Selfishness kills, and priests and politicians feed the deadly ...

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Selfishness kills, and priests and politicians feed the deadly contagion

When people do not see selfless behaviour in their leaders, it's very hard to convince them to behave magnanimously

Columnist

With this deadly virus upon us, we have seen both human instincts on full display – selfishness and solidarity. But what these reactions to a crisis means is complex and understanding human behaviour is a very important part of how to manage the pandemic.

It is certainly selfish to stockpile food and be part of the mob that clears the shelves at shopping centres by buying much more than you need. In the process, there is nothing left for anyone else because an earlier customer bought 20 packets of various meats to hoard for the weeks ahead. It is greedy of stores to engage in price gouging simply because there is a run on certain food items; profits before people. And it boggles the mind that pastors of often poorer congregations call people to come to large church services despite the very real threat of mass infections; of course, poor people are less likely to use EFTs for the collections that sustain the lifestyles of church leaders.

But at what point can selfishness simply be seen as self-preservation? If there is limited food on the shelves and a total lockdown is three days away, is it not human to take care of your own first? The logical argument might well be that the country has enough food to replenish those shelves, but in a period of great uncertainty is it even reasonable to appeal to people’s rational selves? One way to answer these questions is to think about how we behave when there is no crisis...

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