Why Selfish-self is a stable world

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a self-less world where the idea of prioritising one’s own interests would be incomprehensible? A world where businesses would be run for the greater good of the society, governments would have the sole purpose of serving its citizens and where everyone would put everyone else but their own interests first.

An idealist’s dream; this thought would have crossed the minds of even the most skeptical people. But would such a world be truly sustainable? A simple concept of Physics might have the answer.

The Physics of Stable & Unstable equilibrium

Stable Equilibrium: Consider a grape in a bowl. If no one were to ever touch this grape, if there were no external force; this grape would continue to be at the bottom of the bowl forever. If you were to push the grape away from the bottom of the bowl, it would swing like a pendulum until eventually stabilising at the bottom. Push it away as many times as you want to but it will end up at the same point. Always certain. Stable. Balanced.

Unstable Equilibrium: Now consider the same bowl turned upside down like a dome with the grape placed on top of dome. If no one were to ever touch it, this grape would continue to be there forever. However, if now you were to push the grape away from the top of the bowl, it will just fall off and never return to its original position. Always uncertain, unstable.

(in)Stability of a self-less world

For such a world to survive sustainably, it would have to be in a stable equilibrium — like the grape at the bottom of the bowl. Such a world; on application of an external push; should always end up in the same position — one where everyone puts their own interests last, a beautiful self-less world.

Now, all we need is an external push to ascertain whether such an equilibrium is stable or not. In this perfect war-free, racially harmonious, hunger-free (add all the utopian traits of a perfect world to this list) world consider this person A. And we use the pronoun ‘he’ for A and others (but that’s not to suggest that women are not important — use ‘she’ if you want).

Everything is amazing in A’s life. Loving family, interesting job, stable government, adequate finances, healthy lifestyle etc. Everyone around him puts his interests first. He has his spouse’s supports to pursue his interests, a boss that thinks about his development and make sure he is not stressed. A government that thinks about how he can have social security, medical insurance and a safe crime-free, pollution-free environment by paying taxes that allows him to have adequate finances. A market place that want him to buy things that they truly believe he needs.

He thinks about how he can look after his spouse’s interests, how can he support his boss and company in doing business and how can he help the government in making and keeping the country amazing. He trusts the markets for helping him out with making the right decisions on fashion, groceries or services. (I plan to elaborate on this Utopian world in a separate piece)

However, A starts contemplating the impacts of putting his own interests first. He reckons that since everyone is already putting his interests first, he might benefit a great deal from it. The thought unsettles him for days, weeks and months and doesn’t seem to go away. He is unable to sleep at nights, lying awake for hours. He starts getting irritated easily — snapping at people for little things. His family and friends starts getting worried about it. A realises how his thoughts are impacting their lives and causing trouble to people around him.

So one-day he starts introspecting his thoughts. He realises that the unusualness of the idea of being selfish and the excitement of the unknown impacts of such behavior was what was troubling him indeed. He finally convinces that maybe if he tried it out once, the thoughts would stop troubling him and spoiling the amazing life he used to have. So for his family and friends, he decided to become selfish.

He starts putting his own interests first in all social situations. Starts asking for favors from his spouse to get some chores (his share of responsibilities) done and realises that it actually saves him time to sleep more or do something else. At work, he gives his boss ideas on how to sell more by manipulating people. The company makes massive profits, he gets promoted.

He starts thinking that he is unbeatable — that he owns and rules the world because of one single thought. He starts thinking of ways to avoid paying taxes since everyone else is paying those anyway and not paying his share would not really matter. He buys bigger house, a bigger car and starts buying things he may not even need — just because he can. He doesn’t need to think before spending anymore. Gradually the people around him start learning from him in two ways. Those negatively impacted by him behavior, begin despising him. Jealously, hatred, competition and therefore selfishness starts creeping into people around him. Those positively impact by his actions start seeing the merit of being selfish. Everyone has tasted blood by now.

It reaches a point of no return. All it took to topple the balance of the world were the thoughts of a single individual with some innocent thoughts who was just being considerate for his family and friends.

Overtime the world finds its new equilibrium in everyone being self-centered. Very Darwin-esque. The grape falls to the bottom of the bowl. A slight push of goodwill gestures of a few people in this would definitely make the grape swing like a pendulum but it will always find its way back to the equilibrium of the selfish self eventually. Always certain, stable.