Enlightened Self-Interest

Ambassador G'Kar: What if I told you a ship is ready to spirit you away to Narn space?
CWO. Michael Garibaldi: I'd say, "why?"
G'Kar: You could serve us in various ways. Analyst, security, cryptographer. If you grow homesick we could arrange for your return to human space with proper genetic alterations. That, too, might serve our needs.
Garibaldi: You want me to betray my own world?
G'Kar: Stop seeing things in such absolute terms. The universe is run by the interweaving of three elements: Energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest. Unless you comprehend that fact and soon, you will be cornered and caged.

Enlightened self-interest is a concept in ethics that doing things that benefit others also provides tangible benefits to the do-gooder.

Whether it's a big corporation sponsoring their local PBS station, getting ad time in exchange for helping provide a public service, a nation-state providing humanitarian aid to another in hopes of later reciprocation, or just ordinary people trading favors, the idea is relatively simple: you do well by doing good. It differs from pure altruism in that the do-gooder is actively seeking tangible future benefits (i.e. they're not doing it to make themselves feel good or otherwise being selfless), but is still usually on the optimistic side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism.

Bread and Circuses is this trope applied to The Empire's management of its own populace, treating them well so they won't rebel. A Hegemonic Empire may be formed through a nation practicing this trope.

Compare The Golden Rule, where you treat others the way you want to be treated. Contrast Realpolitik, where nations do underhanded things to serve their own self-interest. Contrast also Selfless Wish and Keep the Reward, both of which involve a character doing something without seeking repayment. May overlap with Pragmatic Villainy in cases where the villain helps the heroes because their interests coincide with his own, or with Pragmatic Hero when the hero makes a decision to act heroic because it advances his interests rather than because it's "right". See also Secretly Selfish, for when an otherwise altruistic character has an unexamined (or not) selfish ulterior motive.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, most of the Puella Magis who made a wish with Kyubey think of this when they make their wish: they wished for someone to prosper so that they will somehow benefit from it as well. The common source of despair in this series is that they often don't get those benefits in the end.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in From Bajor to the Black. Kanril Eleya notes an ulterior motive to the orders given by Starfleet Command to the USS Betazed, upon which she served as a gunnery officer, to provide humanitarian aid on request to Romulan worlds regardless of what the Nova Roma government thought about it. Sure, they do it because they're the good guys, but if they can sneak a few planets away from the Romulan Star Empire by doing it, it hurts one of their regional enemies.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Comes up a few times in Miracle on 34th Street:
    • In Kris' role as the mall Santa Claus, rather than push Macy's overstocked toys on visitors as he's been told to do, he tells them where they can go to get what they actually want, even if it's some other store. When Mr. Macy realizes the unorthodox practice has boosted consumer confidence and actually increased business, he has it implemented in every department of every store in the city. When their chief competitor notices all the good publicity Macy's is getting, they respond by implementing the same practice in every store nationwide.
    • It happens again during Kris' hearing, when the judge is reluctant to rule against "Santa Claus" since he knows the public backlash will likely cost him reelection. He therefore allows a lot of leeway for the defense's Courtroom Antics. Also, the post office workers sending the letters to Kris (which won his case) weren't trying to show their support, they just wanted to clear out the dead-letter office.
      • Even the prosecutor can't bring himself to stand up to the Courtroom Antics that much, complaining that the newspapers are making him out to be a heartless monster. He's afraid if he's too earnest in trying to convict "Santa Claus" it would break his son's heart.

