Friday, February 8, 2013

Where everything is temporal, happiness is not a free for all

Some people just don't get it. In a cut-throat world where survival does not mean a throwback to the fittest of prehistoric hominids at the early stages of our evolutionary ladder, a quid pro quo culture is necessary. When you need something done, it is essential to give in order to receive. An important facet in the social mechanism of cooperation is loyalty. Now this aspect is a throwback to serfdom, a remnant of the time when land and warlords ruled over subjects, but transposed minus the tyrannical nature of subjugation. Nonetheless, one of its dynamic components stays the same. Loyalty has a price, and the premium has to be paid.

My friend and I have a term for this social currency. We call them "brownie points." They are tokens to be given out as much as collected. When helping out a friend, a colleague, a family member or even an enemy especially in critical situations, you earn from that person a brownie point. This of course works conversely.

Situations for this meme are always diacritical, that is subsumed rather than being the social context itself. For instance, the work we put in for the salary we get is bound by the contract of our employment. In this case, we cooperate by default and thus we are required to be loyal to our employer. However, when we go the extra mile that is beyond the fine print of our job descriptions, we earn brownie points from our employer that may be redeemed at the next round of promotions or through putting in a kind word at our defense when office politics go awry.

Like any meme, a high EQ is necessary for the social component of loyalty to work. The key is sensitivity. Be insensitive and you'll see people shifting allegiance elsewhere. This is also to say that by usurping the loyalty of others to you, you'll end up hated like the tyrants in history. And this is where the title of my post kicks in. We have come to a point in our evolution where we recognize that our interests are inextricably bound to others. It is a civil obligation to look after the needs and wants of others, who in turn look after ours. This pragmatic tenet still holds true. In realpolitik, the state of happiness has never been a free for all. It is, like loyalty, earned and in equal measure shared.