behavior" as having a natural state; it seems to me we usually think of entities as having natural states, not acts. So perhaps Mr. Lee means, "The natural state of human beings is to be free to pursue individual self-interest." I have to assume that is what he means because otherwise his claim makes no sense to me.

So, on this assumption, is this claim based on evidence or on abstract reasoning? Do we have any record of human beings in some "natural state" being free to pursue individual self-interest? Of course, in one sense we are all free to do this at any time. But there are generally unattractive consequences to the unlimited pursuit of individual self-interest unless one lives in total isolation from others (and feels it maximally serves one's self-interest to live that way). So "free to pursue" must mean: "free to pursue without negative consequences." But, of course, that would constrain the freedom of everyone else: no one would be free to impose any negative consequences on anyone else. What sort of freedom to pursue self-interest is it that requires me to defer to the self-interest of everyone else? Yet if that's not the meaning, then we are already in the state that Mr. Lee advocates: free to pursue our individual self-interest with the understanding that we must accept that there will be consequences arising from others' responses to our pursuit.

Are we, then, in a "natural state" right now? Often that phrase refers to some "state of nature," before our individual "nature" has been distorted by collective society. But has there ever been a person in a state of nature without the "distortions" of social constraints? Has any human being of whom we have knowledge not been distorted by some cultural convention of family nurturance, use of some particular conventional language, the constraints of various cultural norms of interpersonal action? Even the few records of feral humans, raised by wolves, indicate that life among an animal pack has "distorted" their behavior in order to be assimilated into the pack.

My own perspective differs from Mr. Lee's. I think people emerge as beings who plan their behavior through a context that is inevitably social and shapes the way they think. Because it's inevitable, it's a natural process. Some of these people may see their self-interest in terms of interaction with the group that nurtured them, while others may see their self-interest in reaction to that nurturance, with limitless possible variations of degree. Beliefs in unfettered liberty, mutual obligation, capitalism, and collectivism are all possible outcomes of ways people configure their ideas about themselves and the natural state of humans, and so they are all in that sense natural. All also offer real but limited insights and benefits.

So in my perspective, there is no perspective that can legitimately claim it knows or reflects the one "natural" state of human beings.

My own *preference* is for a morality that treats kindness towards others as a cardinal virtue and a society in which people feel that their own self-interest in deeply bound up with treating others with kindness. Individualistic capitalism finds little place for such values, though it isn't inconsistent with them in theory, and while "collectivisms" often are based on the form of this type of morality and mandate that people abide by such values, they make the mistake of thinking that virtue can be mandated and have historically devolved into systems of coercion that discredit the ethics they aspire to realize. (And both capitalisms and collectivisms can, and often do, simply serve as covers for predation by a powerful elite.)

I think states that are willing to balance economic structures of individual capitalism and state guided socialism in order to foster cultural norms that may promote a balance between self-regarding and other-regarding behaviors tend overall to work out pretty well. And that is pretty much what most Western states have increasingly practiced since the late 19th century.

Expand full comment

We are dumb and violent primates, but primates are pretty social…

Expand full comment

I think this is wrong, at least in practice:

“We can all go about our lives as busy little cauldrons of self-esteem and positive attitudes and we'll all end up fulfilling our destinies, if we only give up our guilt and our introspection.”

Endless introspection seems to be huge part of this movement. The messaging might say to let it go, but the endless torrent of Instagram posts and books and podcasts suggests that spending time thinking about how to live better is more important than actually living better.

Maybe that’s for the book?

Expand full comment

I'm kind of snagging on the icons. For instance, a potted plant used to represent "removing someone from your life."

Also, I'm not sure what this means: "The other option is the one most self-care people seem to embrace, which is to simply pretend like there's no such thing as a conflict between sincere people."

Does that mean that as soon as you see conflict, the thing to do is remove someone from your life? Decline the phone call? I look at things like this, and I can't agree or disagree because is it the battered woman removing the abuser from her life, or the sister removing the brother because he refuses to get vaccinated/voted for Trump?

The idea of removing people from your life, even family members, because you set a boundary and you're sticking to it, is very in keeping with our criminal justice approach to people doing bad things, which is to remove that person away from "our" world and put them in a cage over there where they won't bother us and we can't see them, because they are bad.

