There is no selfless act. Though you die for values and ideals, they are nonetheless yours and yours alone, subjective and independent of external facts and realities. Insofar as self-preservation is the prerogative of all life, the preservation of ideals and values is the prerogative of the human consciousness.
But what of love? some may say. Love is a selfish conception. If it is not predicated as a pleasure or passion, it is predicated as a subjective concept projected onto the world to characterize a type of relationship. To die for another is to die for your ideals and values, not the subjective values of others. The act of dying for another or another’s values is embedded with subjective valuations. Camus said that what man believes to be true must determine his action.
Echoing Nietzsche in his essay On Truth and Lies in the Non-moral Sense, truth is a metaphorical representation that is coined from an originally subjective perception of experience and passed on as an objective fact of experience. Though it may be passed on as objective, its application in life through experience is nonetheless a subjective assertion. Insofar as we exist before we perceive the world, all that is conceivable and doable is a sui generis selfish act, whether it’s to preserve the well being of the body or preserve the conceptions of the mind.
But what of martyrs or saints? others will say. Are not these selfless acts of death or denial? I would reply that they are no more selfless than suicide or any other act that preserves a subjectively possessed belief or ideal.
The only selfless acts are those selfish deeds which indirectly and consequently improve upon the lives of others so that they must do the same when taken to denouement. That is, selfless acts are no more selfish than any other act, only that their corollary influences others to perform actions which empower others to empower others.
In this way one may pursue the ideal of freedom selfishly but in doing so he not only apprehends freedom personally, but apprehends this freedom for others as well. Likewise it is with equality, so that by cherishing equality for selfish motives he secures equality for all. What must be preserved in these acts is an inherent method of propagating the power of others to do the same.
Creativity must not be confused as being exclusively devoted to the arts. Creativity is the ability to stipulate something from nothing, to instantiate new conceptions according to new or existing demands. The constructive value to life inherent in creativity also contains an equally threatening detriment to life. By their very nature new and original conceptions destroy uniformity, disrupt equilibrium and threaten the familiar. The foreign and alien, the new and novel, have no place in circular systems. Circular systems arise from habits formalized as convention, routine, pattern, method and the like. They allow predictability and consistency and uniformity. Their adoption requires a suspension of familiarity so that a leap of faith is required for their assimilation. In many cases the familiar must not only be amended, but totally destroyed and annihilated to sufficiently accommodate change. In this way change requires adaptation, an alteration of existing units and relations within a system.
These systems may represent cultural practices, or histories, or traditions or rationale. One must not rely on the past to sufficiently guide and navigate the future. So long as there is time, there is change, and all change must be embraced accordingly. Negating the existence of changes is the source of all problems. If life is an activity characterized by growth, problems are a natural phenomenon and must be welcomed as such. But what is growth if it is not life? And what is life if not a continual pursuit of preservation? To preserve the past is to celebrate death; but this is precisely the natural character of humans. Nietzsche said “Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.” As with all things living, it is human nature to preserve the self, to struggle to exist, but the rarity arises in man’s specialized ability to preserve. This ability resides in the act of perpetuating equilibrium through adaptation, through the creative employment of reason and imagination to adjust to changes. Non-living matter can be said to be in the greatest equilibrium of all.
But this is where man diverges from other life. It is not enough to maintain equilibrium. Man contains a will to create equilibrium where there is not, to dominate his surroundings in an effort to project an ultimate equilibrium that renders a congruency between the inner life of the self and his environment. This is why Nietzsche dismissed the Darwinian notions of struggle for existence in favor of the will to power which more accurately reflects the nature of man. Evidence of the will to power becomes obvious when we turn to the modern day manifestations of man and witness artificial disequilibrium instantiated as civilization and technologies. Going far beyond all the past pursuits of life that merely sought to preserve corporeal existence, man has successfully learned to preserve the inner self. He has fully exercised his freedom to impress his inner world onto the outer world, to fashion it according to his liking.
Leaders are creators who operate to conjure and implement new realities and visions that accommodate real or perceived changes. While leaders can be oppressive in this way, they can be, more importantly, liberators who sow new realities and ideas that empower others. The difference lies in the values contained in the given vision and whether or not these values empower others to empower themselves to empower others.