Apparently, all humans are instinctively selfish and only do things for their benefit, I now despise humans and myself for being one.
I’ve heard this assessment of humans before. It is perhaps best known from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene.
Modern cinema popularizes this idea too, for example in The Matrix, when Agent Smith compares humanity to a virus.
In every day media, and personal experiences, we can find many examples of where humans seem entirely self-centered.
My first-hand experience gives me very different take on humans though.
Where Does Selfishness fit in the Human Mind?
Humans have three distinct layers of our brain design, which together comprise our evolutionary psychology.
In many ways, it's like we have 3 brains with three different ways of thinking and making decisions.
And all three layers still exist today, running simultaneously.
- The Reptile. These part of your brain are all motivated by survival, and are entirely selfish. Eat, reproduce, and don’t die. That’s pretty much it. Parents lay eggs and then leave them. If they happen to see the young hatch they’ll probably eat them. As selfish & survival oriented as you can get.
- The Mammal. These parts evolved on top of the Reptile parts, and are based on the evolutionary discovery that there is safety in numbers. The mammal parts are very socially-oriented, and not that selfish. we have Oxytocin (love hormone) and Serotonin (leadership hormone), which drive us to bond with other mammals, raise and protect our children, form loving lasting relationships. People aggregate into massive cities because they desire the companionship, protection of, and opportunities that social groups create.
- The Human. The thinker. These parts of the brain can do abstract thought, imagine the future, understand tools, language, and concepts like money, government, and language.
Ok, So Are We Fundamentally Selfish?
The reptile part of your brain is entirely selfish. It doesn't have any concept of "others" or their importance to you.
Humans with poorly developed emotions ( a psychopath ) can do terrible things because they are essentially an intelligent reptile.
The mammal part is not selfish at all, it’s quite giving, and social.
Think of a dog, how selfish is your dog, and how much would it risk to protect you?
The human part is neither selfish, or altruistic. It’s like a very powerful computer, neither good nor bad, just a great tool if you know how to use it.
My takeaway here is all humans are capable of fantastic good, or fantastic evil. Our history books are full of great scientists, artists, and statesmen, and equally full of tyrants and murderers.
If you consider this carefully, you can see that it’s pretty inaccurate to see all humans as the same.
Most importantly, realize that you get to choose who you will be. And you get to choose who you surround yourself with.
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