‘I am selfish and so are you’

Dr. Tiny Nair

Harambe episode

How the 3-year-old boy climbed the concrete wall and got past of the protective fence of the ‘Gorilla-world’ enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo, on May 28, 2016, is still not clear; probably his excitement to have a better glimpse of the great ape resulted in the mishap.

In front of hundreds of stunned visitors, the kid fell into the water of the moat surrounding the ape enclosure. The zoo keepers immediately swung into action, and signaled the apes to go back to their cages; the three female gorillas obeyed, but not ‘Harambe’.

The 17-year-old 450-pound male gorilla became inquisitive and was not ready to listen. He walked to the edge of the moat, observed the flapping kid, and picked him up, not too gently. Despite repeated coaxing by the handlers he refused to budge and held the baby.

Harambe with the kid that entered the zoo enclosure.

There was no way of predicting what Harambe would do to the kid. Was it his fatherly instinct so save another small helpless biped or generations of pent up anger against them? One single bullet, fired by the zoo sharpshooter, cracked his skull and ended the debate.

The baby was back to the safety and warmth of his home; Harambe’s remains transported to the cold steel table of the autopsy room of the zoo pathology lab, his DNA frozen in liquid nitrogen at minus 321 degree Fahrenheit, for medical research.

Despite debate and uproar among animal lovers, the zoo’s decision of killing the gorilla to save the boy shows that we humans are selfish, and justifiably so. Think of it; suppose a baby gorilla was dragged around by a human, would the gorillas sit tight or would they instinctively charge and rescue the baby?

Yes, Instinctively, all of us are selfish.

Driverless car

The novelty of the driverless google was quickly marred by news of its accidents. The debate was to make the software accident proof; safe for both the occupant and pedestrian.

All computer software run on algorithms; and given a situation, the system has to make a decision between options. For example, if the algorithm faces a situation where there is a choice of either crashing the car on to an oncoming vehicle at the cost of harming the occupant or mow down couple of careless pedestrians crossing the road while talking on their cellphone; what would it choose?

The system is programmed to save the occupant, rather than the pedestrian; being a buyer of the car, he is commercially more important than the poor pedestrian; an example of the commercial angle of the selfish human mind.

The word selfish was introduced centuries back to mean a ‘self-initiated’, ‘inward-looking’ man but subsequently was derogated to mean one who is ‘greedy’, ‘opportunistic’ and ‘mercenary’. It was even considered one of the seven dark sins of man. The ‘selfish’ was condemned for good.

Now, consider a person who is totally selfless. He is not concerned about his own welfare and is ready to give up everything for the achievement of a cause, which he believes to be more important than his own life, or that matters, anybody else’s life. What would he do?

He would get enough cash to hire the heaviest truck in the city, park it and wait. At nightfall when people filled up the streets, he would drive and mow down, as many of them as possible, under the 20-ton truck, because he believed that it was right thing to do.

The truck that was used by the terrorist in the Nice attack.

On the Bastille day, July 18, 2016, the young terrorist at Nice, France did just that. The point that he killed 84 innocent people, and was eventually shot down by French police did not matter to him because he is ‘selfless’.

A ‘selfish’, man would have never done that; he instead would try to make more wealth, or whatever that would satisfy him. Such ‘selfish’ people always want to be alive to see that happen. Never in human history did a ‘selfish’ man sacrifice his life; or become a terrorist.

There is nothing shameful to train our kids to look after themselves, which is not ‘selfish’ in the context we use it today. All animals do it to their babies.

The airline cabin attendants tell us to strap our oxygen mask first, before helping others. These are not ‘selfish’ motives but acts of ‘self-awareness’.

Selfish doesn’t mean being contempt with oneself. A mother is selfish about her child; the child is angry at the arrival of a new sibling because he too is selfish about his mother.

A ‘selfish’ man is proud of his possession, because he cares. A selfless doesn’t. Times have changed. Selfish doesn’t mean anti altruistic in 2018.

(Dr. Tiny Nair, MD, DM, FACC, FRCP(E) is Head, Dept. of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Kerala and he can be reached at tinynair@gmail.com )

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