Tuesday, 9 July 2013

You are Selfish

There is a belief that in the 6th Century BC, the Catholic church held a referendum to determine whether or not Women have Souls. In my researches of this topic, I have discovered that this did not happen. I've also discovered that it did happen. It's impossible for me to determine either way, as I don't have the time. But in the words of Mark Z. Danielewski:
  "What's real or isn't real doesn't matter here. The consequences are the same."
The fact is, whether or not this happened, the fact that we can believe it proves my point. Although it is a false example, it is an example of a truth that is very prevalent: Human beings are very capable of Dehumanization.
Soul or no, the Catholic Church still does believe that women are incapable of being priests; the Christian Church believes that not every loving couple deserves marriage; followers of the Islamic Church believe that women do not have the rights of men to drive, dress, speak or act freely & some followers of Voodoo in Uganda, still murder children to sacrifice to their gods.
Religion is not the only foundation that aspires to dehumanize humans, but I saw a theme and so I ran with it, sorry if it seems like I'm hating on religion unnecessarily. But my point is, millions and millions of people hurt, abuse & mistreat others every day. But not everyone that commits these acts is a sociopath. That is a statistical impossibility, as psychopathy cannot be learned in this way. So, how can we justify this widespread lack of humanity in Humanity?
I believe I've found something of an answer to this question. Which may disturb you, annoy you or otherwise confront you.
The Word of the Day is: 'SELFISH'

Selfish /'selfish/ adj. 1. Caring only for oneself. 2. Marked by caring only for oneself: selfish motives.

I believe that there is no such thing as a selfless act. This may seem either wrong or like a horrible view of the world, but when you think about it I'm sure you'll come to see my point of view that this is not only true, but fundamentally important to understand.

Let's start with the why. Why do I believe this? Basically, because we are entirely self-centred beings. This seems like a round argument, but that's because I haven't explained it properly.
Look at these words. You read them with your eyes. Or perhaps heard it through your ears, if you are blind and using a verbal processor. Or perhaps you felt them, through braille that has been printed out for you. The point is, you accessed it through one of your senses. One of the fundamental points of philosophy is that nothing can truly be real, as we only see the world as it is interpreted for us through our senses. When you watch sport on television, you aren't actually seeing the real thing, because it's just an image (with sound) on the screen. You're only seeing what the camera is interpretting for you. The same argument can be made for the eye.

Even if you are at the stadium, wearing your sports jersey and drunkenly yelling at the players, you aren't truly experiencing the world, rather than your sense's interpretation of it.

Now don't worry, I won't get all Hippy-Dippy on you with that "We all live in the Matrix, nothing is real" bollocks. As far as I am concerned, if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, smells, feels & tastes like a duck, it's a duck. Just because we only experience the world through senses doesn't mean that the world doesn't exist, it just means that we have limited experience.
But my point is, none of these five senses are capable of experiencing someone else's, for lack of a better word, soul.

We only experience other people through our sensory interpretation of them. It is impossible for you to feel or experience the world from someone else's perspective or truly understand someone else's pain or joy. There is no pure 'Empathy', the only person whose life you can understand is yours, so everything you do is selfish.

Now, I'm sure someone reading this, by now, is thinking: If everyone is selfish, and there's no such thing as being selfless, then why do people do nice things?

Basically, because of our own flawed sense of 'Empathy'. Although we cannot understand someone else, we can understand ourselves in their position.
It's true that you can never "Walk a Mile in my Shoes" as it were. Because even if you were to try to understand me by living a life like mine or having experienced something that I have, our experiences, although parallel, are not the same; and you'll never truly understand what it's like to be me, as I will never understand what it is like to be you.
This 'putting myself in their shoes' sense of empathy does appear to be kind and selfless, when in truth it is still selfish (kindness notwithstanding).

If you have a friend that is sick, and they ask you for a glass of water, most people would fetch it for them (where possible). But I suggest that this is not so much because we don't want our friend to suffer, so much as we don't want ourselves to suffer.
Imagine for a moment that you denied to help your friend on this occasion. This would result in later ramifications and suffering for you. If you are sick, in the interests of fairness your friend would then have every right to refuse to help you, so that's where empathy comes in, "They would do the same for me". They may also stop being your friend, which would be less than beneficial for your social life, and all the other useful things that friends provide, this is simple quid pro quo, a bargaining system where kindness if exchanged for favours. Thirdly, you may even feel guilty. It's a sick feeling in your stomach, provided by your own psychosomatic response; it's a form of punishment.

