Stop It, Lazy Selfish Greedy Bastards!

Stop It, Lazy Selfish Greedy Bastards!

“I love humanity. It’s people I hate.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, American poet and playwright (1892-1950) [also quoted in the Peanuts comic strip]

Farmers learn stuff that’s down to earth. As I immerse myself in the deeply troublesome and awkward project of converting a lifelong city boy to struggling survival farmer (small variety, 8 acres), that has become my favourite saying–the “down to earth” one.

Before I continue with this article I must convey an important life lesson. There are two types of people: those who always put their own best interests first and those who frequently and comfortably put the best interests of others, individuals or groups or whole communities or societies, ahead of their own.

That may be the most important life lesson I have ever learned. It explains a huge amount about human behaviour. Personally, as a member of the latter group, it means that I can disregard any ideas of friendship or overtures of relationship of any kind with members of the former group.

Is that classification too harsh? Perhaps I can make it easier to understand by suggesting the behaviour of house cats as representative of what I will call the selfish group. If you have carefully observed the behaviour of cats, bells should begin to ring in your head now. Cats are the ultimate self-interested pets. Nature has programmed them to be survivors by putting themselves first.

That’s not to say that cat owners are selfish or self-interested. On the contrary, they tend to be more altruistic kind of people. Dogs, on the other hand, better represent the altruistic group–again, that’s not necessarily true of their owners. Dogs in the wild survive as individuals in an interdependent relationship with the pack. As the saying goes, dogs have owners while cats have staff.

People tend to behave much like one or the other of these two groups. No, I don’t mean that they eat with their faces in bowls, let’s leave that now.

Where I live, in eastern Canada, people with European heritage have lived for hundreds of years (First Nations people for over 3000 years in the oldest continuously occupied community in the New World). Only in recent decades has garbage been collected. Before that people took their trash to a dump, burned it or left it in a remote area of a field. Today I removed the last remnants of a burn barrel where previous (and oh so primitive) humanoids had tossed stuff that could never possibly burn.

Why would they put non-burnables in a burn barrel? Because they expected to move before they would have to deal with the consequences of their laziness. Much the same reasoning some people use when they toss beer bottles or cans out the windows of their cars as they drive down a road late at night rather than returning them to a recycling depot (the get their deposit back) at some later time.

My wife and I want to create a small farm that grows vegetables. You could call it a hobby farm except we don’t plan to sell our veggies. We want to donate them to local foodbanks and shelters. Farming requires machines, ours needed a tractor with a plow. Lacking funding from a generous government or chemical manufacturer, we bought a used tractor, a classic model made in 1948. It worked beautifully, except the clutch would not disengage, which is decidedly awkward if you want to change gears.

For weeks I asked around but nobody knew how to adjust that clutch–“Take it to Bremner’s (a local tractor dealer with an excellent reputation), they can fix any tractor problem.” One day recently a man who usually functions with an oxygen hose at his nose (he didn’t even get out of his car) stopped by our house as his wife left a fish her husband caught in one of his healthier moments. Even at our first meeting when it came out about my not being able to adjust the tractor clutch he offered to do it for me.

A few days later, without the oxygen, he hauled his 350 pound frame under the tractor, thrashed around for about an hour and came out with the clutch adjusted, something others had been unable to do. Despite needing his oxygen again, he stayed for tea then made his way home for pure O2. He wouldn’t hear of taking a penny for his trouble. He was happy to help.

Everywhere you look you will find what some call the givers and the takers. Both may be easy enough to like until you need something, at which time the takers will vanish. Their lives are driven by self-interest, which is to say, greed.

The selfish ones are so easy to see around us that without evaluating life carefully you might get the impression that almost everyone is greedy and selfish. They aren’t. The generous and altruistic people don’t advertise themselves. They just are. The selfish ones make the news.

Believe it or not, despite the huge media efforts by industries to make us all into selfish, accumulative, consumer workaholics, more people today than ever before in history are giving to others, thinking of others, putting the best interests of others and the world ahead of their own. That’s how civilization grows. That’s how humanity progresses. That’s how our planet will survive. We can’t expect industries or the selfish to think of the welfare of everyone else.

Humanity could do with more selfless ones among us. People can change. What might help is if you are an altruistic person who is happy make this known to a selfish person who is unhappy. Selfish people are all basically unhappy, they seek thrills and gratification as substitutes for real happiness. It never makes them happy because they can never get enough. Greed is addictive.

Spread the word. Happiness is addictive as well. The more you give to the happiness and welfare of others, the happier you are. No one knows why. It seems, somehow, to be built into our genetic code to have the ability to be selfless while we retain the basic instinct to be greedy.

If we really want to beat nature, we can do it by helping each other. No other animal on the planet has the potential to do that the way we do. Birds and mammals are known to be nurturing and some are altruistic, but none can rise above what nature provided the way people can.

That’s the only kind of defeating of nature that is win-win. That’s the real potential of humanity.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want their children to grow healthy and strong in all developmental streams, not just a limited few.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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12 thoughts on “Stop It, Lazy Selfish Greedy Bastards!

