For many long years, there have been heated arguments as to whether man is inherently selfish or not; arguments that subsist until now. One school of thought believes that we are inherently and manifestly selfish because, as Thomas Hobbes put it, the natural state of man’s life would otherwise be “nasty, brutish and short”. Another school of thought argues that man is good and altruistic in nature because if faced with certain choices, he is most likely to act in the interest of the group even at a cost to himself.
Look closely at our society and like me, you too might find yourself leaning in acceptance towards the ‘selfish nature’ theory. If you aren’t, then your question at this point would be: why do we see only evidence of selfishness when proven studies also suggest that in certain cases, man would rather act in the interest of a group than in his very own? Are both lines of reasoning be right at the same time?
I think that by nature (and a very long time ago) men acted more in the interest of the groups to which they belonged, and whose ideals they held onto than in their personal interests. These groups at different times were families, closed human communities or various facets of the general society at large. They wielded great influence over the span of a man’s life at some point, but the strong holds they exerted are no longer as firm because over the years their influence have been immensely watered down.
Put differently, these groups have been broken down because the basis for their existence was survival and many would argue that we have already survived. Back in the days of hunting in packs and living together in settlements, it simply was not possible for one to act only in his or her self-interest. Man had to evolve into a social animal because it was the most efficient system for his survival, society therefore came hand in hand with a duty of care and love. You had to be kind to your neigbour because you needed your neigbour to survive. Literally. How you treated the farmer for instance, could be the difference between a healthy meal and malnutrition. When rebellion against the established values or norms was met with sharp ostracism, how else could man have survived?
All these gradually dragged in to modern times but as time and technology advanced; the challenges we faced got less threatening and the need for continued reliance on the group correspondingly reduced. For every one advancement yet another link to the group was severed, the final nail in the coffin being the invention of mobile phones and the internet. We forgot about our next door neighbours, having replaced them with the intrigue of chatting up a username or Twitter handle whose owner we may never get to meet. We handed the reins of parenthood over to faceless apps and let them dictate the value of human life to our children.
Social platforms tout their abilities to connect us to a larger world but in reality, a crucial part of the deal they offer is an easy way out from human interaction and care. So that for those ceremonies (such as anniversaries and birthdays) where you ordinarily ought to have shown up, it is now acceptable to substitute a hasty “HBD” chat for your actual human presence.
Now this is not necessarily an attack on the internet or a call for us all to drop our devices because when used wisely, they can serve us well. By sharing my opinion on this issue, I hope that at least one person examines his or her dependence on these resources in comparison to his or her actual human interactions more closely. When you do, you may realise that while these technologies offer varying degrees of convenience at our fingertips, they are also creating and widening rifts in our human relationships – both of which are certainly not bringing us any closer to one another.
The proof of this lies with the Millennials and Gen-Z; generations that live in the most advanced time man has created yet. They live in a world where humankind is more “connected” than ever and yet, according to surveys and research studies; they are less likely to have romantic relationships, and they are having much less sex than ever, because it has become even harder to establish a real connection with anyone. Now, place that side by side with findings that Gen-Z are more likely to be depressed, more likely to commit suicide and scientist or not, the digital connection these studies share is easy to detect.
We didn’t become bad or broken or selfish overnight. We just got carried away by this belief that we didn’t really need each other, and by the delusion of being connected to the bigger picture through our palmtops- forgetting of course that it is the details of the smaller picture which make up the bigger whole. We began to prioritize quick chats over the affectionate touch of a friend’s hand, and taking online surveys have accrued more value than sharing our struggles with family at the dinner table. We began to mistake emojis for human feelings, and we forgot that likes aren’t actual smiles. And that they will never be.
It is such that the instant someone is caught on camera performing a simple act of kindness, it goes “viral” or begins to “trend” because it has been out of mainstream for far too long. There is quickly an outpouring of sympathy, crowdfunding pages are set up and donations come pouring in from every corner of the world. Not minding of course that most of those donors walk past homeless persons on their blocks daily, sparing neither a second thought nor a glance.
It is such that the instant someone is caught on camera performing a simple act of kindness, it goes “viral” or begins to ‘trend” because it has been out of mainstream for far too long.”
Between an economy that glorifies perceived success and an environment where an Uber driver could receive bad ratings for trying to have a conversation with a passenger, we have successfully created the ideal narcissistic society. This development has not been dubbed ‘a transition to selfishness’ because that would obviously receive popular outrage and backlash. It crept in slowly, like a thief in the night, taking the form of an increased fixation on the individual and with flowery titles such as #Selflove, #Nobadvibes and #Livingmybestlife.
I have observed the gradual rise of selfishness amongst Nigerian youths myself and that says a lot for a society which is very communal and tribal in nature. Societies such as mine are gradually getting to the point where first world countries have been stuck for some time; a place where you don’t physically need your neigbour to survive but where it slowly dawns on you that we all still need each other anyway.
We have lost the sense of duty that naturally comes with love and we are left only with empathy; the new catchphrase when it comes to conversations about social issues. The thing about empathy though is that it’s a discretionary emotion; you decide whether to feel it or not. You feel it of your own volition, and in matters of your own choosing. Truth be told, it is so difficult that it is near impossible for you to empathize with persons facing challenges you can’t personally relate to. That is not to say you are a bad person; it’s just a difficult thing to do.
And that is why the world is the way it has become.
The challenge before us now is simple; we need to rediscover the value in our human and communal connections. We are as advanced as we have ever been, but we are also collectively as sad and selfish as we have ever been and it is high time we did something about this. We need to redefine our values and describe what happiness means to us.
Hopefully, more of us will realize that dreams and ambitions are great but sometimes, if you know where to look you will find all you need in the people standing beside you. Because regardless of whatever else they say, we still need us.
We will always need each other.
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