Evonomics - July 2016

... What is the difference between the blatant expression of individual selfishness and the blatant expression of national selfishness? If we focus on the consequences of blatant selfishness, then the answer is “no difference”. Left unchecked, a disease organism disrupts the host organism, often killing both in the process. Left unchecked, a “Me First!” person would disrupt the town and everyone behaving that way would result in total chaos. Left unchecked, a “My Nation First!” politician would…

You get the point. Blatant selfishness is toxic, regardless of the scale that it occurs. In a sense, the point is so obvious that it shouldn’t have to be pointed out. Why, then, is national selfishness at full volume while individual selfishness is on mute? Two major reasons can be identified.

The first is a narrative that makes blatant selfishness appear good for everyone. This has always been implicit in the economic concept of laissez faire and Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand, but Smith used that metaphor sparingly and was fully aware of the dangers of blatant selfishness at all scales. It is only during the last half century that “Greed is Good” has been seriously proposed and put into action as sound economic and national policy, with predictable results.

The second is the lack of a coordinated response to national selfishness. The reason that our bodies are so good at keeping cancer cells and disease organisms at bay is because of our immune systems, which are the product of billions of years of evolution. The reason that blatant selfishness is kept at bay in a small human group such as a town is because of a psychological analog of the immune system that is a product of millions of years of evolution. If either one of these is compromised, then selfishness spreads like a cancer (and cancer is nothing other than cellular selfishness) despite its harmful consequences. There is no global analog to the immune system and the psychological response to selfishness that takes place spontaneously in small human groups. Hence the rampant growth of cancerous “My Nation first!” ideologies.

This might seem like a prognosis of despair, as if nothing can be done. But something can be done on both counts. The “Greed is Good” narrative can be replaced and an analog of the immune system can be emplaced at a global scale. ...
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