Modern life is often likened to a rat race.
Why? Because much of the time, we behave like rats.
And why do we behave like rats? Because life is a rat race . . . . as we struggle for survival and advantage, striving to maintain or improve our positions (niches) in the "socio-economic environment ", an environment which is very largely the product of our primitive, animal (rat-like, rather than human) nature.
We are bound to a treadmill - created and driven by our own primitive animal nature - which we have to free ourselves from, not just because it is unconducive to "human " happiness and fulfilment (having developed to satisfy our animal nature), but because it is also the root cause of non-sustainable - more animal than human - activity, which is causing us to plunder and spoil our planet, and now threatening the very survival of our species.
We will not achieve sustainability without putting an end to the rat race.
Apart from facilitating our survival, ending the rat race would also have other advantages: no longer required to behave like rats, we (all of us, rather than just a privelaged few) would be free to behave - and become - more like human beings.
What I am attempting to describe is difficult to see, no less for scientists and academics than for others, because we are all immersed in and completely dependent on the "socio-economic environment ", where we all have and depend on our niches. Seeing society and our own part in it for what they are, is unsettling, to say the least, which tends to blind us and keep us in denial.
The rat race is rationalised and justified (very effectively by those of superior intellect) as being essential for human progress, but this is nonsense; it is like saying that you can only get from London to Canterbury by making a race of it (unless, of course, your principle aim is to make money). You can also make the journey walking at a leisurely pace, enjoying the experience of nature's bounty and the company of those you are with, rather than competing against them. You may not get there as fast (or make any money), but you will have a more enjoyable and interesting journey, and more importantly, you will be better able to see where you are going, thus avoiding wrong turnings and any dangers that may be on route. In fact, by racing you might not reach your goal at all, because you may take a wrong turning or fall victim to some danger along the way.
Few people like the rat race, but because it is such a normal and accepted part of modern life (one of the central insanities of normality) it is assumed to be inescapable. It's human nature, it is said (when in fact it is our animal nature), and a virtue is made of it, of individuals struggling, striving and competing with one another for as high, or to maintain as comfortable, a position as possible in the economic and social hierarchy. It is primitive human nature, the nature we inherited from our animal ancestors.
Our capitalist, free-market economy cleverly exploits our animal (thus rat-like) nature (fear, greed, competitiveness, the desires for power and social status etc. and for free or cheap lunches, e.g. bargins), which is why in many respects it works so well. It gives us the freedom to pursue our individual self-interest in making money (the most versatile form of power, which counters or satisfies most of our animal fears, needs and desires), with governments creaming off a larger or smaller proportion to finance defence, social infrastructure and the welfare state. We are all - producers, consumers, employees, employers and investors alike - enticed, encouraged, or cajoled into following our "more animal than human " nature, and thus to behave more like rats than human beings.
There is no denying our animal nature, and socio-economic pressures often make it difficult not to follow it, but unlike rats, we are not bound to do so, at least, not since Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge (see Genesis Revisited). In our relatively free society, no one is forced to behave like a rat. We have the potential, at least, by heeding our higher, more enlightened human spirit, to transcend our primitive animal nature, to behave and become more like human beings and live up to the name given to us prematurely in the 18th Century by Carl Linnaeus: Homo sapiens (wise and rational man).
BASIS OF THE RAT RACE
The basis of the rat race is the primitive aspects of human nature that our free market economy so "successfully" exploits: they are fear, greed, competitiveness, the desire for a cheap or free lunch, for power and social status, in all of which money plays a central role.
FEAR, of loosing our job or investments, of moving down the social or economic ladder, of failure, disapproval. There are many kinds and sources of fear, some rational, many irrational, but all effective in maintaining the pace and stress of the "rat race".
GREED is a word that most people would not normally apply to their own behaviour, because when we buy something with our own, probably hard-earned money, that is not what it feels like, particularly when everyone else is doing or wanting to do the same (another insanity of normality). Perhaps "acquisitiveness" is a better word. Whatever, en masse, people have an insatiable desire for material goods and services. The economy depends on it and encourages it. And then there is "unearned income" from savings or investments - a central pillar of our economy, the lure of a "free lunch" (of getting more out of society than you put in). What ape could possibly resist that? And Earth's Greatest Ape has used his formidable brain power to rationalise, justify and legalise it.
COMPETITIVENESS, when under the control of our higher, human nature, can be a force for good, but not when left to its primitive, ruthless self, as it is in our free-market economy, where it is used blindly and amorally to maximise efficiency, productivity and profits, thus maintaining or increasing the pace and stress of the "rat race".
MONEY is POWER (in its most versatile form), a certain amount of which is vital for everyone in modern society. We are as dependent on money as we are on air and water. However, it can also act as a potent and addictive drug (a disease our economy makes a virtue of and exploits). Money really does make the world go round: most of what we do is either for or with money. Its use and misuse determines the fate of the world. Used wisely, guided by our higher, human nature, money will be instrumental in the creation of a more humane, just and sustainable society; used unwisely, as it largely is at present, by our primitive, more animal than human nature, it will be our complete undoing.