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Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 6:12:09 PM

Rank: Advanced Wordsmith

Joined: 6/22/2010
Posts: 52
Location: Adelaide
Richard Dawkin’s Selfish Gene Theory has given us insight into the way nature works. But perhaps it is also misleading. Perhaps the title should have been “The Self-Interested Gene”, because there is a difference between pursuing one’s own best interests and the pathological selfishness that characterises much of human behaviour.

Of course we pursue our own interests, seek what is beneficial to us and the genes of which we are an expression. How could we pursue someone else’s interests. We can acknowledge their interests and may accommodate them if there is some benefit to us in doing so, but ultimately our motives can only be to seek what we believe will benefit us.

It is part of the wonderful mystery of nature that all of these individual plants and animals, pursuing their own interests, can take the form of the integrated, efficient living system.

What we find only in humans is pathological selfishness, i.e. selfishness which acts like a cancer, threatening the healthy operation of society. Animals kill other animals for food and occassionally to remove mating competition, but they do not commit acts of genocide against their own species. Animals may fight over limited food supplies, but they will not stockpile more food than they need while their fellow species-members starve. If self-obsessed behaviour threatens the system of which the individual is a member then it is not in that individual’s best interests.

The pathological selfishness we find in human society is a result of neurosis, of psychological suffering. When we are sick and in pain all we can think of is ourselves. This is natural. Only the healthy organism can pursue its self-interest with due attention to the systematic conditions on which that interest depends.

We are not the only ones capable of experiencing neurosis. Dogs that have been beaten and animals imprisoned in zoos often exhibit neurotic behaviour. One is far less likely to discover neurotic behaviour in animals in the wild, but it probably occurs there too as a response to exceptional trauma.

To explain why we are so neurotic would take a long time, requiring an explanation of our history as a species and the way the experiences of our childhood impact on our self-image. But the nature of that neurosis is a deep-seated, very often subconcious, fear that we are inferior beings. When we feel depressed, this fear is very concious, we may feel intense feelings of guilt, or we may feel unworthy of loving interaction with our family and friends. We may feel so ashamed of our percieved inferiority or inability to “be a good person” that we kill ourselves. When we are not depressed we may be unaware of feelings of inferiority, but they clearly direct our behaviour. We all feel the need for material possessions and activities that “take us out of ourselves”. Only if it is suggested that we do without these things do we realise that without them we would feel great suffering.

Materialism is masturbation. It is something we use to make ourselves feel good when we are alone and can’t have loving congress with another person. Alone in the cage of our neurosis we need to be loved, but we are surrounded by individuals who are also enchained, who may occassionally shout that they love us but whom we cannot actually touch. But our flash sports car or our Armani dress or our original Picasso etching tells us that we are loveable. After all would someone who was not loveable own something so magnificent.

But the way out of our neurosis is simply to realise that we are not inferior. We are all of equal worth. We all came into the world with no knowledge of what it would be like and what we became was the inevitable results of a loving but unknowing being meeting up with a strange and dangerous and sometimes cruel human world. To be free is to realise that we have nothing to prove. And when we are free we can, if we so chose, enter into a loving communion with all other humans.
Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 8:27:13 PM

Rank: Alpha Blonde

Joined: 2/17/2010
Posts: 7,540
Location: Your dirty fantasy

I haven't read the Selfish Gene yet. In terms of the nature versus nurture argument, it is essentially suggesting that by nature we are innately "un-selfish"... or at least similar to the level of "selfishness" seen in other species (through territoriality, mating etc.), and that in fact it is the nurture component (or life itself, as humans experience it) that causes us to be this way?

I think it's an interesting consideration... are we born this way, or has our volatile human environment caused us to become a neurotic species where "more is more", and our desire to succeed at having the best of everything (for pleasure sake) has become our pacifier for our own feelings of inadequacy.

I would say... yes. glasses8

When I feel sad, I go shopping instead of donating that money to a charity. The latter option should make me feel better (after all, I would be helping other people)... but instead... I choose to spend the money on myself on shoes that I don't need. It definitely is like masturbation in a way. But we are still a pleasure-seeking species above all else.

Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 9:40:24 PM

Rank: Advanced Wordsmith

Joined: 6/22/2010
Posts: 52
Location: Adelaide
Shopping, like masturbation, is therapeutic. If you are feeling unwell you take medication. That is the sensible thing to do.

There is a big Catch-22 when it comes to the question of selfishness. If someone points out that we are being selfish it is likely to make us feel guilty. If we feel guilty our suffering increases. Since our selfish behaviour is an attempt to find relief from suffering, these new feelings of guilt, actually make us more selfish. The criticism doesn't correct the fault it reinforces it.

We should never try to be a good person. If self-sacrifice or self-denial is need then we are fighting with ourselves. If we genuinely take care of our own emotional needs then, in our happy state, we are naturally generous. Only in such a state can we be helpful to others in a sustainable way. This is perhaps what is really meant by Charity begins at home.

Oh, and, by the way, I've never read The Selfish Gene either. I just look stuff up on Wikipedia and then act like I'm an expert. flower
Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 6:12:40 AM

Rank: Forum Guru

Joined: 8/11/2009
Posts: 2,025
Location: whispering conspiratorially in your ear, Bermuda
I concur with DD's sentiments and particularly with aussie's follow-up comment.

I am a firm believer in the "charity begins at home" philosophy and have found my lifestyle being termed both selfish & unselfish by different personal perspectives. During my 'years of plenty' when the needs of myself and my family were more than met I would find myself willingly donating to worthwhile causes (that's when I was deemed unselfish), however, during the 'years of lean', when I would curtail my generosity, I would be reminded how others suffered more (and that's when my actions were selfish).

The criticism does sting, no question.

My perspective is very firmly me, my own and mine first. Does that make me a bad person?

"Whoa, lady, I only speak two languages, English and bad English." - Korben Dallas, from The Fifth Element

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience?" - George Bernard Shaw
Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 12:44:55 PM

Rank: Lurker

Joined: 12/1/2006
Posts: 918,635
'We are all of equal worth' sounds almost a religious statement ' All men are equal in the sight of God'.
The next question to ask is our species worth more than another other ? The fact is that we are top dogs at the moment and we live in a dog eat dog world. I knew this before I ever heard of the selfish gene and so do most other people.
I admire the rat most of all because they have not made a truce with human society they live because of us, and they live inspite of us. They are mammals just like us hurrah for the rat.
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