On Selfishness

The snow is melting, receding away and leaving behind all the pavements and grass verges. We can see roof tiles for the first time in weeks.

There is a huge problem in my town with personal responsibility. Most people are fine but there is a significant minority who ignore their duties to the rest of society and leave rubbish in the streets. Some dog owners have, somehow, ignored the message that leaving dog mess in the street is dangerous and illegal. The snow is melting and all the mess that these people have dumped is still there.

The poo is everywhere, frozen for posterity. It thaws out and everywhere smells of dogs. It is melting and being spread by bicycle tyres and boots. Judging from the prints.

We could blame the Welfare State, the way that the state cares for the individual. The individual does not need to take responsibility for themselves. Possibly. But I suspect it is not to blame. Plenty of countries have similar systems but still remember to take a bag on a dog walk.(*ahem* MY COUNTRY *ahem*)

It could be the lack of fear of social condemnation. If someone dared to walk away from their dog’s poop without stooping to dispose of it decently, they could expect a Smack Down from any and all passers-by back home. No one wants to pick up their dog’s steaming mess but if they dread the torrent of tuts or the likelihood that someone might call them disgusting, they think twice. Maybe. But I have seen Danes take dog walkers to task, I have seen the laminated signs. I have heard the tuts. It happens here. And no one cares.

Maybe it is the idea of “so fucking what?” which you hear from time to time. The logic goes like this “I don’t want to do it. You want me to do it. But you are not me, and I do not know you. Thusly: So Fucking What?” This is sometimes called Individualism but I really do not think that anyone in a society who uniformly wear Converse sneakers, tight jeans (socks on top of hem), a smock, a palestinian scarf tied *just so* and a red coat in public can be described as “individual”. It is not individuality when you are identical to everyone in your peer group. When someone decides not to be socially responsible because they cannot be bothered, we have a word and it is “selfish”.

Selfishness is catching. I have seen children in London throwing rubbish in the street when bins are available. I say “hey, what?!” and they say “why should I!” and that idea spreads and suddenly you are living in a post-apocalyptic landscape. There is a tipping point. If you own a dog and maybe you were good about picking up the shit, you see all the dog shit lying around and then one day, you decide as “everyone else is doing it” you join in too. That, also, is not the mark of an individual.

Selfishness as epidemic.

If I were an anthropologist or a cognitive neurologist, I would be all over the rude people of Denmark. Their brains must be fascinating. I want to know, when it comes to social standards, is it a case of “can’t” or “won’t”?

For instance, I have a recurring theme of standing to one side to let a disabled or old person get past and then a Dane behind me overtakes me and steps into the space, stopping the disabled person from moving and also getting in my way. I have seen this happen when there is zero space for them to overtake into (like at  a door entrance), so they shove me aside to do it.

I want people to put electrodes on these brains and measure electrical activity. *Can* Danes see what is happening, are they aware of it on any level? Had they understood that I was giving up my advantage of speed and vitality in order to let someone a bit slower to have free movement? Or did they not “see” it, did they just see a woman stop dead in their path? Had they not understood what was expected of them or what would be kind or what would be selfless?

Also, with the poop issue, do their brains show traces of understanding that toxoplasmosis can blind children, do they “get” that the smell of poop is bad and other people do not like it, do they have the appreciation that if you are not looking you can get poo on your shoes and it is hard to get it off? Or are their brain patterns isolated from thinking in this way? Do all they think about is their own convenience and their interests? Without such scans, I am reduced to guesswork.

The number of times I have been moved to one side (shoved) by a Dane, when I have had space around me for them to walk in, so they can continue to walk in a straight line… I need Professor Science to check their minds. Is it that they are unable to see the space around me? Is it invisible to them? In the same way I cannot hear the difference between Welsh LL and Welsh CH. And Danes cannot hear Vuh or Wuh. Do Danes have absolutely no conception of “I could walk around her”? Are they simply not wired that way?

Immigrants and indeed “internationals” are reduced to such mental gymnastics to stay happy here. “It is just their culture!”

I call this the “Noble Savage” mental compensation. We, who have higher standards of public decency, have to excuse Danes because it is “just their way”. When, and I have made this point before, it actually is not. I find it distressing that a lot of what foreigners have to do is excuse Denmark as if they were discussing a developing nation. (no offence to developing nations) That’s what I hear when internationals gather. Someone will always stoop to patronising the entire country.

“They can’t help it! They have only had electricity for over one hundred years… They have only had a functioning legal system and state for around four hundred years… They have only had a written language since the Iron Age…. .”

Which is why I need the brain scans. If some Danes *cannot* see what would be kinder or more selfless in a public forum, then I need to start the patronisation STAT. If some Danes (which I suspect) are as aware as I am but are making split second decisions to put themselves first every time, then we have a problem. We have a major problem. Because they are only doing it because everyone else is doing it.

Which puts a lot more pressure on the rest of us. We need to start being super polite all over the place. We need to advertise our values. There needs to be a huge push from the State to make dog owners feel that those who leave poop in the street are aberrations. We need to decide what the minimum standards are and ENFORCE them using tutting and big theatrical sighs.

I have already started, I say things like “NO NO NO, AFTER YOU!”

I started in London. It is very effective. The people who have shoved you, they like to think of themselves as polite and selfless and they like to think that the time they shoved you did not happen. So, if you yell something passive aggressive after them, they very rarely acknowledge it happened at all. Meanwhile, all the people around you start smiling and nodding. And they do the same later. Before you know it, shovey-people have to face up to the fact they are not as polite and selfless as they like to think… and they have to do something about it.

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