Beyond The Looking Glass

“An·thro·po·cen·tric  (anTHrəpəˈsentrik/adjective) : Considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe; interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences.”

A pervasive term that pretty much sums up the way we live, the way we think.

A majority of the religions that have a mass following are built on the very same idea – that the world was created for humans, or that humans have a self imposed responsibility to ‘save’ it. That taking birth as a human is a high achievement. From depicting gods in human form to instilling survivalistic lingo in holy books.

Altruism is but an exalted off shoot of the very same anthropocentrism. The need the do good for humanity- not just so humans can survive and procreate. but also to achieve a more exalted  state of feeling ‘noble’. I work for the good of humanity and therefore I am good!! Norms and morals, created around the benefit of greater good – aka humankind. Why is this mass self-obsession any better or worse than  a obsession about just the self?

The morality bandwagon. Everyone is on it these days. Everyone is running for causes, standing up for a belief or two, raising money for charity, sharing pictures of the down trodden. It is indeed fashionable for a child to donate half his coveted birthday monies to ‘charity’ (thereby installing in him from very early on, a distinct distaste for the word itself). Schools trumpet their community service programs. High school kids feverishly volunteer at soup kitchens, sew care blankets, shelve books at the library and log in hours.

As if this were not enough, one could get onto a higher plateau of ‘righteousness’ by proclaiming an undying loyalty to the color green, by buying organic, by touting a reverence for ‘environmentally friendly’ products. We stand on our plastic soapboxes on our carefully manicured and weed free lawns or the local park and espouse the need to denounce the very things we are enveloped with in our lives. Yes, please stop spewing carbon dioxide into the room with your respiratory processes, you are increasing your carbon footprint!

And this is not all, one could possibly attain the next level, or nirvana, by standing up for the soon to be extinct animals, for the poor creatures used for science and cosmetic research and pulling a puppy or two from certain death in some railroad track. All the while chomping on your favorite grilled chicken.

Yes, it is fashionable to be on this morality bandwagon. The more vocal you are on twitter and Facebook and other assorted media on these and other carefully selected ‘issues’, the higher you morality index. You can demand to be revered and clock yourself with a ‘Look how noble(er) I am’ shroud.

Yet, truth is, that is exactly what all this is . A shroud. Whom are we kidding? Really?

It is the basic survivalist ego in humans that propels us to “save” the earth and to elevate those who proclaim to do so on a elevated, nobler plane.

All these moralistic stand-ins, die-ins and hand outs are but basically but an attempt by humanity to save….humanity itself. If it were not for the belief  that the environmental changes caused by our overconsumption, would in effect obliterate us in the near or far future, would we even bother? Or would we continue to over consume and pollute if, hypothetically speaking we remained unaffected by it all but everything else were to die? Seriously? If it were not for the abject horror that our grandchildren ten generations down may not recognize a tiger if one were staring at them, would we bother to ‘save’ them?

Altruism obviously evolved with the evolution of the multicellular or colonial life forms. As long as there was a lone bacteria, a lone amoeba, fending for itself, it did not need to worry about its fellow brethren. But once the cells realized the advantages of living in a colony, or even as a multi-cellular organism, altruism was necessary to keep the organization running. Team work can only be accomplished with give and take. For any advantage living together gave the cells, they had to also give up some of their individualism for the common good. This they did, without much aplomb, in the early sponges and even the early amphibian. What the heck, cells even had to completely specialize and commit to one function such as the kidney or the heart for the entire organism to survive optimally.

So when did this simple survivalistic phenomenon take on a nobler aura? With the evolution of consciousness perhaps? When the thinking brain had to rationalize the individual’s sacrifice for communal good. With the evolution of the consciously thinking brain, there was a danger of the individual reverting to well, individualism. For thinking brain is not clairvoyant (yet) and is often shortsighted. Hence the evolution of morals to safeguard communal good. In recent times, this seems to be going towards its peak with altruism sparking off glossy headlines and rather pompous facebook posts with guaranteed likes.

This anthropocentric altruism has taken roots deep within our very survilistic genes. People jump to judge those in apparent odds with this supposedly divine nature. They do not realize that it is but a survivalistic trait of the race. Of course there is nothing wrong in being anthropocentric. Every species has an orb of adaptive behaviors, that have become so genetically ingrained that survival is not possible outside this realm. So within this orb for humans are all such morals, such as nobility, holier than thou, help your needy neighbor, save the little lame duck…lets survive as a species and lets help the earth survive so we may. Altruism has indeed an exalted status within this orb of morals.

Simply put, altruism is but a higher form of selfishness.  A majority  of altruists would claim that they are helping  humans in need so that humankind as a whole could benefit from their action. True, but then that itself is a selfish desire for one’s own species to survive. If not that, then for a desire to keep life the way it is. To preserve animals from extinction, to save the earth so life ( our lives and other lives that support our life) does not become extinct. There is hence always a selfish purpose behind altruism. Is that bad? Not at all. However, remove that element of higher level of selfishness and all altruism would disappear.

Altruism stems from an innate desire for nobility, attention and in extreme cases, fame.  In some religions, altruism promises a better afterlife or rebirth in better circumstances. All altruistic behavior has an innate purpose that is not so altruistic. 

Why then is altruism so revered? The altruists so venerated? The circle of survival. What if humans did become extinct? So be it. Life renewed. A single individual set out to (pre)serving himself or herself is deemed selfish. However, an entire species striving to preserve itself is deemed noble.

The naked thought makes no distinction between good and vile, a single human and humankind, between the living and non living between that which exists and that which does not. Nothing more venerated than the other, nothing more worthy of saving than the other. Within the opera of the living, emotions, morals, ethos, are all but theatrical effects while life plays itself out on the stage.

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