What people find intolerable seems to be growing. It's fascinating seeing someone online agonize over David Bowie, a dead person they've never met, but whose work they admired, because he slept with a teenage groupie. They feel obliged to remove him from their lives, out of disapproval for something he did, by removing the work they admire from their possessions, as though they they can amputate the bad from life this way. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of what and where the bad is.

Expand full comment

Also, I'm not sure what this means: "The other option is the one most self-care people seem to embrace, which is to simply pretend like there's no such thing as a conflict between sincere people."

This doesn't always mean just removing people from your life. I'm coming from the Turning Red post (https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/self-actualization-is-not-the-sole?s=r) and it provides an example - how the conflict between the mother and daughter is portrayed. The mother's position is a not sincerely held belief based off of her own values, goals and perspective, it's an unintentional result of her own childhood trauma.

Expand full comment

What I took that comment about pretending there's no conflict and being busy little cauldrons full of self-esteem was like the equivalent of those horrific LA people, who are nothing but insincere faux-sincere positive, everything is "that's so awesome, bro", "good for you, bro", "nah, bro that's okay," etc. etc.

Why is it always the people who are the most self-absorbed navel-gazers that seem also to have not a single shred of self-awareness? You'd think of you were so wrapped up in yourself all day every day, you might notice something, anything, about yourself and your vapid behavior. But then again, I suppose it is the definition of a narcissist, that they cannot see any flaw from within, all flaws exist without. It's probably the case that total lack of self-awareness is a pre-requisite for being a self-absorbed self-help navel-gazer.

Expand full comment

I posted this in fb, and here is my friend's comment, which has good points:


I think Freddie misses some key ideas regarding self care. One being the plain truth that human beings need care. Second, professional care from others is inaccessible for many. Once we realize that no one is coming to help us, we help ourselves. It’s just logical. We look for research and proven methods to both cope with and improve our specific situations. In his ideal world are we to just shrug and tough it out uncared for? What is his remedy for the person who is struggling? He never offers an alternative.

To say that learning to set boundaries to protect yourself somehow disregards the rights and needs of others is a gross mischaracterization of what boundary setting really is. But I think this is what he’s suggesting. (wtf?)

If the graphic is meant to reflect the entire self-care project, it is an oversimplification. This leads me to believe it’s a straw man argument he’s making. He’s arguing against an entire category of thought by using a narrow slice of it.

Here’s the reality of self-care. Paradoxically, one cannot do self-care entirely alone. You actually need a group, or a coach, or a friend to touch base with. A therapist might be better, but some therapists are not very good at what they do. Sometimes a book or video might have to suffice because there’s no one available to you. A support group might be something like AA or whatever. But even with this exterior touch point, each individual also has inner work to do, and no amount of outside support will help unless the person works through their individual fears and resentments, learns to “let go” of a lot of negativity, and learns when to tolerate (or not) behaviors of others and when to embrace them.

There is ground between “going no contact” and being a doormat. But many, many people do not have the skills to hold that delicate line. Seriously, many people do not know how not to be plowed over without just cutting ties. And there are people who will plow you over given the chance! Again, does Freddie offer solutions? I see none in the article. I just see him complaining about a thing he dislikes but doesn’t really understand.

Side note: representing complex ideas in super simple graphics is really, really hard. You might even call it a fool’s errand. But plenty of people will try, even get a master’s degree in it. We end up with a fair share of mediocrity.

Expand full comment

Excellent post. There is, indeed, so much that could be said here. I think your point about the inevitability of conflict, and the messiness and uncertainty of the real world, is a good one. The obvious Marxist point would be that the ability to actualize a set of "self care" maxims, like those depicted the meme you've exhibited, is deeply unevenly distributed along socioeconomic lines, with the working class often being those shuttered out, and the ultra-rich and professional-managerial class being able easily to self-actualize. I also wanted to add a footnote in here somewhere about Arrow Impossibility which would suggest that, strictly speaking, an all self-care universe will inevitably implode:


I also wanted to note, for whatever it's worth, that, very often, I found that individual therapy (outside of psychoanalysis) was a redirect to self-care, and that, at the end of the session, the therapist would tell me to set aside time for self-care or "do self-care." Hearing this just made me feel like the therapy session itself was sort of redundant or pointless. The whole idea was that I was there because I couldn't adequately care for my mental health by myself!

Expand full comment

Lines like this are one of the reasons I pay money to Freddie. 😂

“If someone else who's self-actualizing is stepping on your neck, it's really hard to live your truth or whatever the fuck.”

Expand full comment