Are Single People, Who Live Alone, Selfish?

September 6, 2012  |  

Are single people selfish in nature?

More particularly do single people, who live alone, detract away from the greater good of society?  According to Benjamin Schwartz, writer for The August issue of the American Interest, they do. In his column called Selfishness as a Virtue, Schwartz says that the more than 31 million Americans, who are single and live alone, are squandering the tradition of moral reasoning this country was built upon just for selfish pursuits of individualism.
Taking particular shots at Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg, a book that champions the virtues of singlehood, Schwartz writes, “Individuals don’t transfer values from one generation to the next. Individuals are biologically incapable of producing a next generation except in the crudest possible sense of the term. Socialization—the process through which a person internalizes what is good and bad, meaningful and meaningless—is shaped by one’s relatives, the friends and associates who surround a person, and typically a canon of texts that is revered and consulted for guidance. The values of expressive individualism guarantee that the values of future generations will be more or less up for grabs for the simple reason that expressive individualists have a difficult time replicating (the demographic data don’t lie) and an even more difficult time socializing a child. ”

I haven’t read the book Going Solo however I am very familiar with the stigma attached to those who choose to create a habitat of one, especially if you are a woman of a certain age. Single people are supposed to be selfish and lonely and miserable. Your life is a tale of tragedy usually reserved as an example of what not to become. At best you are immature, caught up in a perpetual arrested development, which won’t allow you to face real adulthood. And at the most, you are eccentric weirdo, who is only 12 felines away from being the cat-lady.  And now thanks to Schwartz, we can add immoral, valueless sycophants to the list. No way can individuals, living individually, work towards the greater good of society. We are all too caught up in our demands for privacy and single serving packages of meat (seriously, can they get around to making that) to actually want to share any redeeming values, worth sharing with the next generation.

Can single people be self-interested at times? Sure. I used to think that the older I got, the more set in my ways I had become. Now I’m starting to think that it is living alone has more to do with my desire to maintain my blissful habitats and the comfort I created in my own life’s routine. I have a two to three hour window of tolerance for company of others because being around people requires a lot of energy and patience. It’s nothing that they are doing wrong – per say. But let’s face it: Isn’t everyone annoying to a certain extent? Including me.

But does my appreciation of “space” and “privacy” mean that I value selfishness? I think not. I don’t just give to charity, I actually volunteer time in the community, helping neighbors and pitching in wherever I can. I am a mentor to a high school, college bound senior and I am also involved in the lives of my little nephews and niece.  I not only spend time with my family; but I am more likely to offer support, financial and physical, to my extended family than my brother, who is married with children (no disrespect to him).  In fact, my single status has afforded me more time for sharing and caring, as opposed to doing it out of obligation, which tends to be the case for those who are married or with children.
And this is not just my experience. A recent national survey suggest that single people are more likely to visit, support, contact, and advise their siblings and parents than married or even previously married people. And according to an article in Science 2.0, research in Portugal and Belgium, has concluded that better societies are best formed when individuals are free to act as they wish, as individuals, as opposed to acting in more restrictive social and political dogmas.

I have met many single folks who have packed up their lives on a whim to go off to some far away land for volunteer work through some overseas aid organization. More domestically, we can’t forget about the single folks, who work extra hours at the company while the married folks are off on maternity leave, tending to doctor visits and parent/teacher conferences and jetting off for family emergencies. Without the selfless sacrifices of single people, much of the vital work needed to maintain the ‘greater good’ wouldn’t get done.

Yes it is true that human beings are naturally pack-like creatures. Married people tend to suffer less mental illness and are in better physical health. However, for a growing number of folks, marrying and having kids is not their definition of the good life. And being forced to co-habitat and procreate can have a bigger impact on your health than just remaining a household of one.

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