What is the best way to avoid selfishness

Man between egoism and solidarity

Where is the corona crisis leading us?

The current corona pandemic makes it clearer than any crisis before: Our society lives in a constant conflict between egoism and solidarity:

“If I am not so badly affected by the virus and a face mask only protects others, why should I wear one? All these measures restrict my personal freedoms far too much anyway. ”-“ We can only prevent the virus from spreading further and thus protect the weakest in our society if we all pull together and strictly adhere to the measures prescribed by politicians . "

Egoism and solidarity collide here, and politics sees it as its duty to always find the right balance between the two poles in our society. The question arises: Is “healthy” egoism good or bad and do we need more solidarity in our society or rather less?

Egoism as the “mainspring” of evolution

The mechanisms of evolution are primarily based on egoism. It is the determining element with which individual living beings assert themselves over others and in this way secure the existence of the whole species. Nature, as the site of evolution, is neither lovely nor sweet, but brutal and cruel, even if in this relentlessness it repeatedly creates a lavish beauty anew. What goes on behind this beauty every day is a merciless struggle for survival.

In this struggle for survival, is the strongest and most brutal always the best, or is the result of the selection process more or less coincidental? Would "Einstein" prevail or the simple-minded "shot head" with the club? Where would evolution lead if reason and mutual consideration were the determining elements?

Solidarity as the “glue” of society

Man, originally trapped in the mechanisms of evolution, has undergone an astonishing development in the course of its history. He built a solidary community with a rational social structure and a clear legal system that protects the individual from the arbitrariness of the other - a togetherness that frees him from the daily struggle for survival.

The division of labor meant that he could devote himself to other tasks and ideas. As a result, he achieved countless achievements in the technical and medical field, with which he rose far above nature - but which in the meantime also enabled him to exert a greater influence on nature than any species in the structure of nature ever had is.

In this way, humans moved away from the constant process of evolution and, as it were, started an experiment that gave them the opportunity to visualize the result of an "evolution" marked by solidarity.

Liberation from Evolution - Curse or Blessing?

Humans built stable houses and thus gave themselves permanent protection from wind, weather and extreme temperatures, created a variety of means of transport and a functioning infrastructure. In this way he freed himself from the rigors of nature and the merciless selection process of evolution.

These human achievements are now increasingly turning against humans, as they are not always in harmony with nature and are increasingly becoming an existential threat to humans. The waste of only limited resources and the pollution of the environment with destructive pollutants and gigantic mountains of rubbish of all kinds should be mentioned here.

Likewise, a military potential that has been built up over decades should be mentioned here, which does indeed have a peace-building effect, but at the same time represents a threat to the continued existence of humanity as soon as it falls into the wrong hands or is elevated to an instrument of escalating politics.

Currently, military systems are coming into focus, which "liquidate" people in an increasingly sophisticated way while protecting their own soldiers, but overriding any rule of law.

The advances in medicine are also being considered. On the one hand, in their life-sustaining orientation, they increasingly lead to a break in the evolutionary "selection process", but on the other hand they raise social problems of existential proportions, e.g. through an aging society and overpopulation.

Last but not least, with more recent developments, e.g. genetic engineering, humans provide instruments with which they can exert influence in the most positive sense on the brutal mechanisms of evolution, but also very quickly cross ethical boundaries with unforeseeable consequences for all of humanity .

The role of egoism in a solidary society

Even if egoism took on the function of strengthening and maintaining a species in the context of evolution and still does, this function is currently more likely to be reversed in humans. In a social structure of our time, egoism increasingly leads to existential problems for people in the first place.

Mention should be made here of the “North-South conflict”, in which the industrialized countries, due to their dominant position in world trade in many developing countries, are jointly responsible for hunger, misery and currently an increasing “sell-out” of agricultural land to supply the population of these industrialized countries alone that the starving local people then miss. In the meantime, this has triggered a wave of refugees with which the industrialized countries are suddenly confronted.

The greenhouse gases with their destructive effects are also considered. Developing countries are again the main victims of the increasing number of natural disasters and gradually rising sea levels. However, the main culprits are also increasingly confronted with the consequences of their actions, so that positive thought processes can also be set in motion through egoism.

Last but not least, the international financial markets should be mentioned here, which in 2008/2009 brought the world economy and entire states to the brink of collapse due to their unrestrained egoism and which have not yet been captured by politics. Certainly a certain amount of egoism makes sense as a control element for a market and has prevailed in a convincing way over a centrally planned economy. Nevertheless, egoism without rules in a solidary community evidently develops a more destructive force.

Egoism or solidarity - which way do we go?

It has been shown that the idea of ​​solidarity between people meant a liberation from the daily struggle for survival of evolution, which made the existence-securing developments of mankind possible in the first place. However, these developments are currently raising new problems, which in turn represent an existential threat to humanity.

Due to the complexity of these problems, individual solutions marked by egoism cannot grasp the problems as a whole and are therefore unsuitable as solutions. As much as egoism can repeatedly be a driving force in our society in smaller units, it tends to develop a destructive effect in larger contexts, since it is naturally directed against the interests of the majority.

When we look at climate change, the refugee issue or the corona crisis, a joint approach is required, and with it the idea of ​​solidarity. Only if the global community manages to join forces will we be able to cope with the current global challenges.

It was not egoism that advanced people and enabled them to solve their problems, but it was precisely the overcoming of egoism and the turn to collective action under the sign of solidarity.


Sigrid Richter

Sigrid Richter