In XVII century Hobbes popularised a thesis stating that the man is driven only by selfish stimuli and seeks to satisfy his needs and motives, evoking Latin proverb Homo homini lupus est (A man is a wolf to another man).
I believe, however, that mentioned above proverb shows a distorted image of the nature of the wolf itself, which can’t be referred as something negative and narcissistic towards a fellow specimen.
If you bother to read a bit about the wolves, (Lesson: Don’t take anything for granted and always verify the info) you can learn that wolves are actually herding animals and are acting for the common good. Yes, there is a hierarchy where the strongest couple gets to breed and has a priority to consume the prey, but this is done for a reason. Like in every society or a bigger group, there is a need for a leader to drive the rest towards a common, clarified goal.
Unshaken by external factors, the wolf pack is a very harmonious community. Wolves divide their hierarchy levels according to their abilities. Similar to the world of humans, wolves “specialise” themselves in their respective fields; there are individuals warning of the danger, some are focused on tracking victims, some are touts, and some are specialised in the final killing of the victim.
Then, when we assume that humans ≠ wolves (at least not in the negative, phrasal way) then what exactly means to be a human?
Abby Lammers argues that that to be a human is to have a compassion extended not only around our close ones, but towards other human beings not closely related and everything what surrounds us and affects us.
We are unique among animals in our consciousness, of our own selves and of our social groups.
From an evolutionary point of view, altruism and exorbitant compassion doesn’t seem to make any sense nor it should exist. According to the modern Neo-Darwinian view, human beings are basically selfish and seek only two extremes: to avoid pain, and to get pleasure. The problem is that natural selection is not conducive to benefiting “others.” After all, we are only really “carriers” of thousands of genes whose only aim is to survive and replicate further. And it’s correct, but only to a certain extend.
Yes, altruism per se does not exist. All ‘selfless’ actions are in fact done in the self-interest – mainly, to jam the guilt and self-consciousness. It’s a calculated game, where one does help another to gain something, either immediately (e.g. when we pass by people in need, we give money to calm our guilt about our ‘better’ situation, so we can feel somehow good about ourselves) or in the future (e.g. that pretty bunch of roses for your wife is rather a deposit for mitigating circumstances when one day you will come back home drunk as fuck); either directly (I will make you feel good, and the power of reciprocity rule will take care of me) or indirectly (“Pay it forward” move / also called “Kindness boomerang effect“).
“Funny” things happen, when animals (and the conscious animals – us, humans) are placed or exposed to the extreme conditions.
The extreme case of it could be observed in The Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, where the scientist Philip Zimbardo studied psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard.
In case you haven’t heard about it – it was an experiment, where 24 male students were selected to adopt randomly assigned roles of prisoner and guard, in a mock prison, (located in Stanford Psychology Department building) for a period of 1-2 weeks. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo’s expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately lead some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards (due to the principle of blind submission to authority), readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it.
There is even an excellent movie depicting this cruelty and startling behavioural triggers – Das Experiment / The Experiment. (Watch the German, 2001 version, not the American 2015 remake!).
What’s in this for me?
What means extreme conditions in a day-to-day life? A lot of factors can distort our attitude and behaviour towards others; top-bottom hierarchy at work with glass ceilings, family and friends not accepting your life choices (so you grow bitter), lack of respect from your fellow colleagues or simply – hackneyed societal structures. Frustration grows inside and before we know it, from the fluffy, cute, peace & love spreading beings, we become these slimy Gremlins 2.0, destroying everything on our way, ourselves included.
Although we are born a’la tabula rasa, as we grow, we are equipped with innate sense of inequity aversion and every society has mechanisms in place to curtail greed, cheating and free-loading. Societal structures and bureaucratic burden can also end up stimulating or even rewarding greed or selfishness.
Take for example Poland (where I come from and lived until 19 years of age) and Italy (where I used to live for some time – I did it the extreme way and moved to Naples). In these countries people grow convicted that there are only two options: In life, either you fuck or you get fucked.
