Our Selfish Genes

Have you ever been faced with a choice between two good things? Everyone should have such problems.

I was pursuing a young lady, the youngest of three sisters. My two older brothers had gone out with her older sisters. It was destiny. We were meant to be together. Why weren’t we?

It was those damned selfish genes.

We went swimming in a local quarry one beautiful summer day. The blue water was warm. Floating on my back and watching the clouds billow against the deep sky inspired me. I felt I was floating amongst those clouds.

She told me she believed one should only do what felt good.

Wow! But something went wrong.

That statement inspired me and my brain went into overdrive. I embarked on an hours long verbal riff examining the fallacy of pleasure as the sole virtue. I became so enamored of my verbal cleverness that I completely missed her cues, oh yeah, the goal of pleasure.

We parted company. She was bored silly and I was still jazzed by the philosophical edifice I was building on the foundation of her absurd proposition. My head was still in the clouds and I missed my chance.

The irony was that I possibly derived more pleasure from my mental gyrations than if I had followed her lead. So, was she right?

Early in my film career I worked on a horror movie on location in Northern Louisiana. The director was from Shreveport and knew every creepy location to use. He took us to shoot in an abandoned Tuberculosis sanatorium. This place had not been used for thirty years or more. (Until recently Tuberculosis was all but eradicated in this country.) The building was huge and built of solid beige brick. Seeing it amidst the overgrowth was akin to discovering a lost city in the jungle. Except for a layer of dust it could have been open for business yesterday.  I almost expected to find a pot of coffee brewing in the break room. As if everyone, even the patients just stepped out. The immense silence was eerie as hell.

The rooms housed iron lungs and other obsolete methods to keep helpless people alive. It was a state of the art facility when it was built in the 1930s or 1940s. They cured everyone. One way or the other everyone left.

Who would want to live if they were stuck in an iron lung, for life? That life could only mean suffering. Who would want that for themselves, or anyone?

It is hard to let go of life. One gets used to it after all. It isn’t just another bad habit.

One of the most curious and horrifying objects to be found in the rooms were glass globes holding about a liter of what appeared to be water (salt water or carbon tetrachloride which turns to a poison gas when exposed to flame). Secured on a shelf, perhaps three to a room, their purpose was not immediately obvious.

Then it dawns that these were supposed to serve as ‘fire grenades’, primitive fire extinguishers. Can you imagine the terror at being confined to a room on fire and having nothing but these to protect you? Of course you would have to await an unselfish nurse to come to your aid and throw them at the fire.

But it’s very expensive to house such hopeless cases.

Wouldn’t it be merciful to put them out of their misery?

Oh, those great souls who promote a compassionate death for the suffering while reckoning how this efficiency will fill their wallets. The words ‘convenient’ and ‘efficient’ have become the most terrifying words in the English language because of some who seek to mask the most inhuman practices with the virtues of time and money saved.

The Nazis were efficient to a fault, rationally legalizing the disposal of the less able, the ill, the elderly, the weak, the ‘sub-human’ Gypsies and… the list goes on. All for their own good and for societies’ convenience. Are these really the virtues we strive to promote in our culture?

Churchill and others said variously, “Society is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

I read of a study where the subjects were instructed to imagine they were aliens from another planet observing our world. They were to report how to resolve common problems our society faces. The unanimous ‘alien’ stance was that of compassion, patience and caring. All the subjects of the experiment drew on their higher selves to emulate the fictional ‘superior’ alien race.

I submit that there is greater evil than suffering.

Yes we are selfish. Dare we do better?

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