    Literature 
  • Honor Harrington:
    • In The Honor of the Queen, the Star Kingdom of Manticore gives a massive tech bump to Grayson and several other planets at great expense and financial risk (huge Crown loans that may or may not ever be repaid) because they need allies and forward operating bases for the upcoming war with Haven. Haven did essentially the same thing, although because of their bad reputation they frequently had to settle for worse options like Masada (they would've preferred Grayson but the Manties got there first and Protector Benjamin was distrustful of their track record anyway), to whom they gave a City-class destroyer and a Sultan-class battlecruiser.
    • The Anderman Empire is known for realpolitik (they're modeled after Prussia, which codified the concept), but they're just as known for expanding their empire by helping out planets in need. This was in fact how they got their start, when mercenary Gustav Anderman (who thought he was the reincarnation of Frederick The Great) happened across the struggling planet Kuan Yin and fixed their problem with native microbes killing Terran crops in exchange for their crowning him Emperor and renaming the planet Potsdam.
  • Judge Dee has a scene where Ma Jong is talking with two casino guards, one of them explaining that the place remains stable and prosperous thanks to the three major merchants (the casino owner, an antiques dealer, and a whorehouse owner) recognizing that it's better to make less money in the short term by working with the other two (if a player loses big, he can always sell off an antique or a concubine, if he wins big, he'll want to exchange it for something easier to carry around or a more visible status symbol) than get rich quick via dishonest dealings.
  • Rihannsu: The Romulan concept of honor, mnhei'sahe ("the Ruling Passion") can align with this. Your actions are supposed to be taken in service to you and your own honor first and foremost, but ideally the action will benefit everyone else involved as well. The conflict of the book series is driven mainly by the fact that the political leadership of the Star Empire has forgotten or ignored the second part of that statement.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Prof. Slughorn has this as his characterization: being a Nice Guy from the otherwise unsavory and self-interested Slytherin House, he often help people he thinks would have potential to become great so that he will gain some benefit some way or another later. This backfired with Tom "Lord Voldemort" Riddle, to whom he provided information on dark magics such as the Horcrux, and he regards it as My Greatest Failure.
  • In the anthology of short stories Litmus (literature dramatising and explaining advances in science) author Maggie Gee offers the story "Living With Insects". This deals with the work of real-life biologist Bill Hamilton, who theorised and demonstrated that Nature does not have to be red in tooth and claw. Hamilton dealt with social insects, and in particular was seeking to resolve issues with "gender-neutral" species that even Darwin admitted could not be resolved according to his concept of evolution. Hamilton not only created a framework for resolving Darwin's enigmas, he demonstrated that the social insects offer a new route to evolutionary progress that might be even more efficient than "survival of the fittest" via continual competition. Hamilton suggested the social altruism practiced by ants, bees, etc., offers a co-operative method for societies to evolve and grow for less effort expended—therefore much more efficient. "Hamilton's Law", in biology and zoology, condenses this into c < br.note 
  • In the short story "A Woman's Work'' by Tanya Huff, the Evil Overlady builds hospitals and schools for her citizens, as this makes her popular and less likely to be assassinated. It also enables her to influence what the kids are taught, and who gets to be healed.
  • In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long observes, "Never appeal to a man's 'better nature'. He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage."
  • The protagonists of Safehold tend to lampshade those occasions when doing the politically expedient thing coincides with also doing the right thing. Specific examples include providing much needed food to the civil war torn Republic of Siddarmark, which also nets them a equally much needed mainland ally, and not assassinating the Earl of Thirsk, which is decided both because he's a Worthy Opponent who deserves better and because removing him presents the risk of someone less willing to oppose the Inquisition replacing him.
  • Atlas Shrugged is a novel about what happens when the Creator class (geniuses, innovators, entrepeneurs) defies the trope of Enlightened Self-Interest, which they realise is a lie which allows the Moocher class (everyone else) to steal value from them. Instead they choose to 'shrug' the burden of supporting all the worthless people in human society and act completely selfishly for a change, not only allowing the Moocher class to die but speeding up their inevitable demise through acts of sabotage and piracy. This is portrayed as a good moral choice for the Creator-class characters who choose to do this, because these particular people are shown to have No Empathy for the Moochers. Ergo, if these Creators acted to save the Moochers' lives (when they didn't want to) then that would be immoral since it went against their inner drives. Ayn Rand was quite clear on the point that while helping other people was not immoral per se, it was if you didn't want to.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 name-drops the concept a number of times, though it should be noted the show goes up and down the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism depending on the episode, with member nations of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council engaging in both enlightened self-interest and Realpolitik.
    • Discussed by G'Kar in season one's "Survivors". Garibaldi has been framed for plotting to assassinate President Luis Santiago (this is well before he actually was assassinated), and G'Kar offers to grant him asylum on Narn in hopes of making use of his skillset. (Garibaldi declines, instead choosing to Clear My Name.)
    • In the first half of season four, G'Kar and Londo Mollari make a pact of mutual benefit: Londo will end the Centauri occupation of the Narn homeworld if G'Kar helps Londo overthrow Emperor Cartagia, an Omnicidal Maniac.
    • In season four's "Between the Darkness and the Light", G'Kar and Londo Mollari convince the Babylon 5 member governments to throw their militaries behind Sheridan's war against President William Clark. The two of them note that it's both the morally upright choice and a sound decision from a foreign policy standpoint: if Sheridan's rebels should lose, Clark's anti-alien regime means they'll lose the humans as trade partners and potentially gain one of the region's major superpowers as an enemy.
      Vir Cotto: Politics and morality on the same side? That doesn't happen every day, Delenn.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy", the insane Garth tries to convince Kirk and Spock that they should be friends (with the implication that the other option would be "or I kill you").
    Spock: On what, precisely, is our friendship to be based?
    Garth: Upon the firmest of foundations, Mister Spock. Enlightened self interest.
  • In the first season Blue Bloods episode "Officer Down", The Mafia helps out when the NYPD goes after a Cop Killer with mafia ties. Grandpa Henry Reagan explains that when he was on the force the five families actually had explicit rules that cops were off-limits because dead officers are even worse for business than live ones.
  • Discussed on Friends, when Joey argues to Phoebe that there's no such thing as a selfless good deed, since everyone expects something good in return. Phoebe spends the episode trying to prove Joey wrong, with no success.
  • In Madam Secretary, title character Elizabeth McCord often appeals to enlightened self-interest as leverage to achieve policy goals that for her are altruistic.
    • In "The Call" she tries to get President Dalton and his chief of staff Russell Jackson on board with stopping a genocide in Africa with the idea that doing so protects a supply of bauxite (aluminum ore, for non-geologists). Subverted in that she's clearly grasping at straws, which Jackson lampshades, and she gives up on that approach.
    • In "Face the Nation" she and Mike B get a nonprofit to buy up a big chunk of the Ecuadorian Amazon so that the Chinese don't get it. What seals the deal is that it also lets the nonprofit's owner piss off a powerful oil magnate.
    • In a flashback in "There But for the Grace of God", she authors a memo to stop "enhanced interrogation" which focuses on torture's inefficiency rather than its immorality (the part she's more concerned about).
    • In "Sea Change" she talks President Dalton into closing the Navy base in Manama, Bahrain after it's damaged by a cyclone and moving its assets to Tunisia. For her it's about supporting a fledgling democracy and screwing the human rights-abusing Bahraini government, while Dalton gets to flip the bird to a campaign donornote  who jumped ship to his primary opponent, resulting in his loss.
  • Community episode "Advanced Gay" has Racist Grandpa Pierce Hawthorne embrace the fact that Hawthorne Wipes has become an icon in the gay community. Mostly because of the increased profits.

