The Selfish Gene?

“How come some people get away with it?”

“Get away with what?”

“They don’t suffer from unhappiness.  Sure, they get pissed off every now and again when something goes wrong, but it’s temporary, a wee setback that doesn’t have any long-lasting effects. They always seem to come out the other side smiling, no matter what life throws at them. Just laugh it off.”

“You’re talking about rich people, right? They’re happier than the rest of us.”

“Yeah well, obviously not worrying about where your next meal’s coming from is going to make you happier, but that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s a more general thing, like, you know, an attitude to life. Maybe unhappiness is the wrong word. Because you can still be happy and have this … I don’t know how to describe it … this darkness that lurks behind everything you do. Gives everything an edge. Sometimes it’s quiet, thinly-drawn, and you’re barely aware of it, and other times – obvious times when you would expect it – it howls at you like a lost soul trapped at the bottom of a well. It never quite goes away. It’s like, one day it hits you, bang, like a bullet out of nowhere, and you realise that you’re not carefree anymore; that part of you has gone. And you’ll never get it back. You’ve accrued this … residue of negativity from the experiences you’ve had. And it’s always there, casting some sort of shadow. Do you see what I mean?”

“Hmmm. You alright? Are you talking about depression here?”

“No. It’s not that; at least not in my case. I’ve been depressed in the past alright, don’t mind admitting it; sure you know what happened. But this is something different. Like I say, it’s to do with those things that life throws at you, like bereavement, or being on the wrong end of someone’s cruelty, or even doing something bad yourself. Some people seem to deal with it easily and be able to sail through life no bother, while the rest of us don’t. You know the ones I mean, the ones who just suck it up and get on with life as if nothing had ever happened to them.”

“Aye, I get you now. Like your man Brian whose girlfriend dumped him after, what … five years, to go out with his mate, and right away he was all over town having a ball? Just accepted it and moved on. Got another child now, so he has, happy as Larry.”

“Exactly right. How come that whole episode didn’t permanently scar him?”

“How do you know it didn’t, though? He might just be good at hiding it, or maybe he’d a good way of getting over it … it’s difficult to tell … what I’m saying is: you can’t know for sure what’s going on in someone else’s head.”

“OK, I can accept that. But I think there are certain types of people who are just naturally able to cope better than others. Remember on the news a while back there was that woman in France, the oldest woman in the World or Europe or something. Over 110 years old and still going strong. Smoked and drank all her life. When they asked her what the secret to her longevity was, she said that she only looked out for herself. Always. She was totally selfish, never cared what happened to anybody else at all. That’s the sort of person I’m talking about.”

“So, what, selfish people live longer because they don’t get stressed out about what happens to other ones, they just look after themselves? They don’t see anyone else as important, so they can deal with things better? But surely shit things happen to selfish people as well, like their ma dying or whatever?”

“Oh yeah, of course, but I reckon they have a different reaction to things like that. Because they’re so self-absorbed and insensitive to the world around them, they don’t feel things so deeply. So they’re better able to shrug off life’s adversities. And because they don’t really care about anyone else, they’re more likely to be the ones handing out the cruelty rather than being on the receiving end of it. You see what I mean?”

“Dunno. I think you’re generalising. It’s too easy to just categorise humanity like that. It’s much more complex than you’re making out. You know, in psychological terms we’ve all got a little bit of some kind of madness going on with us, it’s just a case of how much. A friend of mine’s a psychologist and he told me that. There are ones out there who do things that are psychopathic, like play head games with their other half, deliberately torture them mentally, you know the sort of thing. But they don’t take it so far that they’re running about with an axe, or building dungeons in their cellar like yer man out of Silence of the Lambs.”

“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Those people who go around handing out minor – and maybe not so minor – cruelties, without a single thought about the impact of what they’re doing, just enjoying the power trip. They couldn’t give a toss about anyone else, and they don’t ever be unhappy because they don’t empathise. They don’t have any frame of reference for human misery … they don’t really understand it. Because if they did, they wouldn’t do the things they do. They’re the ones that live forever.”

“Yes … I think you’re partly right. What I’m saying is that there are degrees of it, so it’s difficult to generalise about it. Without a doubt there are people out there who have psychopathic or sociopathic urges, who do shitty, nasty things, and although they can’t really empathise with their victims, they still have a sense that what they do is wrong, because society tells them that. They know there are rules. So they go to church, do charity work, devote themselves to peacemaking or whatever, to try and compensate for their bad side. They manage to keep the lid on it somehow. Actually, it’s kind of paradoxical: the fact that they have these evil urges makes them of benefit to society as a whole. The damage is confined to a few unlucky people, and the African babies get a food parcel … it’s not as straightforward as you’re suggesting.”

“You’re talking from experience here…”

“Ah well, I’m sure you know the story. We’ll not go into it. But I bet she lives to be 100 at least, going by your theory. Total melter.”

“Ha. That’d be right, I’m sure. But here, can’t philosophise about it all day. I don’t see either of us making it to 50 never mind 100 in this friggin’ place, do you?”

“No. You’re right there.”

“That’s us. You can pull in by that lamp-post … you ready?”

“Yep. Born ready.”

“Safety off? Let’s go.”

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8 Responses to The Selfish Gene?

  1. Mark Orourke says:

    Have you read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher? It supports your theory.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice one, thoroughly enjoyed it. I like a wee twist!

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