Darwin believed that evolution successfully occurs as a result of a living creature’s innate tendency to be self-serving and, as a result, these same self-serving characteristics drive that species towards change. What is selfishness? Can morality and selflessness survive if selfishness is the driving force towards growth?
Indeed, a feeling of helplessness emerges in me when considering the irony that one of the basic qualities of mankind that I disdain is the same quality that contributed to my genetic survival. In the final analysis, is it that simple?
We are social animals, and by being social animals, we have succeeded in providing a support system to fellow members of this society in order to overcome adversity, to reproduce and to survive. We do this not out of a sense of morality or selflessness, but out of pure, unadulterated selfishness. It seems paradoxical that a behavior that has contributed to our survival occurs as a result of an underlying motive to achieve the opposite. However, once we recognize the forces that we compete against, do we understand the appropriateness of this response.
Our ultimate objective is survival. What resistance do we face to meet this objective? It may be other members of our society, and this may be true on a micro level. In the grand scheme of things, however, it is the elements of nature that hold us back from progress, and will eventually lead to our demise. If we choose to ignore this dynamic in our lives, then we choose to succumb to the detrimental elements that mother nature imposes on us. We have resources however- resources that, with humility and open-mindedness, can offer a potentially longer and higher quality life. In order to make these resources available to us, we must, in turn, make our attributes available to others. I’m referring to the various resources that different members of a society innately have within each individual. In other words, politics and networking offer reinforcements towards survival that wouldn’t exist in the absence of these behaviors. By exploiting the individual qualities of others, we are able to move forward more effectively than if we chose not to exploit those qualities. This, of course, doesn’t come without a price. In order to make these precious qualities in others available to us, we must make our own unique qualities available to others. It breaks down to the simple cliche of “one must give in order to take”.
Clearly, being moral and selfless is being selfish, isn’t it? If we are truly honest with ourselves, there is a personal payoff with every contribution we make to our fellow man, whether it’s a hope that the same goodwill will be returned to us one day, or a feeling of community that makes us feel less alone in a time of need. We are, paradoxically, moral and selfless, in order to be selfish. Darwin and his challengers were both, simultaneously and interdependently, correct.