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Enlightened Self-Interest

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Aloy: I'm past trusting you with secrets.
Sylens: Good, that means you're wising up. Trust is for fools. It shifts and crumbles like sand—a poor foundation for any partnership. But mutual-self interest, now that is a solid bedrock upon which you and I might build a new science of understanding.

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 Versus 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. Heaven Seeker is a related concept in religion, if the character's main reason for believing is to avoid damnation in the afterlife.

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 and Jerk with a Heart of Jerk in cases where the villain/jerk helps the heroes because their interests coincide with his own, or with Nominal Hero when the hero makes a decision to act heroically 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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Note Special Chapter: When Minoru Tanaka receives the Death Note, he uses it to make himself rich rather than using its instant kill abilities, since the former can be done legally and risk-free. When he auctions off the Death Note, he has the money divided among everyone with a Yotsuba Bank of Japan savings account under the age of 60. This is an acceptable sacrifice to protect his anonymity, since he's still going to get 1 billion yen anyways. At least until the Shinigami King writes a new rule forbidding the sale of the Death Note, resulting in Minoru dying at the end of the manga despite his efforts to avoid conflict.
  • 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 
  • Breaking Providence shows multiple characters engaging in helping others for their own reasons.
    • Countess Camilla keeps her subjects prosperous and happy so they'll keep her supplied with blood but otherwise leave her alone to perform her experiments.
    • Pope Serafina allies herself with the royal family and helps them take out various corrupt members of the nobility and clergy because it solidifies her own power base and eventually makes it easier for her to overthrow the royal family entirely.
    • Volupa loyally serves as Serafina's Shadow, eliminates numerous enemies of the Pope and royal family, and indulges the princess's wishes against the Pope's orders as it all aids in her master plan to weaken the Empire for the sake of the Dark Lord.
  • 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.
  • Discussed in Hardlight. Clockblocker suggests that Purity and her stepdaughter only healed a pediatric oncology ward as a PR stunt. Assault agrees with him that it's absolutely a PR stunt, but it's also forty children who no longer have cancer, which is all he cares about.
  • Metagaming?: Thrall privately admits that while he did sympathize with the Forsaken's plight, a large part of why he admitted them into the Horde was a combination of needing skilled arcane users and because the Horde had almost no holdings in the Eastern Kingdoms. By helping the former members of the Scourge, he shored up two significant weaknesses the Horde had.
  • A Nerubian's Journey: Of the Alliance leaders, Gelbin Mekkatorque is one of the few who supports the ideas of reforming the orcs and helping them through their coming withdrawal from the loss of their fel empowerment. However, his reasoning is that the orcs should pay back the Alliance for what they've destroyed with their campaign across the continent.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves:
    • After undeservedly gaining a reputation of a brutal murderer, Jaune proceeds to reform the White Fang, give charity to the poor, and attack Vale's corrupt institutions. Jaune has no genuine desire to do any of these things at first, but wants to improve his reputation.
    • Realizing that Jaune is crafting a benevolent image for himself, Ozpin responds with his own PR campaign to help discredit the White Fang and enhance Beacon's reputation. Ruby notes with some frustration that Vale's attempts to help the faunus isn't being done out of altruism, but to discredit Jaune himself.
  • Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum: Once Draco realizes that his only "friends" Crabbe and Goyle would abandon him the moment his father lost his influence and/or money, he starts going out of his way to act friendly towards younger students, especially the first two years who have minimal exposure to him. Over the course of months, he gains support from people who genuinely like him, or at least believe he can help them with their problems. His growth is best characterized when his father rages about Fudge blackmailing everyone bribing him. Lucius wants to have Fudge killed and believes the other lords would support him. Draco knows that doing so to a minister gearing up for a war against dark wizards would make the man a martyr and the other lords would throw Lucius to the bloodthirsty crowds in order to save themselves.
  • Shen Yuan decides early on in SV Wishes to be kind to Shen Qingqiu's put-upon servant/apprentice Luo Binghe. While Shen Yuan does have sympathy for the mistreated boy, he mostly does it to have a loyal ally in an unfamiliar environment and to prevent Luo Binghe from having justification to betray him.
  • With This Ring: Enlightened Self-Interest is a main idea of Paul's philosophy for the Orange Lantern Corps. The better an Orange Lantern understands the reasoning behind their desires, the better they can act upon them. Especially in the interest of furthering the Corps' interests, of which an ethical approach to their goals is mandated. Self-actualization and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs also apply. As explained in part 4 of the story:
    "As an Orange Lantern, this is something you must be aware of in yourself. An Orange Lantern's ability to use their ring is dependent on understanding and working towards the realisation of your desires." ... "There are an almost infinite number of approaches a person can take to almost anything. But if you've taken up an orange power ring, you have to proceed in a particular way or you cripple yourself."
  • In One for All and Eight for the Ninth, Izuku berates Rikiya Yotsubashi, the Quirkist owner of Detnerat, over his company's policy of denying services to Quirkless people. Other industrialists witness this and realize that Quirkless people (who form 20 percent of the population) represent a large, relatively untapped market, so they begin to work with the few companies that are still largely working to make products for them, which allows them to make a lot of money while getting great publicity.
  • The (Questionable) Burdens of Leadership of a Troll Emperor: Xanna makes sure her citizens are healthy, happy, and prosperous because it makes her empire more prosperous. Oma Desala admits that Xanna and Naruto aren't good people, each being monstrous in their own way, but their actions (fighting the Goa'uld, freeing slaves, uplifting civilizations) do benefit the galaxy as a whole simply because Xanna wants to create the greatest empire the universe has ever seen.
  • In When Reason Fails, there's not much room for selflessness and altruism among Initiates, but they are willing to help each other, for a price. This price can be as cheap as providing entertainment, like what Shoto gets from Izuku's Cabal in exchange for helping them out, to as expensive as braving a dangerous area to get rare materials in exchange for alchemical drugs.

    Films — 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. Taking this trope to its most comical extreme, this eventually becomes an Escalating War between Macy's and its main competitor. By the time it's over, the two stores are fighting each other for which one can donate medical supplies to a local retirement home.
    • 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.

  • 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 helps 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. However, Slughorn is surprisingly lax with his requests from his old proteges, usually being sports tickets, sweets or such modesties. Granted, he was retired by the start of the series so it's likely he had no real ambition by his age except to enjoy his golden years in comfort (at least until Dumbledore convinces to come out of retirement and return as a professor).
  • 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, but he also 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 
  • Tanya Huff explores this concept in her work:
    • In the Confederation of Valor novels, the Confederation gave the humans, Taykans, Krai, and Silsviss tech bumps in exchange for becoming their warrior races for the war with the Others.
    • In Huff's short story A Woman's Work, 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 an 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, entrepreneurs) defies this trope, which they realise is a lie that 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 Sympathy 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.
  • In The Truce at Bakura, the Rebel Alliance intervenes in an Alien Invasion of the Imperial planet Bakura despite having suffered heavy casualties mere days earlier at the Battle of Endor. Getting an Imperial world to switch sides so soon after Emperor Palpatine's death would have enormous propaganda value, and moreover, Bakura is a mid-scale supplier of repulsorlift engines and components, a Boring, but Practical but rather important strategic resource.
  • A rather important theme of The Lost Fleet series, as recently-defrosted Human Popsicle John Geary struggles against the Alliance Navy's habitual disregard of the laws and customs of war. The Syndicate Worlds treated its prisoners of war poorly even from the beginning, which led to retaliation by the Alliance, which led to retaliation by the Syndics... rinse and repeat for a century of all-out war. Geary frames his argument for breaking this cycle in terms of this trope and is ultimately proven right: At one point late in the series, a group of his subordinates who were briefly captured by the enemy report that some Syndicate Space Marines disobeyed orders to kill them before they could be rescued explicitly in return for Geary having refused to Sink the Lifeboats during a previous engagement.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School, Tatsuya gives Masaki (a piece of the) weaponry that could effortlessly make him a war hero. Tatsuya does this because- aside from their country being in danger on multiple fronts- he is currently the target of a media swarm that makes it impossible for him and his fiancee to leave the house. Masaki's new status as a celebrity- which he minds much less than Tatsuya did- diverts the journalists' interest.
  • In The World's Finest Assassin, the titular aristocratic assassin Lugh Tuatha Dé is kind and helpful to the villagers working his family lands and goes out of his way to rescue and train the orphans Tarte and Maha, who were doomed to short, miserable lives full of suffering before Lugh intervened. He does this not out of altruism, but because he's building a resource base and recruiting talented, loyal pawns for his work. Despite his self-interested goals, however, the fact that he's objectively improving the lives of the people he interacts with still puts him morally head and shoulders above the corrupt nobles that are his most common targets.
  • In Codex Alera, this is mentioned word-for-word to be the reason why Invidia Aquitaine makes and maintains her alliance with Isana. The problem is, she's not as enlightened as she thinks she is, and tends to underestimate the intelligence of others. This causes her to betray other people of a number of occasions when she thinks it is in her self-interest to do so, only to find they've predicted it and she's just put herself in a much worse position than if she'd kept her word.
  • The Genius Prince's Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?): Prince Wein is the acting regent of the impoverished kingdom of Natra and his soldiers are technically loyal to his father and the country rather than himself, so he has to be a benevolent ruler if he wants to avoid a coup and slowly gain their loyalty. He plans to use their eventual loyalty to convince them to allow the Earthworld Empire to annex Natra, allowing him to retire. He also has to choose the most diplomatic means of solving problems because using too much military force will send his country's budget into the red.

    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 Versus 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.
  • Chiefs: Sonny Butts' interest in capturing the pedophiliac Serial Killer who has plagued the county for decades peaks when he realizes that such a high-profile arrest might be enough to keep him from being fired over the suspicious death of one of his prisoners.
  • 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 on a Cop Killer Manhunt against a suspect 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, even if just the feeling of having done something good. Phoebe spends the episode trying to prove him wrong, with no success. It culminates in her making a $200 pledge to PBS, which she took no pleasure in doing (as it reminded her of the time in her life from right after her mother's suicide), though acknowledging that there were children out there who benefited from the channel in terms of its educational value. Unfortunately, her donation was picked up by Joey, who was participating in a PBS telethon at the time, and the size of it got him the television exposure that he had sought in the first place.
    Phoebe: [excitedly] Oh, look, look, Joey's on TV! Isn't that great? Hey, my pledge got Joey on TV! Oh, that makes me feel so- Oh, no!
  • Jeremiah: Eddie from "To Sail Beyond the Stars" is an ally of the Thunder Mountain scouts who specializes in gathering information that he passes on to other people who will pay for it or share his goals of seeing civilization restored (which will give him a place to spend all of the money he's been accumulating).
  • 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 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.
  • In the Alternate History of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Princess Augusta singlehandedly desegregates the high society of Georgian England by ennobling people of color from good families...not because she cares about racial equality, but because it will allow the crown to save face after George marries a woman they didn't realize was half-Black.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering selfishness is Black's main ideological point. Quite a few characters have realised their self-interest can be best achieved with cooperation, such as Liliana Vess during her tenure in the Gatewatch or Sorin Markov in the many crises he ended up saddled with. This can also show up in Blue and Green, the former being the color most associated with rationality (so for instance even the most dispassionate like Amonkhet's Kefnet see the benefits of protecting others) and the latter with the greater picture (like Vivien Reid helping humanity and civilisation even if she otherwise couldn't be glader if they died).
  • Warhammer 40,000: This is the theory behind the Tau Empire's philosophy of the Greater Good, that multiple species can work together and still attain their own goals. For example, the Kroot seek new enemies to diversify their genetic material, so they work with the Tau as frontline troops to get plenty of meat and DNA. Like every slightly positive aspect of 40K, it's best not examined too closely, as it's possible the Tau use mind-control devices to make sure their allies don't forget about the "benefits everyone" part.
    • Commissar Cain note  claims that this is why he treats his soldiers with respect and at least appears to care for their lives: Commissars that are too unpopular and maintain order with BLAM-ings tend to find themselves on the wrong end of lasguns carried by the people they terrorized. Of course, whether he's being coldly pragmatic or a Humble Hero is all up for debate.

    Video Games 
  • 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. Both of these cynical viewpoints are counterbalanced by Dr. Tenenbaum, who genuinely wants to help both the victims of Rapture.
  • BattleTech:
    • The Magistracy of Canopus bankrolls Kamea Arano's efforts to retake the throne of the Aurigan Coalition after her uncle Santiago Espinosa overthrows her in a Military Coup. Kamea is a genuinely decent person, but the Canopians are more interested in the fact that her uncle's saber-rattling is ramping up tensions between The 'Verse's superpowers, and they have no appetite for another galactic war. It also puts a neighboring third-tier star nation in the Canopians' debt and gives them a forward base on the border of the Taurian Concordat.
    • Backfires somewhat when the Taurians join the Proxy War, but that in itself is an example: the Taurians were duped into thinking Kamea had massacred civilians and was being helped by the Taurians' Arch-Enemy the Federated Suns. When they learn it was an Espinosa False Flag Operation, they pull out and leave the Espinosas to their fate.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: Sylens espouses this philosophy, mocking the idea of actually trusting people but being more than willing to work with anyone if it serves his interests... and then abandoning them once he's gotten everything he needs out of them. He actually created the Shadow Carja and directly empowered the Big Bad, but he insists everything he did was perfectly justified, he simply didn't take enough precautions. Aloy, who operates on a more idealistic type of pragmatism, is able to work with him, but she hates every second of it. Even though he considers Aloy an equal partner, he lies to her constantly, because he finds it easier to hide his less moral actions rather than to bother explaining them to her. In Horizon Forbidden West, this backfires on Sylens because he seemingly betrayed her and she cuts off communication, when the truth is that he (ironically) vastly overestimated the altruism of another faction.
  • League of Legends has Renata Glasc, the Chem-Baroness, who effectively controls the city of Zaun via her corporate stranglehold on its various industries in concert with well-calculated acts of charity. Years ago, Zaun was caught up in a massive chemical disaster, and Glasc Industries took the opportunity to distribute free breathers to help the population recover, skyrocketing their reputation as a reliable source of quality while feeding Renata's endless hunger for power and wealth.
  • Basically every The 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 The Outer Worlds, Sanjar Nandi is a rare example of an Honest Corporate Executive in a setting where almost every corporate higher-up is either corrupt, incompetent or a combination of both. His corporation espouses such values as worker's rights and not putting profits over lives, with Sanjar noting that not only are happy and healthy workers more productive, his employees also happen to be his customers so it's in his best interest to keep them happy.
  • Rise Of The White Sun pits you as a Chinese warlord in the 1920s. All the social reforms, curbing of corruption, fighting bandits, setting up schools, even propping up a banking system... are done for the sake of firmly staying in power in the area you control and having an easier time getting loyal, well-armed soldiers for your personal armies, to further strengthen your rule. The game doesn't even try to hide it, stating in various event and info blurbs the cynical reasons for which various things are done or how your regime is twisting them for its own needs.
  • 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.
  • Mega-Corp Empires in Stellaris are a Mechanically Unusual Class that encourage this mentality to some degree. Corporate empires tend to have certain job variants that generate extra Trade, and with the Trade League Federation that they can create, they can easily generate large amounts of luxury goods and foster a thriving corporate culture, which makes it easy to enable Utopian Abundance living standards for their population, bringing a high Approval Rating and thus high Stability. They can also open Branch Offices on planets belonging to other empires, which generate Energy Credits for the Megacorps based on how thriving said planet's economy is, so they are encouraged to help these economies to thrive just to collect the massive dividends this would bring them. Their Branch Offices also allow them to build unique Corporate buildings, which gives resources to the Corporation, but also creates local employment (creating resources for the local authority).

    Web Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Italy declared neutrality at the start of World War I. Italian Prime Minister Antonio Salandra called his policy "sacro egoismo" - "sacred self-interest." Italy ended up joining the Allies because they offered more than the Central Powers, and the Allies' unfulfilled promises to Italy were a major factor in them joining the Axis Powers in WWII.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, before and after the US entered World War II, sold 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.
  • Under Otto von Bismarck, Imperial Germany implemented some of the first social welfare policies in the modern world. But this was not out of any sympathy for socialism or the workers, but because Bismarck wanted to deter socialist revolution.


Video Example(s):



After beating Motoyasu in a race for the ownership of Lute Village, Naofumi asks for payment: not in the form of money that the villagers needed to rebuild their village, but in the form of a wagon for Filo to pull, and a Traveling Merchants' Pass that the Elder threw in for him.

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Main / EnlightenedSelfInterest

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