The desire for self-preservation may sound like a good defence mechanism, allowing individuals to protect their own life, however in a society, especially one which is unfair and imbalanced, this strength becomes a weakness which can be exploited… and it is one which if left unaddressed, will prove to be our society’s undoing.
Humans are social animals, and form identities defined (linguistically at least) in terms of common bonds or a key differences with other individuals/ groups – something which (I believe) leads directly to segregation. Such segregation can be unintentional; visible only through the use of language when a person claims proximity or distance to an identifiable group – but when we think or talk, we either are, or are not something: vegetarian, religious etc. We do not however, often describe ourselves as ‘human’. In contrast to being a vegetarian, the criteria for being a human only aids in species identification – the term itself is too large to be meaningful and it provides no tangible hand-hold for communication. Therefore, we break it down into smaller more manageable groups.
Because the groupings are small, there are many of them for each of us, each dominating under certain circumstances and each possessed of its own set of priorities. There is however one priority which overrides all others: self-preservation. (Note: self-preservation NOT species-preservation.)
Despite this being THE priority, we have created a society in which our self-preservation is continually under threat, often being actively used against us. Modern society financially rewards those who work with greater benefits than those who do not work. The financial systems in place govern quality of life to a large degree, even being used in some countries as a determinant for public health. All of which means, it is vastly easier to satisfy your need for self-preservation if you work than if you do not. Coupled with limited regulation of how employment is governed, this provides employers with a great deal of influence over the employed – something which increases even more in societies with high levels of unemployment. The result is that individuals can feel beholden to their employers – obligated to maintain a certain level of behaviour, toe a certain corporate line or not voice certain opinions…. all through the implied/ inferred threat of unemployment. From my own experience; I have written articles which criticise my employer, and I have been advised by some (not my employer) to remove or ‘tone down’ such criticism. The suggestion was that the employer might not look kindly on being criticised – and because I have a family to feed…
And herein lies the problem – we live in a society where this threat is real, where individuals find themselves being expected to do things which run counter to their own desires/ beliefs/ ambitions simply in the name of self-preservation. If I know that my standard of living will significantly drop if I lose my job, this puts an enormous lever in the hands of my employer. Self-preservation then, without an adequate community support network has become an exploitable weakness.
So how will this cost us our survival (as a species)?
This year will see another UN climate summit – COP26. The ‘Goals‘ of COP26 are:
- global net zero emissions by 2050,
- respect the 1.5 degrees target from COP21,
- mobilise finance and
- to work together
This may sound positive, but these are the same goals as those from COP21 in Paris 2015 and a check on Climate Action Tracker indicates that there are only 2 countries in the world which are on target to meet these obligations. 2… out of 192! So why is our reaction so slow? Why are we not doing enough? What will make humans accept the reality of the crisis that we face?
From my perspective however, I think the population already DOES know the reality of the crisis… the problem is rather that as a species we cannot act because of our primary desire for self-preservation…
I believe that there is consensus on the fact that human activity is causing the climate of the planet to change in a negative way. I am confident that this is believed by most (if not all) of politicians, corporate leaders and members of the public… however because each of the decision makers are individuals, they are prey to their own desire to look after themself: each person is an island, and each country is an island too. The actions needed to forestall this crisis are significant, and will have enormous (possibly locally catastrophic) economic and political impacts on each individual country in the short-term. Can you imagine your country’ leader saying that they will ban all private cars and car production by 2030? How about leaders banning long-haul air travel? Or global shipping? There is no single corporate or political leader that will be prepared to stand-up and say what needs to be said – even if they personally believe it – simply because of the implications to themself, their country and their job. Countries reliant upon exports of fossil fuels won’t want to ban fossil fuels, countries economically reliant upon exports don’t want to end global free trade. This leaves their only solution to be small, limited and (ultimately) ineffectual actions in the vain hope of reducing the speed of events or perhaps to some degree the scale. Too little, too late.
We know climate change is an existential threat, and yet we fail to take the necessary steps because we fear the reaction if we do. If we had a fairer society, one that supported people and didn’t treat the unemployed as second class, then speaking out would be easier – but we don’t. We have deliberately engineered our society this way, we have deliberately created a society that marginalises community, which protects oppression and which reduces each individual down to an individual; deliberately so that they can be better exploited.
United we would have a lot of power, individually we have only a little… sadly, as a society of individuals we don’t have enough power to stop this inevitability.