Not a lot of time spent developing these ideas, just some things that popped into my mind.
i. Most people like living their own lives less than they’d like living the lives of others. That’s why most of them spend a not insignificant amount of the time they have more or less complete control over (leisure) watching made-up people’s lives and their progress – or they read about them in books. A big part of why TV-soaps and fictional accounts of made-up people’s lives are very popular is that most people have a strong wish that they were living some other person’s life, a life far more interesting than their own. Because face it, most people’s lives aren’t that interesting. And even for people who’ve done very well for themselves, reality can’t compete with fantasy. Everybody implicitly know this and when we consider societal norms we usually find that taking the fictional stuff too seriously is considered immature, bordering on childish – but strangely enough, spending quite a bit of time in fictional worlds is not. That’s interesting, it’s okay to try to escape reality on a regular basis but only if you’re not too serious about it.
ii. People are extremely good at coming up with plausible sounding reasons for not parting voluntarily with their money. When I say money people just think ‘money’. But money is a claim on resources. And in a biological evolutionary framework resources really matter, bigtime. A big part of most people’s moral philosophy is stuff that they make up on the go, or perhaps their grandparents did. Their ideas about what is moral usually turn out to be ideas that make them look good and make it okay for them to not part with their ressources. Perhaps the ideas that make it through even make it okay for them to cheat others – like the guy on the right:
That’s because other people (and organisms, this process has been implicitly going on since the time before sexual reproduction) have tried to coax and cheat them for millions of years. When your date demands that you pay for her dinner, she’s engaging in the latest of a very long series of battles about limited ressources between the sexes.
iii. When people think about major threats to humanity (perhaps not extinction risk, most people don’t give that one much thought – but at least major risks), most people either think in terms of environmental parameters (climate, asteroids) or in terms of intraspecific competition (we’ll all kill each other in a nuclear holocaust). We like to think that humans are really important, and we like to think that we’re important enough for other life-forms not to matter all that much in the big picture; we like to think that humans are by now beyond the point where interspecific competition even matters. The funny thing is that a disease like smallpox alone was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century – a death toll high enough to wipe out the entire human race just a thousand years ago. Roughly a third of the world’s population has been infected with tuberculosis. People who think we don’t still compete with other lifeforms all the time don’t think big enough – or rather ‘small enough’, as it were.