Our dominant culture favours love at home, fun with mates, and personal advantage in the world, be it through investments, fees or favours. This culture is dominant, largely because it accords with our natural inclinations, and partly because it is based upon highly respected academic works. John Locke said every individual has a right to life, liberty and property, or as the American Declaration of Independence says, life, liberty and happiness. Adam Smith convinced us that selfishness is good for the economy, as long as markets are free. Charles Darwin explained that competition for natural resources is natural, and only the best adapted species will survive. Friedrich Nietzsche declared that individuals should be free to pursue their own ideals, no matter what the cost to others. Together, these works legitimate selfishness, the pursuit of greater wealth for oneself and the benefits that flow from it.
It is no wonder, then, that our culture admires the wealthy and encourages personal advantage. Consequently, it is easy to follow one’s inclination to look out for number one, as this is the prevailing culture.
The alternative culture is the old Christian and Humanist culture that encourages people to serve the community, according to their abilities, so that others can benefit from their work. Don’t exploit others, but help them according to their needs. Don’t hoard wealth, but share it with poor people.
What is clear now is that this traditional culture is actually opposed to the culture of selfishness that is dominant in the west today.
It is also clear, that if we intellectually approve the compassionate, communitarian culture, we have to resist the opposing culture of selfishness. Our hearts might incline us to follow the prevailing culture, to go with the herd, but our heads must point us in another direction.