What does biology really say about humanity? Are we really thoughtful beings? Are we actually intelligent? Are we really kind and compassionate?
According to Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, biologically we are all selfish. In science, the biggest support for humans to be the way we are is the Theory of Evolution. One of the main, and the most regarded, principle of this theory is natural selection.
In order for there to be evolution in the first place, the weaker individuals had to be sacrificed while the stronger ones learned how to become more adapted to their changing environment. Selfishness had a role to play in survival, in protecting territory and finding a mate. Selfishness led the weaker individuals to perish, because when it comes to survival, we really would only think of our own benefits.
Soon, we learned to collaborate to survive and formed communities. The stronger, evolved humans separated themselves into these communities and helped each other. Outside the communities, though, we were still self-inclined. Eventually these communities evolved into different races and settled in different countries around the world. And sure enough, most of us are still inclined more towards our own community than the people in the rest of the world.
. . .
Can selfishness be seen as such an awful way to be, though? If it wasn’t for our selfish tendencies, would we have been able to evolve? Perhaps greed was the driving force that gave us hope for a better future, one where food would be in abundance, and we wouldn’t have to stay up the night guarding our community from predators. Perhaps greed and selfishness were needed in order to grow into a society that always dreams of something more, something better and that isn’t afraid of trying new things to achieve those dreams.
Despite this, recent research has shown we might not actually be as selfish as we think we are. The most innocent form of a human brain is that of an infant. Infants are pure from society norms, expectations, friendship, parenthood and the media. Using shapes, scientists made a film for infants to watch and gage their reactions when certain things happened within the clip. You can read the full study here. In a nutshell, when infants see someone struggling, they process it and are able to come to the conclusion to help the person. My point is that even as mere babies, it was known to us that we should help another human regardless of their race, political outlook, age, gender, sexuality and intellect.
It is possible that our ancestors had to literally fight with each other to survive, but that was a few thousand years ago. With every new generation, we started expecting more and more from us. We invented things to make our collective lives easier, from the creation of a car, to electricity to the internet. We built hospitals, schools and restaurants to serve other people, and cinemas and amusement parks to entertain ourselves.
. . .
Although, not everyone in this world is fortunate enough to drive a car, to browse the internet or even to have electricity in their home. We all may be equally evolved but we no longer have equal privilege.
Over half of the world’s population lives in poverty. We’re living in the 21st century, yet there are nearly a billion people alive today who can’t read a book or sign their own name. Half of humanity doesn’t even have clean water to drink or doesn’t have any access to it. You can read the full list of global issues and their statistics here.
You may think these issues are out of our hand to take care of. We’re the common people who are related to these global issues in the least obvious way. The truth is, that we are all related to it nonetheless.
There are always things we can do to help people who live in different communities than our own. Even if it means to read and gain knowledge about the struggles people in different communities, societies and countries face. That is a starting point, and everyone is capable to do at least that much. Essentially, what stops from trying or thinking in this direction are the barriers we put up for ourselves.
In his book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins states that although our biological make up inclines us to be selfish, it is still in our hands whether we obey it or not. We’re no slave to our genetics. What good is humanity? The answer to this doesn’t lie in what science or evolution says, instead it is what we define every single day through our actions.