Written by Hussein Habeeb,
University of Ilorin,
COULD IT BE EGOCENTRISM?
As if I envisioned a tendency to write on this topic that I once concerned myself with the human situation. I had, out of frustration, once considered why, in the world today, we are tangled with a lot of problems (political, social, economic and environmental). Eventually, I couldn’t help concluding that the problems we are facing are born out of the egoistic aspect of our behaviour: we tend to care about oneself rather than others. As I realized, many form desires and pursue these desires while oblivious of the implications of their actions on society. In essence, we are unmindful of what others will suffer as a result of our actions, while attempting to satisfy our desires, but carefully paying attention to what we seek to achieve.
This made me ponder over the issue of climate change and global warming –the biggest threat, I think, that plague the world –that is often attributed to increasing proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The increase is, no doubt, anthropogenic. The sheer number of people who, on a daily basis, burn garbage and biomass in this part of the world is worthy of concern. One would imagine if the campaign to safeguard our environment had not reached them, but to my dismay, most of them are literate. Even within my campus, countless are the times when I witnessed biomass burning over large expanse of fields. Should we say, then, that the university community is also not abreast? One thing I realized is that setting the field on fire relatively cost low compared to other forms of clearing the fields –a reason I believed made them opt for that option.
Another factor that caught my attention with regards to the greenhouse gases are automobiles and combustion engines. I kept wondering and began to ask myself the following questions: Were the scientists who developed the automobiles and combustion engines not aware of the long term effects of their invention? Were they even aware but decided to ignore? For one thing, there invention was novel and could interestingly make for them a place in history; therefore, a cause to disregard the adversities.
The claim that their invention induced global warming, however, does not make me disregard its numerous benefits. Over the years, indeed, among other benefits, automobiles have been used to ease movement of people and goods over long and short distances. Perhaps, these might be their only motives for such milestone discovery. Whether they were aware of the effect of their invention or not is, however, left for speculations. But had it been they were cognizant of it and were altruistically oriented in their researches, the solutions we are exploring today wouldn’t have been necessary.
“Conflict sells.” My acquaintance with the statement was very shallow not until more recent knowledge. Initially, I thought it merely says about the delightful sensation of the media when conflict situation arises in disseminating the information. Even then, I still hold that it’s unethical to take delight in a bad situation. But strikingly was I astonished, when I learned that journalists dichotomize between news contents; and that they frame information in a way to escalate or even instigate more violence. What a chronic egocentrism! I mumbled to myself. Evidence abounds on how the media use chilling and gory photographs that, on their own, can instigate more violence, during the shagamu riot of 1999 in southern Nigeria. As pius notes, “when the newspapers and televisions showed the pictures of dead bodies believed to be Hausas, loaded in trucks, being taken to the mortuary, spontaneous reprisal killings of Yorubas started in the north within hours of dissemination.” Isn’t that the kind of situation the media seek to create? A reserved win-win situation: at least, they will always gain by any action taken on either side, through the dissemination of their gory details. Though, I do not dispute them showing gory and disturbing photographs; these are, indeed, needed in order that government and other relevant bodies realize what is happening and probably get something done. But they should realize that this is not applicable in all situations and in all countries if peace is to prevail.
Credit to the opinion open to me. I wouldn’t have paid attention to the idea of globalization, and come to realize the injustice encapsulated within this innocent concept. Many Africans, I was aware, and others alike grew suspicious of the globalization sing-song. For one thing, the concept originates from the westerners who were notorious for their perpetual exploitation and impoverishment of the Third World. Further inquiries, however, made the point clear. In the words of Joseph Stieglitz, he notes that:
…I saw firsthand the devastating effect that globalization can have on developing countries. I believe that globalization…can be a force for good and that it has the potentials to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor. But I also believe that if this is to be the case, the way globalization has been managed, including…the policies that have been imposed on developing countries in the process of globalization, need to be radically rethought.
The IMF and World Bank are also said to persuade African countries to borrow huge sums of money for the development of their infrastructure and economic ventures. And as Stieglitz note, “Although debt may be inevitable for development, it is inherently risky, and IMF strategies…make borrowing even riskier.” Most unfortunate, of course, is that most African leaders are said to embezzle the borrowed funds and siphon them back into western banks for safety and secrecy –another demonstration of egocentrism.
Whenever I consider many acts of terrorism perpetrated by some group, I just couldn’t help concluding that there is a force behind this inhuman decision. A force that convinces the perpetrator and dictates violence against innocent civilians as reasonable. A force that that knows no bounds and fuels the desperation of man in the course of pursuing his desire. This force is the human egocentrism. Although, many claimed to struggle for good cause, but to my utmost dismay, as I realized, many of those who resort to violence tends to do so for their selfish motives. A nationalist instigating a movement for independence also knows that he will benefit a lot from such movement, such as in wielding political power to himself. The ethnic tensions and power struggles that ravaged Nigeria during the post-independence period substantiate this.
Ultimately, I came to discover the devastating effect of egocentrism in our world today. How it is connected to the pursuit of our desires in the urge for a feeling of triumphant and success.Man is just so compelled to satisfy the desires he desired that he become oblivious to other unpleasant result of his action while satisfying his desires. So, as some would argue that man is intrinsically egocentric, I do not dispute, though, but has more to offer.
We all have a tyrant called Biological Incentive System (BIS). Basically, the tyrant supposed to rewards us (with pleasant sensation) and punishes us (with unpleasant sensation) for doing certain things; it goes further to use coercion in bending us to its will –that is, to always seek its reward and avoid its punishment. Though, we humans still retain the ability to buck our BIS, but according to William Irvine, “it takes willpower to refuse the rewards dangled before us by our BIS, and even more willpower to submit voluntarily to its punishments;” and this, I think, is the reason for man egocentrism. Many are too weak to resist their BIS; therefore, end up being a hedonist, who readily pursue the incentives his BIS has to offer and avoid its punishments.
It is, I will like to say, by consciously ignoring our BIS and selectively satisfying our desires that we can –to the extent possible – suppress our egocentrism. Then again, I began to ask myself, “How could we possibly achieve this given the competitive life we dwelled into?” This concern lingered within me until I eventually came across an eye-opening concept in the work of Irvine, Where he discussed about the Amish community and other protestant groups in his book of desire. The inference I could make from this is that discouraging competition among individuals can, to the extent possible, effectively suppress our desires and egocentric tendencies. In essence, we should create, through policies and programmes, a closely-knit global community that discourage the incentives to feel superior or inferior to one another, where everyone is reduced to almost equal, where you felt no need to envy or harm others, and synergies are collectively harnessed toward a common goal –a peaceful, safe, and satisfying existence.