  1. Bill,
    Congrats on a well-written post. But I have some criticisms.

    First of all, I agree with the premise that individual actions can often be classified as selfish or unselfish, and that doing the “right thing” is usually just a simple choice.

    The problem I have is where you claim that there are some people “who frequently and comfortably put the best interests of others… ahead of their own,” and then you go on to assert that you belong to this group. My question is: why should I trust a liar like you? You are a human being like the rest of us, and occassionaly you tell lies in order to advance your personal status in your life. How do I know that you are not doing this here. It’s easy to talk a good game on a blog, but how do I know that you are not simply saying you are a good person because you know that’s what will get your book sold; it’s what people want to hear.

    Don’t mistake my accusation as being personal: I am condemning the entire human race. You claim that we should do good because “selfish people are basically unhappy,” while altruistic people like yourself are basically happy. But we all agree that doing what’s right will not make us happy all the time, so in these cases, should we still do what’s wrong? Doing what’s right may make me happy most of the time, because it will help me get along with other people, but sometimes it is much more convenient and “comfortable” to be selfish- especially when I know I won’t get caught.

    • Daniel, no generalization is perfect and complete. Nothing can make us happy all the time. Your reasoning is so convoluted I am unable to respond to it adequately.

  2. I have some more follow up points that I want to make, but not right now. In the meantime, I think I owe you an apology. The way I called you a liar was too abrupt… and therefore it became exactly what I did not intend it to be–personal. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and I said it wrong that time. Again, my indictment was not intended specifically for you, it was a generaly indictment of human fallibility. I think I proved my point unintentionally through my own behaviour.

    I hope you’ll accept my humble apology.

  3. To condemn anyone or the whole of society is fruitless and wasteful because it accomplishes nothing except to allow one frustrated person to vent at the expense of others.

    Teaching children better ways of doing things is the only way to effect change to individuals or to the whole of a society. Anything else is cosmetic.

    I did not take offence. I know what is worth ignoring because it helps nothing.

  4. To condemn the whole of society or an individual is not fruitless if there is a way to fix the problem. Attempting to ignore a problem that you know is real is implicitly admitting that the problem cannot be solved.

  5. I do not disagree with you. But you write in absolutes so much that I find it difficult to discuss the topic.

    There is only one way to fix a societal problem, but condemning the whole society is not the way to proceed.

  6. Returning to your post, you’re purpose is apparrantly to convince people to do what’s unselfish because of the reward of happiness. I agree that it often feels good to do the right thing, but I argue that as a whole, this feeling is fairly inneffectual at fighting greed.
    You make the point that selfishness is addictive, and then add that happiness can be addictive too. However, the kind of happiness you’re talking about is not the primary motivation that is usually successful in making people give up addictions. The primary motivation–the one that works far more effectively–is fear. People don’t often quit drugs, for instance, just because they want to be happy. What gives them the power to quit is fear of losing their job, or fear of losing their family, or even fear of losing their life. Fear is what gets results.
    I don’t know if this means that I disagree with you or not. If you define “happiness” as absence of fear, then we are essentially saying the same thing. But I want to stress the point, because it’s important, that without fear, unselfish things rarely get done.

  7. My point was not to convince anyone to do anything. It was to elucidate the fact that we find two entirely different kinds of people and that we get the chance to choose one type and ignore the other.

    You are right, changing people is nearly impossible. Your thinking, however, does not match mine.

  8. You’re right that my thinking does not match yours. This was implicit in the fact that we have been debating our differences of opinion.

    I’m confused now that you say your point “was not to convince anyone to do anything.” I had assumed all along that the point of this post was to “convince” people to choose belong to the “unselfish” group of people, versus the “selfish.” This means that some should change, and others should be encouraged to stay the way they are. Is this a correct assessment of your purpose for writing this or not?

  9. That is correct. People cannot be persuaded to act in these ways. They just are these ways (it’s more complicated than that, but that’s a start).

    The point of the article was to give readers the tools to recognize these two types of people. Then they can join them, work around them or ignore them.

  10. I believe you are contradicting yourself. You say that “people cannot be persuaded to act in these ways,” yet clearly you are trying to persuade them. In the same comment you claim to be trying to educate people about these two groups so that “Then they CAN join them, work around them, or ignore them.”

    The reason I emphasized the word CAN is because it denotes ability, and in the context of our discussion, the ability to change. Clearly you are trying to “persuade” people to change here.

    Furthermore, you wrote in your article “If we really want to beat nature, we can do it by helping each other. No other animal on the planet has the potential to do that the way we do. Birds and mammals are known to be nurturing and some are altruistic, but none can rise above what nature provided the way people can.”

    What is this “helping each other?” that you are talking about? Obviously it is our ability to help each other make good decisions, ie. persuade them.

    You must stop trying to have it both ways. Claiming that it is impossible to influece people’s decisions clearly runs counter to the purpose of this article.

  11. This debate you are trying to stir up is off topic. You attribute motives to me I never had, nor ever will. Perhaps you attribute to me motives you have yourself.

    You request, in effect, more articles to reply to your questions. You want me to admit to trying to convince people of something, though I can’t even imagine what.

    This will be my final response to this wheel spinning. If you don’t understand what I wrote, too bad for you. I don’t care.

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