While driving with my boyfriend the other day, we encountered a half-dozen idiots on the road. Within a five minute stretch, we were almost hit by a series of street racers flying by at 110 miles per hour, cut off twice, and flipped off by a crazy dog lady for, presumably, going only 15 miles over the speed limit. After each encounter, my boyfriend huffed under his breath, “And this is why we don’t keep a gun in the car.”
A decade ago, I fervently believed that all people are inherently good and that, sometimes, judgement can become clouded. Throughout my twenties, I was proved wrong again and again. Each year, it seems that people are growing not only less kind and understanding, but more agreeable to willfully harm another person due to differing beliefs. I still believe there are good people, but today I am convinced they are a small and ever-shrinking minority.
Several years ago, my boss collected $1,000 from each manager to fund a wedding gift for the president of the company. A few years later, I learned that the excursion I thought I had contributed to had been paid for by the president and my boss had pocketed the money. That same boss had sold trade secrets to a competitor and tried to peg it on me. I had to leave that high-paying job because the stress and sabotage were destroying my mental health.
Today, that man lives in a luxury home and drives luxury vehicles. He conned a naive women half his age to mortgage a home in his name since he’s declared bankruptcy too many times to qualify himself. He’s charismatic and he gets what he wants, often through unethical means. And he has suffered no repercussions.
In pre-modern times, we lived in communities of around 150 individuals. The group was composed of several families, multiple generations, and each individual offered a unique skill or expertise. It was required that each member of the community contribute to the welfare of group–to offer something of value, to be kind and forgiving, and to uphold peace and communion. Whomever betrayed the group would be made a public example, ostracized, or even killed.
With the advent of urbanization, or small villages have ballooned into to major metropolises housing millions of people. To emulate a traditional community, people much seek out a religious organization, political affiliation, hobby group, or random shared interest. Strangers bond over Game of Thrones and Pokemon, but that thread does not have the same intricate twisting and tensile strength of birth-to-death kinship.
I know someone else who collects money from their parents, in-laws, and various relatives to pay for their children’s activities. For any given activity, the parents are receiving triple the amount of money necessary because the parents and in-laws don’t know each other.
Where does the extra money go? Well, so far this year, this individual has been to Hawaii, New York City, and Costa Rica. She bought a luxury vehicle, an RV, and all kinds of fancy gadgets. She’s cunning and she gets what she wants, often through unethical means. And she has suffered no consequence.
In 1869, Charles Darwin suggested that organisms best adjusted to their environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing. In the case of the Galapagos finches, the genetic polymorphism maximized the species’ niche by expanding its feeding opportunities.
The concept of “survival of the fittest” has been around for a century and a half and, as much as changed in society and our environments, I think basic concept can be applied to the present day. However, where Darwin was looking at phenotypic characteristics, I am more interested in the personality traits and interpersonal choices that influence success, as well societal elements that pressure individuals towards one end of the scale versus the other.
By modern definition, “fitness” would likely entail moderate health, financial security, and the appearance of high social status. Survival relies on shelter, food, water, and influence. Strong interpersonal relationships are optional. If someone can boost their wealth (or appearance of status) by conniving, conning, scamming, or outright theft, there no longer exists the disincentive of ostracization or punishment. Which, in turn, incentivizes bad behavior. Life is not a zero-sum game, but theft, scams, and backstabbing often do benefit one person while harming another.
On some deep level, I still believe that all people have the capacity to be moral, righteous, and contributory members of a society. However, I no longer believe that it’s an inherent drive. Rather, it is a choice. When success favors the immoral, who chooses to take the high road and seek out a path of clear conscious? Who chooses to love thy neighbor, rather than screw thy neighbor over for his own gain?
In in the case of Darwin’s finches, the species of finches evolved in different directions. Those with long beaks could puncture and consume the fleshy insides of the cactus, whereas those with short beaks could eat easily collected fruits and seeds. Perhaps then, the con-artists and bleeding hearts can live side-by-side in parallel and sometimes intertwining worlds.
As I muse of the interplay of good versus evil, I’m reminded of the writings of Cicero and a particular passage that seems relevant.
“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:Marcus Tullius Cicero
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”
While I am coming to believe that evolution favors the immoral, I still do believe there is a place for good people. As the world slowly tilts in favor of deviants and degenerates, we need wise, articulate, and empathetic individuals to stand up and draw us back towards truth and civility. Not all will be receptive, but it may be the only way to begin tipping the scales back towards goodness and morality.