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There is an expression we use in Ireland to describe those who put themselves before everybody else. We call them ‘mé féiners’, putting an English ending to two Irish-language words, ‘mé féin’, meaning ‘myself’.
Basically, you could say these are a type of fundamentalist individualist. ‘The greater good for the greater number’ only comes into play if it means a significant gain for them. Otherwise, it’s not a runner.
The selfish gene
Of course, in many ways, we are all a bit like this, we are quite selfish beings. Many often talk a good ‘community game’, but on a normal day-to-day basis, it tends to be the self and, maybe, close family that occupy our minds rather than that ‘bigger picture’.
“Many wealthy people aren’t prepared to see their living standards drop.”
Take all those wealthy leaders and job creators, be they on the left or on the right, who live in a world far removed from the people they claim to help and represent. They are usually very reluctant to reduce their costly living standards, something that might help society as a whole.
On many occasions, that self-centred interest, more by accident than design, is favourable to more than just those closest to us. We, most of us I like to think anyway, work hard to have a better living, add more meaning to our existence, and others who we don’t know, who we’ve never met, benefit from this.
This work ethic contributes to the greater good — this applies less so to some areas of employment than others. (Again, what are those politicians about?)
However, on other occasions, and more frequently it could be argued, this self-centredness doesn’t add anything at all to the collective good.
Here in Bogotá, a city with considerable traffic congestion, you have those who insist on taking their private cars to work even when they don’t really need to. What’s more, the wealthier types have a number of vehicles at their disposal in order to circumvent some well-intentioned measures aimed at reducing traffic volume.
“No matter what we do, we’re doomed anyway.”
For sure, similar to many other places, public transport is far from ideal in the city. Yet, if more people started using it coupled with a resulting greater revenue generated to be pumped back into it, it would be better, more efficient and, keeping with the zeitgeist, greener. That’s the theory anyway. The practice in these parts is usually a long way off the mark.
Lap it up
There is the whole «Who cares?» mentality in all of this as well. Referring back to my Saving ourselves post from a while back, the argument can be made that no matter what we do, we’re doomed anyway.
Our way of life is going to drastically change soon, whether that’s in our lifetime or not, so let’s just enjoy the ride and lap things up as best we can. «Why inconvenience myself for future generations when the chance of the very existence of these future generations is in grave doubt?»
Fair enough. But there are ‘greater good’ measures we could take now that would result in an almost immediate benefit. How we commute on a daily basis is just one of those.
If we’d fewer vehicles with only one or two people sitting in them clogging up our highways and byways, practically everyone would benefit from that, even, nay especially, those currently in said vehicles.