Wow, it has been a long time since I've posted anything. I've been teaching an ethics class this fall, and at the moment I'm discussing ethical egoism with my students. As a result, I've been thinking about why people advocate selfishness. Certainly people can behave selfishly just because they are selfish, but what would make someone advocate everyone being selfish? Surely a truly selfish person wouldn't want others to be selfish.
Part of the reason no doubt is that the selfish person wishes his behavior to appear normal and acceptable, but I think that is not the whole story, or even the most important part of it. Rather, I suspect the major reason is that we have come to associate selfishness with cleverness. Thus, while ordinarily one would have thought a selfish person would want to avoid advertising the fact, in practice people's desire to appear clever, or at least to avoid appearing stupid at all costs, leads many of them to want to be thought of as selfish. Hence, they advocate selfish principles in order to try to signal that they are selfish, and so not stupid, and no doubt in some cases they even try to act more selfish than they actually want to be, again because they expect this to be viewed as sophistication.
I wonder how much of the popularity of libertarian views on the internet owes itself to this phenomenon.