A Morality for Success: What Self-Destructive Celebrities Need

by | Mar 9, 2006

The truth is that anyone who wants to achieve success––and then keep it, nurture it, and enjoy it––must practice reason and self-interest as moral virtues.

Periodically the newspapers report the latest celebrity scandal–another talented young person down in flames to drugs, alcohol, or violence. Every time it happens, people ask, “Why? How is it that people with everything going for them self-destruct like this?”

To answer the question, let’s examine the case of a fictional celebrity.

We’ll call him Celebrity X. He is in his early 20’s and has achieved a success most people have to work a lifetime for. He has millions in the bank, a fabulous home, multiple cars, adoring fans, and the respect of his peers. He has success beyond his wildest dreams.

What does he do now?

A young person brought up in conventional society, educated in the public schools and taught a Judeo-Christian morality, has probably heard the

following: the only reason to achieve is to serve society; the essence of morality is self-sacrifice; choose important values by following your emotions. Celebrity X takes these ideas seriously. What is the result?

The first thing Celebrity X will feel is guilt. He looks around and sees people who are older, smarter, and have been working at their careers for decades––and still haven’t come close to his level of success. He’ll see the poor people around the world and wonder why he deserves his success while they have nothing.

To assuage his guilt, he’ll need a cause. Today’s most popular celebrity causes are eradicating poverty in Africa and saving the environment.

Celebrity X will throw himself into these causes so intensely that they will begin to take over his life. Since he has been taught that succeeding in a career is selfish and has no moral value, his success leaves him feeling empty. The only time he feels motivated to work is when he notices his bank account starting to get too low.

Since he lives in Hollywood and is active in the social scene, drugs and alcohol are a constant temptation. Eventually, the combination of guilt over his success and the pressure of trying to prove himself moral via his causes will bring him to such an unbearable level of stress that we will feel the only solution is to drown it in drugs and alcohol. Since he has been taught that reason has no moral status, he will not think about what he is doing to his mind with drugs and alcohol. Since he does not believe that reason is the proper tool to use to choose values, he will not worry about what he is doing to his life by destroying his mind. Since all his friends use drugs and alcohol and he wants to fit in with his friends, the only thing he’ll worry about is how many smiling faces he can surround himself with.

Then one day he will wake up broke and unable to get a job because no one will hire an alcoholic drug addict. His friends and the people who manage his causes have all abandoned him because without money or his superstar status, he is of no use to them. The panic of being in this situation will lead to more drug and alcohol use, until he hits rock bottom. Then the only thing that will matter will be to get more dope and booze, and with no money, he’ll get involved with the wrong type of people. He’ll soon realize that if he’s going to deal with criminal types, he’s going to need protection, so he ends up with a gun in his pocket. From here, he is only one botched drug deal away from either killing or being killed.

Yes, this is fiction. But pay attention when the next big celebrity scandal hits the newspapers. The concrete details might differ, but the principle will be the same. What was missing from Celebrity X is missing from most celebrities–and most people in general. We teach our children that reason has no moral status and the way to choose values is with your emotions. And then we are mystified when they end up on drugs. We teach that a business career has no moral virtue; it is merely the practical means to supporting a self-sacrificial cause. And then we are surprised when we hear the successful say they feel empty inside.

The truth is that anyone who wants to achieve success––and then keep it, nurture it, and enjoy it––must practice reason and self-interest as moral virtues.

David Gulbraa is a writer in Orange, California. His latest book is the short story collection The Boy Who Got Hit By Cars.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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