I remember the 1980s vividly, particularly the culture. During that time, swathes of the British population tried to present themselves as intensely self-interested. People went out of their way to convince you not only of how selfish they were, but of how selfish was the human being as such.

If you think about that you will see the ridiculous performative contradiction at the heart of any such enterprise: it is the very effort to expose to social view how normal selfishness is that destroys its very mundanity, its very normality. If it were simply a natural human constant, why would selfishness need to be performed and re-performed, and to have this re-iteration exposited and exhibited, almost as if didactically? Here one witnesses not self-interest as normality, as part of a securely ‘natural’ background condition, but as the foregrounded excess of a strenuous (even anxious) attempt to normalise it. Every attempt to show or reveal self-interest as timeless human nature begins with (and ends with) the excess of a performance staged within a historical culture.

This is why the cynical critique of ‘consumerist’ society, alleging individuals simply too self-interested to participate in collective projects, is very far from deserving the name of realism. Indeed this kind of cynicism, far from accurately tracking some kind of general truth, is an ideology springing ultimately from the philosophical anthropologies embedded in a historically specific series of liberal economic theories.

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