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Enlightened Self-Interest by Susan H. Case
published in Volume 10, Issue 2 on September 21st, 2003

By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.
Adam Smith

You're in L.A. to stay with the friend you met on a beach in Greece. She's about to give a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend -- the one that lives the shorter drive away -- at his place in Santa Monica. She likes him less than the other one who lives further but she dislikes the freeways more. You've had too many drugs and maybe it's that and not the heat that's caused you to ride to the party in her red Fiat Spider top down clothed in only a silver spandex camisole. So -- turn around on the damn freeway and pick up the rest of the outfit. But wave first to sixteen gaping underpaid agricultural workers crammed standing in the back of a truck -- because you're friendly for a New Yorker -- and try to remember if you're still supposed to be boycotting grapes.

And then refusing to think about your work situation -- which your boss has just called you about this morning -- the short version of which is that you don't have one anymore -- you pull on a long black New York skirt which is all wrong for L.A.. Shove a little more tonic up your nose. At which point the boyfriend you've gone west with is powdered up too and decides that it's absolutely essential that he have sex right this minute with your friend who's cuteness cubed and who concurs. Which means the surprise party will be a little late. Their clothes are jumbled on the living room floor and so are they. Too bored to join in -- sick of both of them -- you finger instead the camera you planned to bring for party photos (the other party). With little to do because they're ignoring you -- which you can't stand -- you pick up a few shots of them. Look for the artistic angles and think maybe you'll study photography seriously now that you're unemployed. Document injustice -- for a better world ...

Let's freeze the frame right here and shift: That prior altruistic thought like all your noble thoughts lasts at most three minutes. The photos you take -- which come out great -- are put away in your desk and forgotten until a few years later when you get a phone call at 2 a.m.. You're unemployed again -- not that you have trouble holding a job -- when this same very ex-boyfriend tells you in a pulled taffy gin and tonic slur that he plans to enter politics -- a nice family-values-themed campaign. He claims a cleaned-up act (a lie) and you hear his question seriously suspended in the air (do you still have them?). Say nothing. Wait to negotiate you decide. First see if it looks like it's a win. You think abstractly about the nature of the photographic image -- of scandal sin and fame. Then wonder where you can get the best price.

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