The Nature of Altruism
Post Reply
 
Thread Rating:
  • 0 Votes - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
21-10-2011, 09:50 AM (This post was last modified: 21-10-2011 11:22 PM by DeepThought.)
The Nature of Altruism
Hey, erbody.

I’ve often heard the idea that religious altruism is ‘bad’ because it is based on the fear of punishment and the expectation of reward. It is therefore selfish. True altruism, it is said, occurs when people give for the sake of giving. Thus altruism in the hands of Atheists is true altruism because there is no corresponding threat of punishment or expectation of reward; merely the self-awareness that another has been helped.

Here is a YouTube clip of Penn Jillette promoting this position on Real Time with Bill Maher.

For me, this is a powerful argument on the surface; however, when we look at what altruism actually is, it is an insupportable position.

I would like to argue a simple point:

-Altruism in all of its possible forms is selfish.

I contend that there are four benefactors from altruism:
-The giver (survival machine/vehicle)
-The receiver
-The gene
-The meme

The giver receives reward for the act of altruism in the form of favours returned and reputation for being a giver.

The receiver benefits from the altruism, but then owes the giver. Thus the giver benefits from this return and the receiver is bound to the giver by debt.

The gene does not care about the giver. It benefits from the returned favours as they increase the odds that it will be replicated. Any survival benefit conferred to the survival machine is a side-effect of this activity.

The meme does not care about the giver. The meme, like the gene, is only interested in fostering its own transmission. Any increase in social standing conferred to the survival machine is a side-effect of this activity.

I would like to argue that there is no such thing as ‘giving for the sake of giving’. This notion is romantic and has nothing to do with the mechanics of altruism whatsoever.

To support this position, I would like to offer two excerpts from the book THE MEME MACHINE by Dr. Susan Blackmore.

Note: I have removed all citations from the text. Dr. Blackmore provides citations in the original text with full bibliographical references.

Quote:[Elaborating on Dawkins’ theory of the selfish gene] We must be absolutely clear about what ‘selfish’ means in this context. It does not mean genes for selfishness. Such genes would incline their carriers to act selfishly and that is something quite different. The term ‘selfish’ here means that the genes act only for themselves; their only interest is their own replication; all they want is to be passed on to the next generation. Of course genes do not ‘want’, or have aims of intentions in the same way as people do; they are only chemical instructions that can be copied. So when they say they ‘want’, or are ‘selfish’ I am using a shorthand, but this shorthand is necessary to avoid lengthy explanations…

Dawkins also introduced the important distinction between ‘replicators’ and their ‘vehicles’. A replicator is anything of which copies are made, including ‘active replicators’ whose nature affects the chances of their being copied again. A vehicle is the entity that interacts with the environment… Vehicles… carry the replicators around inside them and protect them… Genes are the selfish replicators that drive the evolution of the biological world here on earth but Dawkins believes there is a more fundamental principle at work. He suggested that wherever it arises, anywhere in the universe, ‘all life evolves by the differential survival or replicating entities’. This is the foundation for the idea of Universal Darwinism; the application of Dawinian thinking way beyond the confines of biological evolution…
-Dr. Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, page 5.

Quote:Altruism is defined as behaviour that benefits another creature at the expense of the one carrying it out…

Altruism is a problem for many social psychologists and economists who assume that humans rationally pursue their own interests…

Cronin calls ‘greater-goodism’ – the view that evolution proceeds for the good of the group or the species. Greater-goodism permeated biological thinking in the early part of the twentieth century and is still a popular way of misunderstanding evolution…

The problems of thinking in terms of the good of the species were gradually recognised and since the early 1960s ‘group selection’ has been almost entirely abolished from neo-Darwinism (I shall consider some exceptions later)…

[Hamilton]… developed what has come to be known as kin selection. He imagines a gene G that tends to cause some kind of altruistic behaviour, and explained that ‘Despite the principle of “survival of the fittest” the ultimate criterion which determines whether G will spread is not whether the behaviour is to the benefit of the behaver but whether it is to the benefit of the gene G’…

Another success for biology has been reciprocal altruism. Darwin speculated that if a man aided his fellow-men he might expect to get aid in return. A hundred years later Robert Trivers turned this speculation into the theory of reciprocal altruism, explaining how selection might favour animals who reciprocated friendship, for example, by sharing surplus resources in good times in the hope of help in bad times. Research has revealed that many animals do just this, but there is a catch. If you are going to pay back favours, and avoid being cheated, you must be able to recognise other individuals. Most animals cannot do this, but many primates can – as can elephants, dolphins, and even such unlikely species as vampire bats…. the answer is to share … and keep a track on who owes what to whom…

Gratitude, friendship, sympathy, trust, indignation, and feelings of guilt and revenge have all been attributed to reciprocal altruism, as has moralistic aggression, or our tendency to get upset over unfairness. If we have evolved to share resources with other humans, but to make sure our genes benefit, then our feelings are the way evolution has equipped us to do it. On this theory not only moral sentiments, but ideas of justice and legal systems can be traced to the evolution of reciprocal altruism…

[In] The Prisoner’s Dilemma… the best outcome all round is for both to stay silent – but there is a strong temptation to defect… The important point is that a perfectly rational and selfish person will always gain by defecting. So how does cooperative behaviour ever come about?...

