The World is full of terribly self-centred people, and I am afraid you are probably among them. Emotions such as Love, loyalty, and outrage, like a sense of fairness, have little or no place in most of today’s utility functions; a narrow selfishness is pervasive.
Most of us claim to feel solidarity towards the thousands of refugees dying on the doorstep of Europe, yet only a few of us are willing to give up a part of our resources (whether financial, material or time-related) to help.
Most of us feel empathy for the hungry homeless person asking for a penny in the street, yet we rarely look at them. Most of us agree that global warming is destroying our own planet and yet we strive to eat cheaper meat.
Let’s face it: we generally do not live up to the very principles we cherish. And no, sharing a post on Facebook will not save the Syrians!
For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor. – Adam Smith
In an open Society, one has the right to buy a second home or to purchase a property for mere financial purposes. But is it morally right to keep a house empty while millions are struggling?
Looking at current discourses of human rights, equality and democracy, the answer would clearly be ‘No’.
However, this does not mean that those who own empty houses are bad Humans or despicable people. There are simply normal beings, and like most, display a degree of selfishness.
They have their own personal issues and desires, matters that might seem futile to others but that are important to them, and that they are entitled to take care of.
Like most people, they do not think about starving children in Africa on a daily basis, and, at the risk of sounding insensitive, might not even care about starving children in Africa. In a way, we all own secondary housing.
We all deeply care for objectively futile affairs because we relate to them, because they feel important. We often seek to focus on personal needs and desires.
This does not result from the perverted nature of the western elite as some often claim, but simply from the selfish penchants inherent to all humans.
Instead of being ashamed, we should acknowledge it and accept it as part of our nature, of our everyday behaviour and thinking. Only then can will we be able to tackle our own selfishness.
We need to find a balance between excessive capitalism and self-sacrifice.
Education has become human capital. Job hunting is now a matter of search cost and a desire for leisure. Segregation laws are explained as a preference for discrimination and a willingness to pay the higher prices it entails.
Love is an exchange relationship; decisions to bear children are analyzed as the purchase of durable goods of varying quality. Addiction, terrorism, arms control, the pace of scientific discovery – all have come under the economic magnifying glass.
People all around the World are a lot more moral and a lot less selfish than economists and evolutionary biologists had assumed.
Our moral commitments are surprisingly similar: to reciprocity, fairness and helping people in need, even if acting on these motives can be personally costly.
Travelers still leave the requisite tip in restaurants in cities to which they will never return. Citizens vote in elections even though they know that their vote is extremely unlikely to make a difference.
People help strangers in trouble. They willingly bear costs in the name of fair play. They remain married in situations in which it would clearly pay to cut and run.