Friday, 9 August 2013

Are we all Selfish?

Human beings are selfish creatures. It’s as simple as that. There is absolutely NO action a person takes without a selfish reason. Even seemingly selfless acts are inherently selfish. Let’s take a few examples to better understand what I mean.
“X” is a rich guy. Feeds a poor person “Y”, gives him a home.
Maybe he likes the praise he gets from people who witnessed his generosity. Maybe he likes the thanks he gets in return.
Seems simple enough. Not quite. Let’s twist it a bit. Let’s say “Y” never shows any signs of gratitude. Let’s say no one witnesses “X’s” generous act. What reason would he have now?
It’s simple. It’s the same rationalization that everyone has when they do something for someone else without looking for anything in return. The truth, my friends, is that they ARE getting something in return. It doesn’t have to be verbal, doesn’t have to be tangible. The answer, quite simply, is that they get satisfaction. We crave satisfaction, we crave happiness. The happiness one gets from doing a selfless act, in itself, is a selfish motive for doing that. Maybe we don’t pre-meditate doing it. We may even not think about the happiness we may or may not get. We do it anyway. Subconsciously, the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are etched into our minds. Hence subconsciously we may convince ourselves to do a ‘good’ act because regardless of you consciously thinking about the sentiments attached to that act, you will always know at the back of your mind exactly how you will feel if you go through with it.
It’s a very simple concept. But it’s just as hard to understand and accept. No one wants to be told that their selfless acts are the offspring of a deep-rooted innate desire for satisfaction. No one wants to accept that they are just like every other human being on the planet, all doing things for selfish reasons. Let’s consider another example.
“X” is a letter in the alphabet.
Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Moving on…
 “X” is in the military. He saves “Y” at the cost of his own life.
There could be multiple explanations. None of which are selfless. Now at this point you’re probably thinking ‘how could this guy POSSIBLY claim that giving your life to save another is selfish’. Well, you’d be surprised.
The first explanation, like I mentioned before, may possibly be because “X” knows how war heroes are remembered, revered, almost idolized. He wants that attention, regardless of it being post mortem. The question arises, why would his subconscious still think it would make any difference to him if he is no longer alive? Ladies and gentlemen, humans have experiences most of what planet earth has to offer. We have been exposed to countless number of combinations and circumstances. But never have we been able to experience anything like death. We might claim to have had near death experiences, or thinking that sensory deprivation tanks take us into that feeling of not existing. Sure, plausible theories. However, no one can prove or disprove them. Which means, no one knows for certain what death feels like. Our minds do not have a fixed deep-rooted idea of death. We can merely speculate. And for that very reason, death is never a deciding factor in any of the judgments we make. What we actually do consider- and it is VERY important that you understand the difference- is pain, serious injury, and the fear of not knowing what will happen when we die. We are not afraid of dying. We cannot possibly be afraid of dying because none of us know what it even is. What we ARE afraid of is the UNCERTAINTY revolving around the concept of death. Of being unsure of what is going to happen.
That being said, I now realize how off-topic I went. Still, I think that was a pretty constructive hypothesis.
The second reason why “X” may save “Y” is, once again like I mentioned before, because of the ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The two reasons may co-relate to a certain extent but there is a thin line separating them. In essence, “X” knows it’s a ‘good’ thing to save another life, be it at the cost of his own. Subconsciously, we may convince ourselves to do that act knowing the satisfaction we will get at its completion. But then the problem again arises… at the cost of his own life? Reiterating once more what I said; we do not know what death is hence it is not a deciding factor in one’s decision making process. “X” may be apprehensive about serious injury, but he will go through with saving “Y” solely because he is convinced it is the right thing to do. Even if he is not ‘remembered’, the thoughts right before he dies would be ones of utmost satisfaction. For doing the highest service one can for a fellow human being.
Let’s take another example. Let’s bring love into the occasion. We all know emotions sometimes may defy logic. This just might get tricky.
We will now see what “Y” does to honour the fact that he was given a second chance at life.
First off, he pays his respects to “X”. Next, he does something ‘selfless’ for his spouse “Z” without anyone knowing.
Self gratification. He felt good about it. He loves “Z”. For some people, acknowledgment for doing something for their loved one gives them immense happiness. To others, just the mere knowledge that they did something selfless for their loved one without anyone else knowing is enough to keep them satisfied. This is a subjective standard; varies from person to person depending on their nature.
But in essence, everything everyone does has a selfish motive. The only ‘problem’ as I like to call it is that we have stereotyped some selfish motives to be selfless. Some things are seemingly more selfish than others, but in essence no act is completely selfless. It can be NEARLY selfless. But never quite gets there. Just like we can get to 99.9% the speed of light but never 100%, it’s the same thing with selflessness. You won’t ever get there. Some acts may seem COMPLETELY selfless to you, but not from the actor’s subjective view. Some things appeal to him, which may not appeal to you and vice versa.
Seems legit. Still, not quite.
What about sacrifices? Things people do which they do not personally like, but do them anyway for someone else?
Let’s break it down. Don’t look it as what act the person is doing and their preference. Look at it this way: by doing said act, that person is pleasing someone else. Subsequently, by pleasing that other person, the actor gets satisfaction. The chain of sacrifices can be as long as you want, but in essence the answer will always be simple. You just need to break it down.

I hope I’ve managed to provoke some thinking into the matter. Any arguments would be welcome. I don’t claim to be right. This is merely a hypothesis designed on the basis of rational thinking to help me comprehend the world the way it is. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Thanks for reading.

P.S: Thanks to Umair Khan, who inception-ed this into my head 2 years ago. Credit goes to him for the idea (which I heartily disagreed with at first).