    Other 

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Basically every Legend of Zelda game ever has Link doing sidequests for people and being rewarded with Heart Containers or other useful items. Taken even further in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where doing these quests results in their gratitude crystallizing, and taking these physical emotions to a demonic-looking man under the city dispels his curse (and he rewards you with larger wallets).
  • In Star Trek Online, Chancellor J'mpok's motivation for throwing the Klingon Empire's support behind D'Tan's Romulan Republic is that it's a way to conquer one of the Empire's bitterest foes, the Romulans, without firing a shot: they get the Republic as allies and hurt the still-hostile Romulan Star Empire.
  • BioShock doesn't mention the concept by name, but deals with it (unsurprisingly, as it's largely a critique of Objectivism, mentioned under Literature and Real Life). Like Ayn Rand, Andrew Ryan seems to dismiss the notion offhand, refusing to contract any kind of social benefits or safety nets in Rapture. On the other hand, gangster Frank Fontaine builds poorhouses and other amenities for the poverty-stricken inhabitants of the city, and consequently when he decides to rise up against Ryan, he's got a veritable army on his side.

    Real Life 
  • Most of the funding for PBS and NPR actually comes from companies that make big donations to fund the networks and stations in exchange for being name-dropped on air. Likewise, Viewers Like You most often donate during pledge drives not just because they enjoy the programming, but because of the goodies that they get in return.
  • At the outset of the Cold War, with much of Europe, especially Germany, in ruins from World War II, President Harry Truman enacted the Marshall Plan, tasking the United States with rebuilding western europe. Truman's ulterior motive, of course, was that getting western Europe back on its feet would stop them from electing Socialist governments and/or seeking Soviet (reconstruction) aid.
    • His predecessor did the same before and after the US entered World War II, selling the UK war materiel, food, and other commodities at reasonable prices (or even on-loan) partly because it was profitable and helped the USA's economic recovery, partly because it saved Anglo-Saxon civilians' lives, and partly because it helped keep Hitler at bay.
  • This is the gist of crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter: if the product doesn't end up being Vapor Ware, the pledges receive some goodies as well.
  • Objectivism is this philosophy turned Up to Eleven. It posits that helping others to materially benefit yourself is the only moral way in which a selfish person can act altruistically, and that helping others without materially benefitting from doing so is both objectively irrational and morally wrong for selfish people. Oddly, Objectivism as defined by its creator Ayn Rand asserts that helping others to immaterially (reputation, gratitude, etc) benefit yourself is morally wrong because your interest are not advanced in an objectively quantifiable way. Psychologists speculate that this oversight stems from Rand's reasons for developing the philosophy, namely to "rationalise"/justify her emotional desire not to be beholden to her (loving, supportive) family and her friendless background. Since her death, Objectivists have moved towards accepting immaterial Enlightened Self-Interest.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EnlightenedSelfInterest