If there is one thing that increasingly provokes my ire, it is self-centredness. Amongst the very early lessons learned from my father was that obligation always to see to the welfare of your animals and your men before your own; woe betide any idiot subaltern who dared to whine "What about my right to warm food and a kipsack?" - it just wasn't done, just didn't happen. Everyone understood. Our scorn for the Italian army was total, the three scales of rations for officers, NCOs and ORs, with seniority of rank being used to secure the best for oneself and hang everyone else, more than their ineptitude in battle was responsible for morale that collapsed at the first challenge and soldiers eager to desert or surrender. Just as you can't build a cohesive military unit on the basis of selfishness, neither can you create a cohesive community or society.
And yet everywhere, and particularly amongst Gen X and Gen Y, is the Cult of Me. "It's my right to play my music at full volume", "It's my right to be happy", "It's my right to get the best for myself that I can" are the mantras of the modern age, increasingly bolstered by the judgements of courts not immune to the supremacy of individuality, and expenses-scandal MPs who sought to justify their theft, fraud and peculation by claiming that enriching themselves at our expense was their 'entitlement' and that 'the rules allowed it' - with never a word about responsibility, example and obligation, and in particular that obligation of good stewardship of the public purse that should be foremost in the mind of every public servant.
What is presented these days as 'fame' is not fame at all in most cases but notoriety. Lord Nelson is famous, Victoria Beckham is notorious. The jejune media 'talent' competitions, social networking facilities such as facebook and the like, and the focus of the red-tops and checkout glossies all promote personal notoriety as a social goal; no wonder so many are deluded into believing so.
Adam Smith's butcher certainly traded because it was in his own interest to do so, but there is a world of moral difference between the mechanisms of free markets and the Cult of Me. For the butcher to succeed, he must needfully be mindful of the wants of his customers, respond to demand and careful for his reputation; he seeks to be famous as a good butcher and not notorious an an indifferent one. It's his fault, not the fault of his customers, if he fails. He has no right to be wealthy, or successful. Acting in self-interest and acting selfishly are different. A mutual building society makes decisions based on self-interest in a very different way to a megapolitan bank acting selfishly.