Italian word “Furbizia” (from furbo (“sly”) + -izia (“-ness”) ) has a positive tint and Italians (like Poles) seem to celebrate “f*cking” others on money, privileges and everything in between – and it’s not only me stating that. A common perception there is that the person being sly is a smart-ass, whereas the person being screwed over is a moron who deserves it for not paying attention or not exploiting the opportunity himself. Sadly, it all contributes to a cultural layer of manipulation and distrust. Looking like a tourist? Here is a different dining menu for you 🙂 ) Italians publicly admit that about other Italians and the vicious circle never ends. Level up Mario, level down Luigi.
The line between resourcefulness and selfish cunning is a very, very thin one though, and these (and many, many other) nations seem not to understand that in the long-term furbizia is simply unprofitable.
Same with Poland.
In case you understand Polish, there is a great blog called Pokolenie Ikea (Generation Ikea), where recently the author highlighted what’s the priority for a typical Pole – which is the exact same problem as with Italian society.
(In case you don’t – just use Google Web Translate, drink some wine and have a laugh of direct translations).
W rankingu zaufania społecznego do siebie nawzajem zajmujemy czwarte miejsce w Europie. Kurwa od końca. Za nami jest Bułgaria, Cypr i Słowacja.
Numerem jeden jest Dania. Wiecie czego uczą Duńczycy dzieci w szkołach? Wiosłowania zespołowego. Pokazuje to im że razem dopłyną dalej. Będą płynąć szybciej. Uczą się współpracować.
Czego uczą dzieci w naszych szkołach? Jak dymać innych szybciej. A jak już przejdziesz wszystkie kursa i będziesz już w tym naprawdę dobry to dostaniesz własny gabinet w biurowcu i harmonogram ruchania innych będziesz sobie ustawiał w Excelu.
Jesteśmy społeczeństwem jednostek. Poruszamy się obok siebie, ale nie jesteśmy całością.
Yes, it’s a fact that older generations of Poles tend to be mistrustful, egoistic and rude – we are simply scared that the other party always has unclear intentions. The challenge is to keep educating new upbringings in a millennial way and cut this shit clean – teach children to be more cooperative, transparent and endeavour inspirational aims.
However, Furbizia is cosmopolitan, it doesn’t necessarily need to be apparent in afflicted by historical difficulties countries, but no doubt cultural lifestyle and quality of life imposes some behavioural deviations. You can get fucked by any nationality, especially when big numbers come to play (Think Facebook’s founder and Eduardo Saverin’s stock dilution).
I was born in ’88 – a year before the Communism in Poland was ended. I never remembered shortages in the shops (the legend says in PRL era you could only buy the vinegar and the soap). Despite living all my childhood and teenage years in Poland, I still see pretty much everything through a rose-tinted spectacles. I believe that people are good by nature, so they can again return to this state – if only they have the chance for a healthy self-growth and decent living conditions.
I see your true colours
That’s why my mission is to include total transparency in whatever I do professionally and personally. You may not like me – I will tell you what’s wrong with you even though it’s against my interest (also the financial one). When I was being interviewed in my past job, at the very first stage of interviews I told my (future) bosses that their LinkedIn profiles and their site sucked, that it looked like it has been done in Front Page 98 by one of their nieces and I even used the expression “Coming to this interview I thought I’m going to be interviewed by just a band of corporate jerks” (as their profiles had nothing more than a corporate, nonsense jargon). In this case it worked – I got the job as the guys appreciated my transparency. (True story!)
That’s why in my company @Amuse we introduced total transparency in regards to the operations, finances and system of remuneration. You don’t like something? Say it out loud NOW or stay silent forever – just don’t bumble.
Big conglomerates such as Google or Bloomberg share all their R&D / know-how resources ex aequo to any levels of employee authority – no matter if it’s an intern or a senior manager. I think it’s important that other companies follow that route.
I believe everybody deserves to have great conditions to work and develop. Passion, persistence, positivity and a purpose create a vivid experience of life so you don’t even think of screwing others if you know their clear intentions.
We should try to achieve Pareto Efficiency rather than Nash Equilibrium in work environment – idea based on a crowd of individuals finding that their selfish interests are best served by a measure of cooperation. Being rewarded for the actual work done or passing the recognition onto someone else, who contributed lots more. We need to keep bringing ourselves to heel and remind ourselves about the core reasons of our existence – which is enjoy and share the joy while it lasts :).