If you 're a woman who decided to wait until 30 to have kids, or don't even know if you'll have them at all, then I guess you've been called a lot of these adjectives: “selfish”, “nascissistic” or “immature”. I know I was.
And then comes Oscar Wilde:
“...a man is called selfish if he lives in the manner that seems to him the most suitable for the full realization of his own personality; if, in fact, the primary aim of his life is self development. But this is the way everyone should live. Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them.”Oh, yeah. The essay has “socialism” in its name, but it's not all about politics.
You'll be granted with ramblings about how popular art is “unhealthy” (apparently, Wilde was the original hipster), a few arrogant (and justified) remarks on journalists and his own concept of individualism (and how it is supposedly good).
In sum, it is a reflection of how the public psyche can change under socialism's focus of ending poverty.And in case you're wondering if he is favorable or not to socialism, Wilde does a good job of exposing the Authoritarian Socialism trap...
“if there are Governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.”
… But compliments the broader, generic socialism in a way that is disturbing to the modern eye:
“Socialism […] will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism.”
And Wilde's Individualism is not such a bad thing:
it is simply the state in which we can dedicate ourselves to our interests, not worried about the pursue of material goods (a.k.a. paying rent, or in Wilde's gross generalization, “property”).
That doesn't mean he is in love with socialism. Wilde feared that, by giving the poor what they want would only turn them in well fed slaves, enabling their mediocrity and subjection to conformity. The best poor man is not the one content with what he's got, for his conformity perpetuates current relations of power. The best poor man is the rebel:
"He who would be free', says a fine thinker, 'must not conform.' And authority, by bringing people to conform, produced a very gross kind of over-fed barbarism amongst us."
And conformity leads to the tiranny of the people:
There is the despot who tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope. The third is called the People.
… and the tyranny of public opinion, its damage to the arts, journalism and personal freedom of thought:
Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.
But the future is not so grim to Wilde: as poverty diminishes, so does the scope of socialism, until the job will be entirely done and we won't need it anymore. At this day, we could finally live dedicated to our own interests, like arts, engineering, philosophy or science; and the machines would do all the boring, repetitive work.
Those extremely long terms predictions reminded me of the words of modern technologists like Vinod Khosla
or Peter Thiel
. This last one, in Zero to One
, rationalizes about how the man-machine integration will lead us to intelligence, greatness and innovation; computers and robots do the manual, automatic, bureaucratic labor, as we humans focus on the creative, critical and transactional part of business. This 100% analytical man is the modern equivalent of Wilde's individualist, to him the only ones with lives worth living.