It is well known that humans are social animals. This fact is clear to anyone who has noticed our ability to show sympathy, our need to assign ourselves to political, religious, and social groups and our tendency to love gossip. However the reasons behind why we have evolved to be social animals are not always as well understood. What is even less understood, or even mentioned for that matter, is the ever growing gap between the social animals we have evolved to be and the increasingly greedy, selfish, unsocial animals we are now becoming. Most importantly, it is ever metioned how this gap or shift in our evolution is only further contributing to all of our current ecological and environmental problems.
Our early ancestors developed cooperation and social skills for many reasons, the principle reason being that IT WAS KEY TO THEIR SURVIVAL. Being a part of a group meant you had a higher chance of survival then if you were on your own, you were able to hunt better in a group then alone meaning you got more food, you were able to better protect yourself from predators, meaning you had a lesser chance of dying or being eaten, you also got to benefit from all the services the people in the group provided you such as grooming each other or caring for each other’s young…etc. This lead to the evolution of increased cooperation skills because those groups who members cooperated with each other the most were that most productive and therefore the most successful when compared to other groups. These memebers would then pass on and spread the genes that allowed them to be more cooperative then the others.
This form of cooperation is similar to old saying I’LL SCRATCH YOUR BACK IF YOU SCRATCH MINES. This obviously worked and worked very well for our ancestors allowing them to not only survive but prosper and flourish in their environment. Our ancestors begin to grow in number and thus grow in group size which unfortunately help give rise to cheaters within the group- individuals who though I'LL LET YOU SCRATCH MY BACK BUT I WON’T SCRATCH YOURS. Where as in smaller groups these cheaters would be easy to notice and track in large groups it becomes ever more difficult allowing these cheaters to work the system getting all the benefits but none of the cost- I’ll GET MY BACK SCRATCHED FOR FREE AND NOW I CAN GO DO OTHER THINGS WITH MY TIME AND ENERGY. These cheaters of course only made up a small part of the group and if they were to ever grow too large in number the whole system would fall apart NO ONE WOULD SCRATCH ANYONES BACK and thus no scratching would get done leaving the whole group to suffer and in extreme examples (where the behavior is important to survival then scratching) leave the group to die.
Our ancestor (both the ones that cooperate within the group and the few that cheat) passed on the genes that allowed them to perform these complex cooperating social skills along with ability to cheat to us their descendants. However, unlike our ancestors we currently live in an environment in which WE DO NOT DEPEND ON GROUPS FOR OUR SURIVAL. Cooperating and working together (at least for the most part) in today’s society does not increase our survival. In fact the opposite is mostly true the more greedy we are and the more selfish we act the higher our fitness –i.e. the more money we make, the more food we can buy and the more children we can support. Thus all the cheaters within the group can now grow without limits and are in fact selected for. At first glance this would seem like it wouldn’t be a problem in today’s society because if the cheaters grew to numerous the cooperating social system would fall apart but since we no longer rely on that system for our survival anymore it wouldn’t make much of a difference to us. AS LONG AS I CAN DO WHAT I HAVE TO DO FOR MYSELF AND CAN SURVIVE WHO CARES ABOUT THE PERSON NEXT TO ME.
However, unlike our ancestors and unlike any other species on the planet we as a collective group and even to a small extent as individuals now have the power to severely impact our environment and our overall planet in very harmful ways. If I as a greedy and selfishness person (cheater) do something that benefits me but harms not only the people around but MY ENVIRONMENT in a way that doesn’t directly harm me I am gaining an advantage. BUT what I don’t see is that that advantage is only temporary and where in cheating a person or multiple people around me will not cause any server consciences (other than losing that person or people as trustful members of my group) cheating my environment does have server consciences that in turn come back around to harm me.
When I as a CEO of a chemical power plant decide it will be beneficial to me (and maybe even a small group of share holders) to drop toxic waste into a nearby river or water system, saving me the cost of having to pay for properly disposing of that waste, at the cost of other people around who may depend on that river in a way that I do not I am gaining an advantage- i.e. making money. Although I think I am just losing the trust of all the people I just cheated I’LL DIRTY YOUR RIVER WHICH YOU KEPT CLEAN BUT I WOUNDN’T CLEAN IT BACK, I am losing much more. I am losing the river which is part of the nearby ocean which is part of more complex water recycling and cleaning system, which if I damage enough may affect the water everywhere; including the water I get and need located somewhere else or the fish and crab I like to eat bought miles away.
Thus acting as a collective group of selfish individuals who do not truly care about each other or care about cooperation in any large collective sense leads to massive ecological and environmental damage. Not caring if the product my factory makes pollutes the waters in the area used to make it, or if the computer I buy in the U.S requires the mining of toxic heavy metals somewhere in Africa destroying their rain forest, or if the car I use pollutes the air of someone else around me who doesn’t have home air filtration, or if the garbage I throw away stays in a land fill miles away for me where other people live, all has a combined negative impact on the environment.
The environment that once required intense cooperation to survive is now one in which little cooperation is necessary and greed and selfishness flourish and is running wild. The worst apart of all is that that greed and selfishness originally arose from cooperation. Without people cooperating there would be no one for the greedy and selfishness to exploit or take advantage of. The problem now is unlike our ancestors we live in a society where greed and selfishness is not the controllable expectation but the irresistible norm. If we are to have any chance at reversing the harm we have done to the environment and any hope of living a peaceful existence with nature we must change our current view on our social system based on individual gain. We must change the saying from I’LL SCRATCH YOUR BACK IF YOU SCRATCH MINES( a saying which can lead to cheating and in our case the destruction of the planet) to I’LL DO MY PART IN TAKING CARE OF THE PLANET AND YOU’LL DO YOURS (a saying that promotes cooperation without leading to cheating while at the same time preserving the planet). In the end all we really have is one planet earth and if I do not do my individual part to take care of that planet we all will suffer equally in that there will be no planet left for us to live on. It shouldn't be about scratching backs but preserving that in which we all have to share - the planet. You can be greedy and selfish all you want about the things that belong to you but not with that in which no one person owns. You can be greedy and selfish all you want but not in a way that harms that in which you need the most - clean air, clean water, and a safe place to live, and without a healthy planet no one person can truly have any of those things.