“Those who can induce to believe in absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities.” Voltaire
I often ponder over this quote. Why? Because in the most part I think it is so very true.
I look around at the things that are happening in the world today and I wonder just how it is that people can do the things that they do. The answer I keep coming up with is that somewhere in their minds they must believe that it’s OK to harm, oppress and discriminate against others.
I used to think that the only kinds of belief systems that could regularly induce such behaviors were those born out of ignorance. Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that those kinds of belief system might just as easily be born out arrogance.
After all, it takes a very particular kind of willful arrogance to keep denying those with differing forms of ability and different sexual orientations, the right to control and decide their own lives.
It takes a particular kind of arrogance to ignore the homeless, the unemployed, the desperate and the destitute within our communities. Yet this is what people do. This is what governments do.
So what sort of belief system promotes the idea that not having enough money, power or control, means that you haven’t worked hard enough for it? What sort of belief system places the blame for economic, social or personal hardships squarely on the shoulders of those individuals who must carry them?
Is it capitalism? Is it disablism? Is it classism? Is it racism? Is it sexism?
Is it ignorance or is it arrogance?
My vote these days goes to arrogance.
It seems our world is being shaped more and more by a “survival of the fittest” mentality. The structure of society is constantly being underpinned by policies that seek to ‘blame’ individuals for their own position within society without taking into account the socially constructed framework in which those individuals exist. Under such policy suppositions incentives to understand minorities and to help those less fortunate within our communities are slowly being whittled away.
Along with this trend we now have non-governmental organisations rallying their followers to sit in judgement en mass over others in our communities in an attempt to define and confine the rights of those deemed ‘different’.
You can see how this might happen under the mistaken and arrogant ‘survival of the fittest’ belief that ‘other’ people are made poor,powerless or irrelevant, by their own actions.
The flip side of the ‘survival of the fittest mentality’ also means that if someone is doing more poorly than you in society, they are less likely to provide you with any kind of challenge. Therefore if another person is doing badly they become less competitive.
In an increasingly cut throat society, many people can now be seen to have a vested interest in oppressing others for this very reason.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that people are inherently bad. It’s just that I don’t believe that people are being encouraged to be good either. Even the way we view those people who are out there doing good deeds, in the form of altruism, has fallen prey to the ‘survival of the fittest’ construction.
Altruism has been given a modern and somewhat uncomfortable face lift. Many within the realms of philosophy suggest that altruism no longer exists in its once perceived pure form. For at the base of altruism, it is argued, lies the understanding that doing good for others makes the ‘doer’ feel good.
Therefore altruism is merely the act of making oneself feel good. In short altruism has become a sign of unabashed self interest.
So are philosophers who perceive altruism in this way right?
What does it mean for society if, even in doing good for others, we are only trying to do good for ourselves?
What happens when we seek to deny or do ‘bad’ towards others?
Do we feel bad whilst doing bad?
Given the rise in the number of people trying to oppress each other it would seem not.