I have a basic theory about humankind. We are selfish. Everything we do is selfish. Altruism doesn’t exist.
Selfishness may be the single element that keeps the species alive. Well, that and sex.
Consider the definition of selfish:
Selfish: adjective: a person lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure
It’s easy to say that all of us are somewhat selfish some of the time. I think we’re that way all the time.
I checked a thesaurus for selfish, and came up with these:
Selfish: adjective: egocentric, egotistic, egotistical, egomaniacal, self-centered, self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-seeking, self-serving, wrapped up in oneself; inconsiderate, thoughtless, unthinking, uncaring, uncharitable, mean, miserly, grasping, greedy, mercenary, acquisitive, opportunistic, and looking out for number one
Doesn’t that pretty much describe all of us at one time or another? Or, does it describe all of us all the time?
There’s the rub. We like to think that we’re not that way all the time, that we exhibit many altruistic traits and actions, right? Wrong. We’re only selfish upon occasion, right? Wrong.
The antonym of selfish is altruistic. Even seemingly altruistic actions, motives, thoughts, are really just expressions of personal selfishness. We do good because we get something.
Even if we didn’t receive an outright reward for good or seemingly selfish actions, we like to feel good about ourselves because we did a good act, so the selfishness creeps in again as a personal reward (feeling good) for doing good.
Consider the religious portion of mankind. Many are taught to love others. Why? Because God likes that and will love you in turn and you’ll go to heaven when you die, or so the common story goes.
That’s a carrot and stick routine if I’ve ever seen one. The donkey doesn’t pull the cart forward toward the carrot because he’s an altruistic beast of burden. He wants to eat the carrot, get the reward.
Even when we show consideration for others, display kindness toward others, do something for someone else with no apparent reward, we’re still getting a selfish reward– we get to feel good about ourselves and what we did. That’s selfishness, not altruism.
Altruism: noun: the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others
I don’t really see that altruism exists. People practice selfless concern for the well-being of others because they, in turn, can feel good about themselves. That’s selfish.
Most people who give to charity do so out of their excess assets. It’s not a sacrifice of what they need to live.
Consider the widow Jesus spoke of at Luke 21: 1-4. She gave two copper coins of little value into the temple treasury. It was all she had. She gave out of her need, rather than her surplus.
How is that an act of selfishness? The widow was exploited by the religious leaders and coerced into giving when she had little, even for herself. They were selfish and greedy.
To a certain extent, so was the widow. What did she expect to receive in return for her small offering? Perhaps it was everlasting life in the resurrection. Perhaps she expected God’s favor for her actions.
Whatever it was, she expected something in return, therefore, her act was not sacrificial generosity. It could be argued that she was selfish and expected something good in return. Eventually.
Determining the motives of others is, at best, a difficult prospect, a guessing game. My so-called selfish theory is no less difficult to prove than it is to disprove.
That’s why it’s a theory.