So, when you think about it, you don't help your friends so that they feel good; you help them so that you feel good (about helping your friend) and don't suffer punishment later on. This can apply to any situation, from helping a friend, to saying please and thank you - even all the way up to love.
Love is a series of chemical reactions. When you find another person, you can attach to them in such a way that being around them, talking to them & making them laugh can give you paroxysms of joy. If they love you back, then you can perpetuate this vicious cycle of delight into a self-replicating ecstasy. You do such wonderful things to each other, but the fact is it all comes down to the nice things we feel. So even Love is Selfish.

[I want to stop here a moment to say that, I still do appreciate Love. Some people bitch and moan about how love is meaningless and all that, and reading this those people might take my words to mean "Yeah, Love isn't Love, it's just a self-serving mechanism for procreation, built on instinct and hormones & used as a means to sell Valentine's Day Cards", but I don't buy that.
Just because Love is Selfish, doesn't mean that it isn't a miracle. After all, while I can justify the feelings and reactions of love and understand why it controls in the way that it does, I will never understand the chaotic science that is Attraction; my own sense of Beauty or in what way Monogamy could be selfish. So even to a cynic like me, Love is still a little magical . . .]


But even the nicest things we do for others, are done for selfish reasons. It's one of the reasons I can't stand Religion and what it calls 'Morality'. In my eyes, all the good and charity that religious people do is incredibly selfish, because they only do the right thing so that they can either go to heaven; achieve enlightenment or otherwise appeal to some god's will. They don't do the right thing because they want to, they do it because they have to or they will risk being punished by a supernatural power. That isn't morality, that's dictatorship.

But enough about that. In the beginning, See, I was talking about dehumanization. This is basically a method whereby we remove our ability to identify with other people's pain and reflect it onto ourselves; basically we remove that Empathy. Sometimes it's as difficult as indoctrination and brainwashing, but sometimes it's as simple as covering someone's face and taking away their name.
Although I believe our sense of empathy is a flawed system, it nonetheless keeps things in order. By removing it, we remove peoples ability to feel guilt, which can cause such atrocities as rape, abuse, murder, torture & cannibalism. Because we are fundamentally selfish, and as soon as we remove the needs for kindness, we can act cruel without remorse. It may seem like most of these crimes are unfathomable, but I can understand the logic that is at play. It is a flawed logic, and I cannot justify it, but I can explain it and understand it. We are born to be selfish.
Anything is easy to understand, once you can see the bigger picture.

But does that mean that we should stop being nice? Have I flipped the world on its head and removed all need for morality, empathy & understanding?
No. I've said before, and I'll say again:
  "I'm a narrator, not a dictator."
- The Absurd Word Nerd
This, in my opinion, is mostly a semantic & philosophical issue. We may be selfish creatures, but that doesn't mean we can't be nice. In fact, once I understood that everything I do is selfish, I found it easier to be less selfish. Because the trick is to find out how other people are being selfish towards you.
For example, once you realize that your friends are only your friends because they need you in some way, you can better serve their needs and your own. See, most good friendships are based on two things: A mutual need to be trusted & a mutual need to avoid loneliness. So long as that is the foundation of your friendship, you can help (and use) one another to no ill effect.
But if you discover that your friend is using you for other reasons, or depending to heavily on you, you can adjust your relationship to try to achieve that Win/Win scenario of trust and mateship, (or tell them to hit the curb).

I also find it helps in my writing. I recognize that nobody cares about my characters as much as I do, and the only way to get people interested in my stories is to offer them something they don't have. Education, Understanding, Entertainment or Fantasy. . . whatever it is, my fiction must serve other people in some way, for it to have a reason to exist. People don't care about anything unless it benefits them in some way. Once you understand that, you can learn how to help them, to help yourself.

In conclusion, selfishness is not the same as egotism or narcissism (though I ascribe to both). It is just a basic truth - we do things for ourselves, always. So often when people act 'selfish' their true fault is not selfishness, but a lack of social (or moral) consciousness. We are always selfish, but that doesn't mean we have to be arseholes.
Until next time, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I'm going to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, (because I don't want to wear the treads off mine).

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