The answer to the Prisoner’s Dilemma lies in repetition. In iterated Prisoner’s Dilemmas people assess the other’s likely behaviour and then both can gain by cooperating. Players who have not met before often copy each other, cooperating with cooperators and not with defectors. Persistent defectors are shunned, and so lose their chance of exploiting others…

Tit-for-tat began by cooperating and then simply copied what the other player did. If the other player cooperated then both continued to cooperate and both did well; if the other player defected, Tit-for-tat retaliated and so did not lose out too badly against defectors…

It turns out that unless Tit-for-tat begins against overwhelming numbers of defecting strategies, it will spread in a population and come to dominate it…

…Trivers has suggested that kin selection might have provided the starting point. Animals already supplied with feelings of affection and caring towards kin could easily begin generalising and so give nice Tit-for-tat the start it needed…

Half a blood meal means life or death to a hungry young vampire bat but no more than an easy way to buy future favours for a well-fed more experienced hunter. This exposes the rather unpleasant concept of bargain hunting – giving deliberately to others who are in great need because their debt to you will be all the greater. This approach has also been used to show how moralising might evolve, since it pays to punish defectors and even to punish people who fail to punish defectors…

Try to think of the most altruistic of human acts you can. Dawkins gave the example of giving blood… [gives other examples] All these may appear to be examples of ‘true’ altruism but, sociobiologists would argue, they are really the by-products of kin selection and reciprocal altruism… Is this explanation adequate?

Imagine an Australian who sends money to the starving in Africa, or an American who sends money to Bangladesh… Is it reciprocal altruism? Clearly not in any straightforward sense because the donor never expects to see the recipients or to be thanked by them in any way…

The problem is that natural selection is ruthless and the cost of this kind of generosity could be very high indeed. People who managed to avoid paying it in the past would have been at an advantage and would have passed on their genes for avoiding it…

So is there an alternative?...

Memetics provides a third possibility. With a second replicator acting on human minds and brains the possibilities are expanded. We should expect to find behaviour that is in the interests of the memes, as well as behaviour serving the genes. Magic is no longer required to see why humans should differ from all other animals, nor why they should show far more cooperative and altruistic behaviour…

…Kevin… has more friends and spends more time talking to them; they like him and they listen to him. The memes he spreads might include the stories he tells, the music he likes, the clothes he wears, and the fashions he follows. They might be the scientific ideas he likes to discuss, the economic theories he espouses, and his political views. Most important, they will also include all those memes that make him the way he is – memes for giving good parties, for sending out lots of cards, for helping people in need and for buying them drinks. Psychological experiments confirm that people are more likely to be influenced and persuaded by people they like. So his friends will imitate his popular behaviour and thus his altruism will spread. And the more friends he has, the more people can potentially pick up his ways of making himself popular. We could call Kevin a meme-fountain…

…Gavin has few friends… His memes have few chances to replicate because the few people who could potentially imitate him rarely do so… We might call Gavin a meme-sink.

This difference forms the basis of a memetic theory of altruism. The essential memetic point is this – if people are altruistic they become popular, because they are popular they are copied, and because they are copied their memes spread more widely than the memes of not-so-altruistic people, [/i]including the altruism memes themselves[/i]. This provides a mechanism for spreading altruistic behaviour.
-Dr. Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, pages 147-155

I believe that the above excerpts demonstrate that altruism is inherently selfish no matter the reason it is practiced. I believe that it demonstrates that not only is the critique that religious altruism is wrong because it is selfish baseless, but that the Atheistic model that claims that altruism free from religion is pure or true is equally baseless.

I believe that I have demonstrated my premise:

-Altruism in all of its possible forms is selfish.

Feel free to discuss.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes Ghost's post
21-10-2011, 10:08 AM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Hmm. Cool. Interesting.
Suppose there were only a single number.
What would be the use of counting?

If you only give to get... ok. Smile

Isn't needing each other .... just the loveliest thing? Blush

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
21-10-2011, 10:37 AM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Hm, I'd agree with this.

From my personal experience, I like to help people because it makes me feel like a good peson and a part of my community. I like feeling needed and I like the gratitude. Do I go so far as to expect anything back? Well, of course, because isn't it kind of a social contract? However, because I'm also an evolved human being, I know that it's not always possible for the reciever to give back. Sometimes there is just nothing to give but a smile and a nod of the head.

But utlimately, I agree. Altruism is selfish. Religion is one of those things that makes it ugly.

We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.

- Carl Sagan
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes zaika's post
21-10-2011, 07:55 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Not to steal your thunder there Ghost but this topic has already been done to death by the horrid television show Friends. That's right, Friends.

