This I Believe

Nick - Durham, North Carolina
Entered on April 23, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: good & evil
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With countless essays on the familiar and monotonous “What community service means to me” prompt, it seems somewhat of a relief to finally write about something that has been on the tip of my tongue for quite a while. With no more formalities or grade restraints, I think I can finally address, or more accurately, rant about what I truly accept as my own opinion: an opinion I feel, that seems to be a little too self-righteous and critical of the common citizen. Nevertheless, I find it only fair that I be able to voice my own belief on a society that condemns all too quickly.

I believe that people are selfish. Though this may be an extremely pessimistic view, it has proven true in almost every example of human occurrence. We can safely assume that one would then go into the predictable “Innate qualities of human nature” debate, which seems to have no end, and amusingly brings us right back to where we started: the realization that there is no definitive and agreeable answer. This debate is irrelevant to my essay however, as I was asked what I believe, not what they believe (they being the collective and arbitrative audience of critics). I feel I can relate my bleak outlook on the world with the main theme of my essay: environmentalism and conservation in a local setting.

It is a universal consensus that the impact of a single human being is negligible. People see their actions as insignificant in making a dent in the overall health of the earth, and thus treat it the same way a mosquito would treat a human: merely an object for exploitation. Though the analogy is somewhat unfitting (humans are aware of their impact on the earth) the underlying message remains true. The same can be said for the reverse statement. Because humans have such an insignificant impact on the earth, they are helpless in improving the overall health of their home. Empty justifications are created to hide the truth that we do in fact affect the earth, even if only as a collective. In class, I read about a striking dilemma called the “Tragedy of the Commons”, and though I have no more credibility in analyzing human nature than the next person with a lack of a degree, we can safely agree that it points out a tragic flaw in human character. The Tragedy of the Commons refers to a case in which a free and publicly open pasture (commons) is open for unrestricted grazing. With no regulations, farmers are free to let as many cattle graze on the land as possible (it is economically favorable to sell meat than grass) and have no responsibility in preserving the environment. The innate ambition and selfishness of human nature would inevitably force them to utilize as much of the land as possible with no thought of repercussions for the commons in the long run. This situation applies to many instances today, as the predictable reaction of humans is to think first about one’s own gain over another.

Critics would say that there are many examples of human cooperation that prove otherwise; that many people live their lives devoted to simplicity and conservation (tree-huggers, etc…). Though that may be, the majority does not behave in this way, and the degree of conservationism oscillates only with each and every impending disaster. It is disappointing to see unconditional altruism only among animals, such as that of pack animals and insects. Though there are many exceptions to this rule in the animal kingdom, humans epitomize this rule to a severe extent. Even children can be seen showing the first signs of selfishness in what Freud deems an “egocentric phase” (Ex: A child innocently buys a gift for his parent that reflects what he desires, such as an action figure). Critics would then say that my belief seems to readily point fingers and offer no solution, to which I would counter that there is in fact no solution. I readily accept the grim ramifications of this statement, and though people are not ready to admit the inescapable truth (that mankind is doomed), they seem content in disguising the problem. This is the problem that shadows the imminent and looming conclusion of our earth, and consequently, our ability to call it home.