Why are people so mean and selfish

The Germans and egoism - Are we becoming ego land?

Hell is the others, Sartre once wrote - today the others are not even hell anymore, today we don't care. Many Germans, so the impression, live to themselves, no matter how the rest of the world is doing. The number of egoists is increasing, everyone only thinks of themselves, in the event of an accident, passers-by prefer to take photos rather than help. The rise of the egoist to become the leading figure in our society seems unstoppable. Me, me, me, does that sound like the soundtrack of our time?

Anyone who sees all the reports, hears the lamentations of our time, easily gets the impression that the social has become a minor matter. The human interaction is increasingly being replaced by the contact of the individual with his smartphone and the world in his phone. Accordingly, a survey by the data service provider Statista shows that only a quarter of Germans trust their fellow human beings. Especially since, as Statista reveals, the younger generation today only thinks of themselves.

Charity is only an option if it pays off. Costs and benefits. According to the "Proceedings" of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), this is already being taught to the youngest today. The reason: It is the radically inconsiderate who prevail. The choir that joins this social pessimism is large. Authors, Musicians, Artists, Politicians, Journalists, Facebook Commenters, and Facebook Comment Commenters.

Ichlinge or Wirlinge

At the same time there is a second choir loudly advocating the opposite thesis. For example, the physician and theologian Michael Tischinger writes in his book "Path of Inner Healing" that the individual is almost on the verge of burnout because of sheer empathy and willingness to help. The book warns that many only want to please others - and neglect themselves in the process. Because, according to the opinion research institute GfK, Germans are also exceptionally helpful. You donate new record sums and amounts of blood year after year. Accordingly, they almost always rate themselves as social.

That is confusing. What are the Germans now? Benefit maximizers with trained blinkers or self-forgotten do-gooders? Antisocial Ilings or next-loving wirlings? And if it is true that the social cold is increasing more and more: Where have the Ilings been hiding so far?

The answer: They weren't hiding because they simply don't exist. At least hardly. They are a tiny group of people who experience indifference to others or enjoy their suffering. Not even statistically measurable. Everyone else is concerned about the welfare of others. And that from birth.

Man is fundamentally social

This is shown, for example, by an experiment at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. There, two scientists had 18-month-old babies watch as a stranger obviously needed help. He wanted to open a cupboard door, but had his hands full of books. When it dawned on the babies that the man couldn't do it alone, they moved to the closet and opened the door to the stranger. They helped. Without consideration. This is remarkable in that children of this age are not even capable of making cost-benefit considerations.

Even if these considerations are possible later, people are fundamentally social. The mesolimbic system of our brain even rewards him for doing good. Although the probabilities of altruistic behavior fluctuate, it always depends on the conditions under which it comes into play. But that doesn't change the principle. Countless experiments in game theory, behavioral psychology and sociology have proven this over and over again.

Me, myself and I: De La Soul was already singing about the loud I-saying in the 1980s. Source: Fotolia

We act in a utility-maximizing manner, but in the sense that we benefit from the well-being of others. This has not changed in the past few years either. On the contrary, according to the German Voluntary Survey, the number of volunteers is at a new all-time high. According to the German Institute for Economic Research, the willingness to help refugees is still unbroken. Joint projects celebrate a new boom. So we are social. And we perceive ourselves that way because the social is important to almost everyone - whether consciously or not consciously.

So why is there this choir singing the song about the growing number of egoists? Why this latent feeling of growing egoism? One answer may lie in the increasing compression of working hours. Today more Germans work than ever before. And that for as long as seldom before. This changes perception insofar as the norms of work do not correspond to the norms of the social.

We live out our social side with friends, acquaintances or family; with strangers in the bar, with the cashier out shopping. Not in the office, on the construction site or at school, where different rules of conduct and different hierarchies prevail. However, the more we work, the shorter the time of the social, the less their perception. In the few moments when we switch off, on the journey from A to B, on the S-Bahn, where social issues are possible, we are happy to switch off, to read the state of affairs on our smartphone and, if possible, not to be spoken to. You are not an egoist because of this.

More and more work, more and more public

But because the norms of work determine a large part of the day, a different feeling arises: The world is a competition, a selfish, profit-oriented competition. In other words: People are still social, but because they spend a lot of time where social matters are less valuable, the impression prevails that everything and everyone is becoming more and more selfish, narcissistic, and ruthless.

In addition, there is an increasingly larger public. Thanks to the Internet, we are no longer just confronted with a few friends and a few acquaintances, but with hundreds and thousands. Our Facebook friends also include Britta from class eleven, biology class, the affair from the second semester and people whose friend request you have accepted at some point, but with whom you don't really know who they actually are.

It can easily happen that in the comment columns under articles there are often hateful opinions of people who we would otherwise never have asked for their opinion. Bernd from Buxtehude, Tanja from the Ruhr area. Under personal pictures, users post comments that we never should have heard in direct contact. Negative comments and opinions do not automatically come from egoists, but they create a climate of cold and discomfort. A climate of the non-social. A discomfort arises, which is compounded by the increasing experience of polarization.

The feeling of being on your own

Suddenly there are more racists. And more radical racist haters. More militant vegans, and more militant anti-vegans. People who express their opinion radically and very clearly. But that doesn't mean that they are less social than others in their immediate environment. Perhaps these haters, opponents, radicals in their environment are the nicest people, say hello to the bakery and help out when something goes wrong with a colleague. Loving Wirlinge stop. But their opinions on the Internet still create a climate of cold.

The pluralization of society offers many freedoms - but at the price of security. Today, hardly anyone is prescribed what profession to pursue, whom and whether to marry, what to consume how and who to choose and why. Each of these decisions carries the risk of failure. As the sociologist Ulrich Beck warned, this can lead to a feeling of being on one's own. And no matter how well the people around you mean it: This feeling of being alone can turn into a feeling of being indifferent to others.

Social action is good for your own ego

The increasing working hours, the larger public, the experience of hatred on the net and the increasing personal responsibility - together they create a feeling of social coldness. Without all of them becoming ego-linges. Perhaps, on the other hand, a more positive image of people and a different public perception of people will help.

Because the more the chorus of the All-Are-Egoist faction flourishes, the more likely it is that a self-fulfilling prophecy will set in: Why should someone who assumes that Germany is inhabited by selfish utility maximization still have the incentive to act socially ? The answer is simple: Because social action is good for your ego.

From Julius Heinrichs