are humans selfish by nature?

Are Humans Selfish by Nature?

Today, we often hear that humans have become selfish and it is painted as if this is an intrinsic value. Those who propagate such a view do not hesitate to summon even Darwin to their service quoting his “Survival of the fittest” in the context of the theory of evolution. Is this all really true?

Every species on earth has developed its unique way of sustenance based on a set of unique physical characteristics. For humans it was an erect spine, thumb, developed brain. Despite this, it was still a fragile animal in those primitive stages and could not survive individually alone as few animals could. It required men/ women to come together to form tribes and then collectively engage in satisfying material wants right from feeding to protection. Further development of human species was based on ‘producing’. Thus man’s inherent tendency is thus not of being selfish, but to produce and become self aware of their surroundings over time.

After the primitive stage, with further development private property came into existence and inequality started to creep in. The society got divided into exploiting and exploited classes. Along with the force of coercion, the ruling class resorted to propagating cultural, ideological theories that justified and subjugation the masses to such a rule.

In monarchical state the King and the priest class would collaborate to exercise such an ideological hegemony over the masses. For example, the caste system in India. Law of Karma was propagated by Brahmins in order to retain their supremacy over rest of the castes for centuries. What is the Law of Karma? If a person is born in a dalit caste/lower caste, it was because of sins from previous birth. In a way it was redemption of such a sin. What flows from these examples is that this phenomenon of deliberately imbibing an ideology justifying its rule has been instrumental for ruling class to retain power in their hand.

Today we live in capitalist system, a society deeply divided into capitalist and working class (including other downtrodden sections). Capitalist class exercises absolute power over means of production and reaps profits by exploiting power over human labor, natural resources and in a way on society as a whole.

For justifying its outright selfishness, this class has been promoting the idea of Man being a selfish animal. With the help of intellectuals, writers, and media enlisted by them, they have been relentlessly preaching it hard.

Is the person who fiddles with the power meter for lower bills or an rickshaw driver attempting to overcharge, are these attempts at selfishness or merely attempts to make ends meet?

When compared to the above examples, selfishness of the capitalists have reached alarming proportions and is threatning to destroy the environment. Their profits run in billions. They earn these billions not by working hard but by exploiting workers’ labour. Right from blue collar workers working on streets to the white collar workers working in high profile MNCs their mental and physical labor is exploited by this class. Not just that but they keep an army of chartered accountants and lawyers to evade tax or legal provisions that stand in their way. And obviously they engage in direct corruption of bureaucrats or politicians or have legislations passed in their favour.

We, the working class are not selfish. On the contrary, we should be selfish in the sense of realizing that our self-interest lies in not cutting corners to make both ends meet in this system but breaking free from it. We, the working class must challenge this very capitalist system. Every one of us has equal right on natural resources, means of production and economic wealth of this country. If the few billionaires are selfishly controlling all the capital, wealth, political & economic power in their hand, we must act in self-interest to challenge their power and strive to build a socialist society based on collective ownership, a historical phenomenon on which human species did not just survive, but thrived.

Anita Bhalekar

New Socialist Alternative, Pune