The drive to survive….Is altruism now in opposition to human survival?

It seems we are all living on the earth with the goal of surviving as a collective species and as individuals. That is the theory anyway. To me, it is theory that is very flawed and conflicts in its very nature. Our drive to survive is continually dominated by the instinct to take whatever we can with little consequence for what the repercussions will be for other people and the environment. Our individual survival efforts do not support the good of all. The truth is – there is a better and more productive way to live if only we had the confidence and faith to get there. Life is something that interconnects us all together. This is not an abstract truth but a fundamental reality of our existence. Togetherness is something I believe, holds the key to our survival and our ability to thrive as individuals within that collectively.

Living in a capitalist society does not of course, give way to altruism easily. The system gives us the chance to ‘make it’ but that translated simply means making a profit. Profit is not designed to meet the needs of the people. It is ‘survival of the fittest’ in the truest sense. There is a good deal of selfishness in society present which ensures our individual survival but potentially at the cost of the collective wellbeing of the planet. If that is the case, as a collective species, we could be well on the way to destruction (if not, then definitely well on the way already). Taking what we want to make a profit simply isn’t an option anymore if we want to live consciously. This is the problem – I’m not sure that everyone does or knows how to live in a way that protects the interests of all of us. Do we even want to?

According to Richard Dawkins, we act within our own interests and only in the interests of others if it ensures our own survival. Altruism therefore is part of some kind of default response in an attempt to further our own interests. We are merely carriers and exponents of a gene that dictates how we are all going to behave as far as ensuring our own preservation is concerned. What about choice? I think if we summarised behaviour as a consequence of genetic conditioning, we are not taking responsibility for our actions. I don’t think it is that simple. Is life ever straightforward?

It would be a poor outlook….I really hope not. I would like to think that people do things for others simply for the joy of doing so and not hoping for anything in return. There is much to be gained in life by acting and loving unconditionally. I think we are too afraid to do so as there is always that doubt that if we show kindness and generosity to someone, they may see it as a weakness and take full advantage.

It’s time to take a big chance. Survival of the fittest cannot just apply to one individual getting ahead over another. The collective must survive as a whole. Altruism must become less of a selfish motive and more of a consequence of an inherent understanding of what it means to be human and part of the world. Eventually the fittest will not survive as there will be nothing left in the world to survive on.

If we are not living in harmony with ourselves, we probably will not live in harmony with the world around us either. Cause and consequence is something that again, seems as though it is quite remote to our being. Our actions will always affect others somehow. What we say, think and do will have some kind of impact on the environment around us even if it is not immediately apparent. On days when we feel angry, depressed, agitated, fearful and tense, do we make good decisions? I know I don’t. Now – what if world leaders sitting around a conference table felt the same on the day they had to find a resolution to a conflict between two nations? Would the conflict resolve or would it worsen do you think?

If we are in conflict with ourselves on the most fundamental levels of being, how can we expect to do good in the world and in a way that will enhance the world we live in? We are not separate from the world we inhabit. We are the world we inhabit. The world we create is a reflection of how we feel inside – cause, reaction and consequence. What we think and feel, we create.

This invites a question in regards to the true definition of love. Love is seen as something that is outside of us. It is not just a mysterious stereotype either or something to be attained simply by doing something or being with someone. In reality, it is much more significant than that. Being in harmony with yourself is the first step towards realising the awesome potential love has to change the world. Love is a state of being. When we reside in that state of being, we are living according to the natural law. That law is instinctive and corresponds to our most basic needs. The need for food, shelter and human companionship for instance.

Our desire for more is not something that is vital for survival. We want it. If we really want it, we find a way to get it. And why not? Desire is natural too. You would think so – but only if that desire to based on as aspect that furthers our personal growth in a positive way. Wanting to accumulate more material possessions for the sake of it has no meaning and if there is no real meaning, there is absolutely no point whatsoever in pursuing it.

The choices we make in life should reflect our needs and not necessarily our desires. Otherwise, it has a tendency to warp our perspective towards a desire that masquerades as a need when it isn’t anything that can do us any good. Desires will always be there within us but they need to be tempered with a great deal of discipline, self-control and awareness if we are to make sensible choices. Drinking is a desire, not a need. We do it and we enjoy it. Sugar is something we desire. We don’t really need it but we want it. Is it that great for our health? Not really.

We all know how to survive. That chapter in human evolution has been written. We should cultivate altruistic behaviour in order to thrive. Being kind and loving begins in our own heart towards ourselves and it is a strength we have not harnessed yet. The ability to care for ourselves is the start of the journey towards truly caring for the world we live in. We are a part of the world. Separateness is an illusion. The same atoms inside you and me have been transformed and changed over billions of years of evolution – through hundreds of millions of stars. Through countless galaxies and planets, we have all travelled through time endlessly and we are travelling still…

In all honesty, the journey hasn’t even started yet. The best is yet to come. We can actually do this and Dawkins seems to share the same optimism towards the end of his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. To quote Joni Mitchell, ‘We are stardust,’….

© Christina McDonald 2014.

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