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