You see Phoebe the resident Weirdo tells Joey the resident dumbass that there is no unselfish act. He goes out to prove her wrong and fails. It was the best thing that show ever said. Don't know why I watched it, but I did and it's done. I can't have that time back. I would link the info, but it took the whole episode for the end result and no one wants to have to watch that wretched show. Not even me, and I did watch it once.

Now if you can tell me why I ever watched that show, when even while I was watching it I kept thinking how much I hated it, I'll give you something of what I do not know. Oh and Dawsons Creek. I used to smoke pot and then watch four hours of that show all the time. I hated it, but I couldn't not watch it.

"I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments." -Jim Morrison
Visit this user's website Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes lucradis's post
21-10-2011, 09:05 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Quote:Ghost:
-Altruism in all of its possible forms is selfish.

I contend that there are four benefactors from altruism:
-The giver (survival machine/vehicle)
-The receiver
-The gene
-The meme

In this case, i assume that by benefactors, you actually meant beneficiaries.
The giver, for feeling good and useful. The receiver, for getting something they need. The gene for having a better shot at replicating in a society that's survived a little bit longer. Not too sure about the meme... which one?
All that means is that the word "altruism", meaning: selflessness or unselfishness, either shouldn't exist or shouldn't be used in this way.
And yet, we know what it means and how to use it.
So?
Is there something wrong, improper or immoral about feeling good when we do good?
Is there something wrong, dishonest or improper about wanting to add to the total welfare/ functionality/ happiness of one's community?
Is there something exceptionable about contributing to the ultimate survival of one's species?

About the only objection i can imagine to benefiting from doing good is the martyr syndrome: you must suffer for sainthood. But if there is no sourpuss god to impress and we're not bucking for sainthood, we don't have to suffer, and it's okay to engage in win-win-win behaviour.

If you pray to anything, you're prey to anything.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
21-10-2011, 09:12 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Altruism is as altrusim does. I mean like by definition.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
21-10-2011, 09:12 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
(21-10-2011 07:55 PM)lucradis Wrote:  Now if you can tell me why I ever watched that show, when even while I was watching it I kept thinking how much I hated it, I'll give you something of what I do not know. Oh and Dawsons Creek. I used to smoke pot and then watch four hours of that show all the time. I hated it, but I couldn't not watch it.

Because it was there. You'll never get a better reason.

If you pray to anything, you're prey to anything.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes Peterkin's post
21-10-2011, 10:50 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
Hey, Peterkin.

Colour me embarrassed. You're absolutely right. I meant beneficiary. D'oh!

The receiver gets something they need; however, they are indebted to the giver.

The meme basically creates a situation that makes it more likely that it will be transmitted. Selfish Gene theory should really be rebranded Selfish Replicator. I think Dawkins would agree with that.

Altruism is a fine word. It is simply giving to others at cost to oneself. The question that has perplexed many is, why the hell would anyone do that? Spending extra energy when it doesn't directly benefit you is evolutionary insanity. So the arguments that Blackmore presents simply explain the motivations for altruism. Altruism's definition is unaltered by any of them, just our understanding of what motivates it and what its purpose is.

I of course answer no to all three of your questions.

The issue here is that some people are suggesting that they practice a version of altruism that is motivated by a desire to do it for the sake of doing it and that doing it for selfish reasons (ie, fear of punishment, desire for reward, read religion) is wrong (see the Jillette video above for an example of someone making this exact argument). What I am suggesting (and what I believe the evidence supports) is that this notion is BS. There's nothing wrong with doing it for selfish reasons because selfishness is what motivates all altruistic behaviour. Furthermore, the fact that all altruistic behaviour is motivated by selfishness means that there's no such thing as being altruistic for non-selfish reasons. So this idea that some people do that and that more people should is crap.

All of this is to say that a talking point style argument designed to make the religious look bad and the non-religious look good might seem intuitively correct, but it is received wisdom and an insupportable emotional argument that is handily debunked by fact. The argument is bad m'kay.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes Ghost's post
21-10-2011, 11:08 PM
RE: The Nautre of Altruism
I agree with the OP.

In my case, I love; so I do all kinds of stupid things like give all my stuff away; time, money, whatever. I do it it cause I love, I ain't got no choice. Tongue

Telling others what they should do I classify as "preaching the gospel." I try to avoid that stuff. Terms like "selflessness" have no meaning. I look into the eyes of my Gwynnies, I go away. One of these times, there's gonna be a body on the floor needing to be tossed into the recycle bin. That's being selfless. I don't recommend it.

[Image: klingon_zps7e68578a.jpg]
Visit this user's website Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
21-10-2011, 11:44 PM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Not all Altruism is selfish, but mostly it is - especially in nature. What is the selfish reward of giving anonymously to charities giving food and services to Africans in need? If we gain no selfish benefit from it, then why should we do it?

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." - Galileo

"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." - Voltaire
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply
Forum Jump: