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Why should we care about others or the environment? If we can gouge out a good life by mainly looking out for ourselves, isn’t that a valid way to live? It feels so genuine for everything to be about the survival of the fittest, which is the same as saying the survival of the most selfish. And why should we bother what happens after we die? We have a right to feel what we feel while we live, and to feel it makes it right, right?
This story is for you if you object to the above attitude to any degree. It is not a polemic to instill responsibility. It explores the source of our sense of responsibility for those who possess it.
So, where does it come from, our sense of care and duty? The ideas of the Philosophy of Life Instinct reveal two distinct sources.
1. The Self-interest Way to Responsibility
As we see from Chapters 23 and 24 of ‘Philosophy of Life Instinct’, the primary driver for altruism and care is natural self-interest. We depend on the plants, animals, air, water, and sunshine of Earth for our survival, and it leads to the first form of care — for stable food chains and a life-sustaining physical environment.
The second form of care comes from humanity’s evolved social power. We have grown from cooperating in tribes to working together globally. Its positive aspect makes us instinctively befriend people beyond our immediate family. We acquire friends, work together professionally, create ethical rules, and give each other space and tolerance. But the power we get from socialising also causes problems that drive reactive forms of care.
For example, humanity has jointly pushed its ecosystem to the brink of no return through overpopulation, excessive farming, deforestation, industrialisation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emission. But we have realised the danger and fear is driving us to care.
From a vantage point, there is morphing from instinctive care — to strength — to a problem — to thoughtful care.
- Community increases safety but becomes hatred for others and war, which leads to nondiscrimination and treaties.
- Economic cooperation increases survival but leads to overpopulation which makes us care for population management.
- Technological collaboration makes lives better but results in environmental ruin, which leads to planetary care.
Whether instinctive or thoughtful, concern for others is so ingrained in us by evolution that we usually don’t realise we are being friendly, helpful, and cooperative for our benefit. The glow of smug satisfaction we feel when we are caring, and good is the reward of our brain to itself that encourages magnanimous behaviour. We gloat even more as a bonus if we outdo others in helpfulness. If you think about it, it’s impossible to isolate a purely altruistic act. Even if one makes the ultimate sacrifice of life itself, this mental reward will occur in the moments before dying. Such is the devious evolution of the Life Instinct.
We can call all this Self-interest Driven Care.
This system will break down if more people start seeing its reality. So it’s okay if you and I are in the small group having the x-ray vision to see the Life Instinct evolved machinery of our brain laid bare.
Mutual and collective responsibility
Our personal sense of concern seamlessly takes its reciprocal and joint forms as it is natural and innate in all of us. So we help those who help us and unite in acts of cooperation, support, and charity.
2. The Transcendental Path to Care
There is a higher level of duty that does not come from quid pro quo self-interest or following the constitution, ethics, and the law. Neither is it about thoughtful morality, religiosity, cultural mores, or community feeling. It is something entirely different and still quite rare in humans.
It comes from profound self-realisation that life is a chance occurrence in a random universe. Once we see this steadily, we perceive nothing of absolute value in our existence, features, and behaviour. They happen to be what they are. Although we see an internal cause-and-effect that appears rational, it is a subjective perception. Once we break out of it, we see nothing cosmic we are accountable to, no final state to be achieved.
It brings us to the question — why should we care about anything? But if we are honest, we will also ask — why should we not care? Not caring and caring are ultimately the same in a random universe. So we have a choice to make. We can fall into a state of total neglect and fatalism, giving no credence to life and living, or we can choose to operate with the phantasm of existence and life.
There will be an experiential difference between the two choices as we are subject to our living characteristics. We are likely to have a depressed mental state, a poorer physical condition, and a reduced life span with fatalism. We will also not contribute much to other humans, animals, or plants.
If we choose to push in the broad direction of the Life Instinct, we need not be apologetic about it to the God of Philosophy, for there isn’t any, and can practically live out a healthy and happy life, even though it is an act.
We can call this type of responsibility — Transcendental Care.
Something like this thought process may have occurred in the minds of the Buddha (e.g., ‘Exhortations to Malunkya’), Krishna or his conceptualiser (e.g., several passages in the Gita), and Jesus Christ (e.g., his saying on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”). There may be other such thinkers and philosophers whose metaphysical understanding, choice, and life could be a form of Transcendental Care.
From the individual to the mutual and collective
How Transcendental Care changes into the mutual and collective is different in significant ways to the self-interest driven case. We may overcome our basic Instinct and tolerate or help those who wish or do us harm. For example, we may let a loan go unreturned without judgement or anger. Another is we may disagree with a collective action but support it materially. For example, we may be pacifists but fight for the country. The extent of such choices will vary depending upon the situation and our level of transcendental growth.
It’s okay if we are good and responsible in our lives from Self-interest Driven Care. It will be the mainstream way for a long time for our species and those that immediately follow. There is no great necessity to reach Transcendental Care for just this. But getting there has many other benefits that are subjects for other stories in our wisdom portfolio, some already written, and many more to come.
Namaste, my friend, till my next namaste to you.