I've been reading The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch. I thought this was an interesting reflection from the protagonist on having helped out his sister, whom he does not like, but feels that he must “do what one has to do,” and how that is motivated ultimately by a self-love:
That human beings can acquire a small area of unquestioned obligations may be one of the few things that saves them: saves them from the bestiality and thoughtless night which lies only a millimeter away from the most civilized of our specimens. However if one examines closely some such case of ‘duty’, the petty achievement of some ordinary individual, it turns out to be no glorious thing, not the turning back by reason or godhead of the flood of natural evil, but simply a special operation of self-love, devised perhaps even by Nature herself who has, or she could not survive in her polycephalic creation, many different and even incompatible moods. We care absolutely about that which we can identify ourselves. A saint would identify himself with everything. Only there are, so my wise friend tells me, no saints.And one more about ego, the nature of being "good," and the role of "morality" (or at least "duty" or "habit") in a functioning society:
The natural tendency of the human soul is towards the protection of the ego. The Niagara-force of this tendency can be readily recognized by introspection, and its results are everywhere on public show. We desire to be richer, handsomer, cleverer, stronger, more adored and more apparently good than anyone else. I say 'apparently' because the average man while he covets real wealth, normally covets only apparent good. The burden of genuine goodness is instinctively appreciated as intolerable, and a desire for it would put out of focus the other and ordinary wishes by which one lives. Of course very occasionally and for an instant even the worst of men may wish for goodness. Anyone who is an artist can feel its magnetism. I use the word 'good' here as a veil. What it veils can be known, but not further named. Most of us are saved from finding self-destruction in a chaos of brutal childish egoism, not by the magnetism of that mystery, but by what is called grandly 'duty' and more accurately 'habit'. Happy is the civilization which can breed men accustomed from infancy to regard certain at least of the ego's natural activities as unthinkable. This training, which in happy circumstances can be of life-long efficacy, is however seen to be superficial when horror breaks in: in war, in concentration camps, in the awful privacy of family and marriage.