Chapter 3b

Self-Regulation Requires Fellow-Feeling

July 21, 2021 by Juan Icon

Many liberals advocate the self-regulation as an alternative to regulation by governments and institutions. They usually borrow passages from Adam Smith who said that the government should not lay its hand on the freedom of individuals to act as they see fit. They say that invisible hand of self-interest is much better at regulating the self:

Every individual works to render the society’s annual revenue as great as he can. He generally does not intend to promote the public interest.. By preferring to support domestic industry over foreign industry, he intends only his own security. By directing that industry to produce the greatest value [for society], he intends only his own gain. In this case, as in many other cases, he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which he did not intend. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it [the society] was no part of it [the goal]. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes the society’s interest more effectively than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation not very common among merchants. Wealth Of Nations Book 4

However, they fail to point out that before such self-interest is promoted, Smith advocated that fellow-feeling must be propagated first:

the loss or gain of our own very small interest appears to be vastly more important to the selfish and original passions of human nature. As long as they are surveyed from this station, his interests can never be put into the balance with our own, and restrain us from doing whatever promotes our own interest, no matter how ruinous to him.

Before we can compare those opposite interests, we must change our position. We must view them neither from our own place nor from his, with our own eyes nor with his. Theory of Moral Sentiments

If fellow-feeling regulates self-interest, what regulates this fellow-feeling?

Self-regulation through the Conscience and the Common Interest

This fellow-feeling is regulated by our conscience for personal situations, and the commmon interest for social situations. Adam Smith calls this conscience and commmon interest as impartial spectator which is located in the heart. In Hinduism, this matches the heart chakra which regulates human feelings:

We are naturally interested with the events that affect our little selves the most. Our interest creates our feelings which are often too vehement. If they become too vehement, Nature's proper remedy is the real or even imaginary presence of the impartial spectator, the authority of the man within the breast, to overawe and moderate our feelings. Theory of Moral Sentiments Part 7, Section 2

Thus, Adam Smith’s liberalism requires self-regulation which in turn requires the heart, which is then tuned to our highest personal ideals or those of our society.

How our Personal Moral Sense as our Conscience Regulates the Ego through Fellow-feeling with our Future Self

According to David Hume, each perception of our selves is a discrete identity which is separate from our other selves. It means that the you of now is a different entity from the you 1 second from now and the you 2 minutes ago.

The conscience corrects our current self X by projecting the mind onto our future selves Y and Z which will bear the consequences of the actions of our self X. This then makes us correct our actions to avoid future pain.

For example, the conscience of a diabetic person will make him think twice about eating sweets because it knows that it will produce bad effects later. It projects its from from its current self onto its future self and feels the pain or weakness of that future self. This pain or weakness then corrects the action of the current self, as to avoid eating the sweets.

How our Social Moral Sense as Our Sense of the Common Interest Regulates Our Actions Ego in Society

This conscience turns into our sense of the common interst when expanded onto the social dimension. We don’t punch others on the street because our minds project our selves onto the person that we intend to punch. We either foresee his pain or foresee his counter attack against us and feel our our pain then. This cognition of future pain makes us stop our action.

Our moral sense (the pain of future pain for ourselves or others) is usually overridden by the pleasures from own ego. For example, a corrupt politician knows that stealing is wrong. But the pleasure he gets from his ill-gotten wealth overrules the sense of the pain he is giving to others or the pain he is giving to his future self if caught.

A druglord knows that drugs are bad. But the pleasure from easy riches contradicts this bad feeling from his moral sense.

Hitler probably knew that invading other countries and killing innocents was bad. But the pleasure of seeing Germans dominate other people was far stronger than any pain from losing the war or sensing the suffering of foreigners and even his fellow Germans towards the end of the war.

Fellow-Feeling Should Come First

Before any action or policy is initiated, each person must have a fellow-feeling with his selves and with others. Without it, actions will likely be arbitrary and possibly hurtful to the self and others. Only when fellow-feeling and the moral sense is developed can self-regulatory policies be implemented.