True or False: Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness was the first book on egoism intended for a popular audience.
False. A quarter century earlier came The Art of Selfishness, a number one bestseller by psychiatrist David Seabury.
At times, Seabury sounds strikingly similar to Rand: “We have been left for centuries with only the echo of a workable philosophy. We have been given no true middle way between insipid spirituality and brute conquest: either act like a stained-glass saint or ape a tyrant” (p. 122). But unlike Rand’s book, The Art of Selfishness is a self-help book, not a work of philosophy. It is not systematic. It does not work from first principles and basic observations about human nature. It is not especially careful about terminology. It is not trying to prove its case.
But it is useful. Seabury offers a cornucopia of practical advice. For example: “Keep your problems objective. Don’t identify with them. Don’t become involved or personal. Treat them as an interesting experience and do what you can in each new adventure” (p. 40).
The Art of Selfishness uses an informal case study approach on the model of medicine. Seabury also adds discussions of principle and many lists of how to do and not do things, ranging from how to invest to how to get to sleep.
Seabury reduces his ideas to two basic principles, which help to organize his thinking. The first is: "Never compromise yourself" (pp. 4-5). I take it to mean, "never surrender your judgment or your authentic needs."
The second principle is: “No ego satisfactions” (pp. 4-5). This may give pause to an admirer of Rand's work, but in Seabury's context, it means: no spite, no self-aggrandizement, no martyrdom, etc. In Nathaniel Branden’s terms, it means: “no pseudo-self-esteem.” As Seabury says about this principle: “To win, you must obey nature. Her will, not yours, is omnipotent” (page 5).
Some of Seabury’s notions derive directly from the two principles. For example: “Nothing becomes an obligation merely because someone tells you it is” (p. 61). Some, while consistent with the two principles, derive more from Seabury’s clinical insight, as on page 103 where he counsels, “Make your thinking into experience. Make your theories tangible.... Try out your ideas by imagining them in action.” There are gems like this scattered throughout the book.
Some more examples:
On pages 138-9, Seabury discusses the use of sex manuals and the danger of employing them mechanically. He advises identifying with the methods, becoming one with them, and following them as an artist follows his technique.
On the subject of sex, Seabury spins one of many witty remarks when speaking of a shy but inwardly passionate man: “At heart he is a son of Eros. He would like to have a hairy chest and follow the phallus to everlasting glory” (p. 140).
Much of Seabury’s advice is common sense (although it probably wasn’t when the book was first published in 1937), but some of it is quite amazing. In the chapter “How to Avoid Suicide,” he states, “If your primary relation is social, every trend of the group … will overpower you. Only he who makes some basic contact with natural objects, things of the earth, its animals and trees, its minerals and mechanics — only he is safe” (p.145). We could point out that Seabury's inventory of reality is a bit too narrow, but his basic point is surely sound.
One of my favorite chapters is “New Skills for Quarreling.” It brims with good advice, such as remaining silent while your partner gets to speak her piece, and bringing to the surface any unadmitted fears that might motivate your own position.
In addition, he lists some of the common blame patterns. One pattern worth mentioning is blaming someone for being born as they are. Seabury encourages accepting the assortment of talents and dispositions one has inherited from one's ancestors, and not trying to force oneself into a cookie cutter.
A lot of the advice in The Art of Selfishness is concerned with difficult people; there are at least three mentions of kicking parasitic in-laws out of the house.
Sometimes, however, one wants or needs to keep a person in one’s life. In such cases, Seabury counsels “scheming,” or benign manipulation — referring to techniques such as reverse psychology. A reader would have to decide for him- or herself the appropriateness of such techniques, which may strike some as questionable. For example, if your husband has a contrary nature and always wants the opposite of what you suggest, Seabury might advise that you suggest the opposite of what your want.
At the same time, Seabury repeatedly advocates benevolence and mutual aid. He has an enlightened attitude on the subject of women and children. He is explicit in stating that selfishness does not require hurting other people. In fact, he proposes that unselfishness hurts people because it keeps them dependent.
Not everything in The Art of Selfishness is wonderful. Seabury is often philosophically confused, speaking of "good" and "evil" selfishness, and "good" and "evil" unselfishness, without making totally clear the principles that differentiate them. He is unclear about the human need for self-esteem, and consistently condemns pride as a vice. Perhaps his biggest fault as a writer is his tendency to deluge the reader with lists of loosely catalogued precepts and observations — a symptom of his lack of theoretical structure.
On the other hand, The Art of Selfishness has much to offer in the way of practical wisdom, and the reader who patiently mines it can discover many a gemstone. Seabury may not offer formal definitions of the cardinal virtues, but he will tell you how to say “no.”
Maybe the best take on Seabury’s work is that he offers abundant raw material that can be edited, corrected, and integrated by the philosopher in each of us to provide a fleshed-out science of living.
And I quote, "The answer to the pressure of our days is one and simple: dare. Dare to live while life is passing. You'll never live otherwise. Set a limit on what you are willing to bear. Call this your adjustment marjin, your wall of personality. "They shall not pass" beyond that line beyond that line, no matter who or what they are.
That's what I took away from this book. Excellent read!!
A collection of essays by a clinical psychologist in what was probably one of the earliest self-help books. What he calls "selfishness" is more like what we call "self-assertiveness" today, and the change in terms may have occurred because of the negative reactions he got to this book, especially from religious leaders. Much of the content is from interesting situations and changes reported by patients seen by Seabury and his colleagues.
I finally decided to abort seeing the book through about halfway. I have found my mood took a dip to the negative as a result of the focus on the dark side of lives. I have been learning about self-love and have made solid progress in the subject both intellectually and on a practical level, and I perused this book at the recommendation of a book of the same subject and I went in with a lucid appreciation of the definition of the word “selfish” and its ready miscomprehension in common parlance.
Although my feeling of being engulfed in negativity as I read this book may well be only partially attributed to the book and in places I found myself amused by the audacious advice dispensed for the writer’s clients, chiefly I was left feeling uncertain of how a number of the anecdotes relate to his thesis.
The two “rules” he set out — never compromise yourself, and no ego satisfaction — were helpful as a lighthouse when I got lost in the scattered points made in each chapter with unhelpful title.
This book should be a must read for every human being. It is not something you can read straight through---there is a lot to digest but all so fruitful in learning how to love yourself and others well. What that really looks like and means without allowing society to attach shame or pride to loving yourself.
Excellent book. A bit dated so some users may find that at times it's not politically correct in speaking to the genders. David Seabury gives you a new perspective on 'selfishness'. If you don't like the word 'selfishness', substitute with "self-regard" or "filling your own cup so whatever you do or give comes from the heart"