Good And Evil vs. Self-preservation In The World Of Trump
As individuals, and as a species, we acknowledge the ways that self-preservation - the basic need to stay alive - rules our instincts to act. From the deliberate action of looking before we cross a street, or subconsciously selecting favorable genetic partners for procreation, to avoiding war, self-preservation is the cornerstone of everything we do. It’s an interesting concept to think of in terms of politics and social justice.
Considering the world we all now occupy, and the man who now occupies the White House, it's a perfect time to question the common idea that people, at their cores, are inherently good or evil. Binaries and absolutes are rarely true.
A more honest and accurate way to think about ourselves is to say that people are, above all, self-preservationists, but with understanding that the idea of "self" can be expansive and doesn't necessarily mean "me, the individial." Self-preservation isn't inherently positive or negative, it just...is.
Self-preservation is a natural condition of being alive and human. Because the potential ugliness, greed and violence of selfishness - something we mistakenly think of as being synonymous with self-preservation - is obvious, the idea isn't something we're inclined to attach ourselves to.
Positively, self-preservation, and the expanded idea of "self" is why you want to join the fight when a group you are not a member of faces injustice. Self-preservation is what allows you to see Black Lives Matter, or women’s marches, and want to help the cause. It’s why the idea of a Muslim ban or Mexican border wall enrages you.
On some level, consciously or not, you see your "self" in other people, because you know that on another day, in another era, it can be (or has been) you in the cross hairs of an oppressive entity, and therefore, it is in your best interest to fight now. By needing to preserve the "self," we stand for and protect each other. When we seek equality for all, we are also - whether or not we acknowledge it - trying to create safe spaces for ourselves, as individuals.
We also must understand that the expanded idea of "self" is the root of systems of racial, religious, and gender supremacy, and capitalism feeding on the poor. In short...it's complicated.
The missing view of "self" in others is what makes it so easy for some to not see the danger in - or worse, find refuge in - the times we live. It's why, for example, one can be vocal on matters of racial equality, but be less inclined to advocate for LGBTQ rights.
When there is no expanded view of "self," we rest, complacent in the often false belief that we are protected, while those around us are made to suffer. Inability or refusal to see one’s "self" in others, while still having the need to preserve it, is how "black lives matter" becomes "all lives matter (except Muslim refugees)."
Deep down, most people probably know these things to be true, but instead of acknowledging our drive to preserve "self," we prefer to think about life in terms of "good" and "evil."
Goodness is a warmer feeling than cold, evolutionary self-preservation. It makes us feel better about ourselves, and our actions that positively benefit a world bigger than us as individuals. We want to believe that we act based on a higher concept, or calling from something greater. Connection to others, as they are the expansion of our "self" is just that.
The idea of evil allows us to dismiss negative action as a kind a sickness. Something apart from the basic human nature we all share. No one wants to believe that, in a separate set of circumstances, they too, are capable of willingly hurting others.
Self-preservation as the (conscious or subconscious) motivation to act doesn’t quite give us the emotional response we need. We prefer to categorize people and actions as sympathetic or selfish. In the end, for better or worse, what we’re all seeking are means for survival.