Humans are weird. We are social beings, but only up to a certain limit. When it really comes down to it, we are very selfish. In periods of crises, we show our true colors.
Let’s look for example at what happened during the Great Britain Survey to stay or leave the European Union.
The people of G.B. primarily voted on ONE issue, which was: we do not want any more foreigners in our country. We want to decide ourselves whether we let people in or not. Basically all other subjects were ignored. They thought that if GB would just be able to close their borders for refugees, their country would be better off. No matter what. Pure selfishness.
Apart from the fact that it was not smart ignoring all the other subjects the countries within the European Union cooperate on among each other and so forming themselves a realistic picture of what was the better choice from their perspective, they let themselves be led by the fear of having to share a part of what they have with people who had to leave everything they have behind.
This fear was skilfully fed by the right wing politicians that threatened the people with terrorism. Terrorism is a farce. Much more people die by hands of the internal conflict between Catholics and Protestants then Muslim terrorists in GB.
This selfishness applies to ALL people, all over the world. The Greek, they blame ‘Europe’ for their situation, where it is the Greek people themselves who have structurally undermined their government finances by making it the national sport to escape paying taxes.
The Italians blame ‘Europe’ for their situation where the Italian people time and time again put corrupt people in leading positions and put up with the mafia.
And so on and so on. Even the people, of Dutch, complain about ‘Europe’ because they don’t receive enough money from Europe and have to pay too much to save ‘pathetic countries’, where we let out government spend money on senseless projects and do nothing against it.
It is all because selfishness is a survival skill. As a group, as well as an individual. It is a deep rooted automatism that is very hard to shut down. We can do it temporarily, at times we are doing well ourselves. But when shit hits the fan, it is me and mine first, and then the rest. Hypocrisy goes hand in hand with that. When applicable, we allow ourselves things that we would not allow others. Perfectly understandable, WE need to survive, not them.
2. To be selfish is just between taking care of yourself and actively harming others. When you actively harm others, it’s obviously to benefit yourself in some way, (such as mirroring past abuse received or attempting to feel emotion where this is none) otherwise why do it at all? In psychology it’s known as psychopathy. It is a very useful trait to have if you want to be a politician, lawyer, spy or CEO. It is absolutely despicable to have as a friend. Psychopaths lack the ability to activate large regions of their brains that monitor empathy and morality. So of course they lack these things.
If you are worried about being selfish yourself, then you’re fine. The fact that you are even remotely concerned speaks volumes. It is expected, since humans are innately loving. It explains everything, even why we fight, because people love and want to protect their kin, even if it hurts them.
If you are concerned about what to do when someone else is being selfish, then I need more details. These things are always examined on a case-by-case basis.
Many argue that we exist in a society that rewards selfishness, since our entire economy, government and education systems are based solely on competition. It is highly unusual, in my opinion, to run society against itself needlessly like this, so that the vast majority loses every battle. There can only be one “winner” after all. So arguably the world is quite selfish when western societal values have been twisted out of control and impose themselves upon the world.
On the other hand, does anyone deserve anything? Yes, I think everyone deserves not just a chance, but a full life. But why would the competitors vote themselves out of a potential victory? They won’t. It’s up to you to find your own way outside of the clashing swords of literal global death matches and seek world peace and prosperity for all. We have the technology to do so, and the will is building. Will it happen now, later or never?
- We all know someone who is selfish. These are the people who will make decisions that benefit them, seemingly without giving any thought to the impact this might have on others. These are the people who will take the last chip, or who will try to dictate the activities of their group of friends.
Dealing with these kinds of people can be difficult but the first step to dealing with them effectively (and not going completely out of your mind in the process!) is to better understand what causes them to act that way in the first place.
So where does selfishness come from?
Evolutionary Psychology and Selfishness
Evolutionary psychology postulates that most human traits can be described by Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In other words, the psychological traits that we maintain today exist because they helped our ancestors to survive. Those traits that were not advantageous toward our survival would deny those individuals the opportunity to procreate.
It is very easy to see how there might be an evolutionary advantage to selfishness. After all, if you only have limited resources, giving those away to someone else is not going to improve your chances of not going hungry! Thus, selfishness is an unfortunate trait that has made its way into our present day and that still persists.
But why are some people more selfish than others?
What Makes a Person More or Less Selfish?
According to surveys, we expect intelligent people to be more selfish. Intelligent people know what it takes to get ahead and will therefore make those short-term survival-oriented decisions.
However, studies have found that the reverse is actually true (1). This is to say that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely that person is to be selfish.
The reason for this might stem from the fact that altruism also has survival value. Humans are naturally social creatures and this is a tool that we can use to our advantage. There is strength in numbers and by staying in groups, we are able to better fend off predation, better protect our resources and learn from one another. Thus, it actually pays to have the necessary traits to help us get along. This is demonstrated aptly in game theory – a mathematical theory that shows how working with others can help to maximize gains for the whole.
This might be why acts of giving trigger the release of feel good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. It might also explain why more intelligent people are actually often more likely to give.
From a neurological standpoint, this release of endorphins may be the result of our theory of mind, combined with mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when they witness (or imagine) something happening to someone else. This is the neurological basis for empathy.
Theory of mind meanwhile is our psychological construct that allows us to predict what other people are thinking or how they are going to act. This is what gives us our ‘social IQ’ and essentially allows those mirror neurons to be more ‘accurate’.
In other words then, while we all have ‘in-built’ altruism and selflessness – some people might be more predisposed to this kind of thinking due to differences in brain structure. And a more intelligent person is likely to have a better ability to a) think about the long-term consequences of their actions and b) understand the implications that their actions will have on another person and how that is likely to make said person feel.
Note too that some people simply appear to lack this ability. Psychopathy is a clinical disorder characterized by the complete lack of empathy and understanding. And someone doesn’t have to be a murderer to be a psychopath! An ex who was happy to cheat on you without showing remorse might well be a genuine psychopath, as might a colleague who steps on your toes in order to get ahead.