Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?

Human inclinations are not primarily selfish: kindness and altruism have been evolutionarily valued in mates, and even the youngest children often try to be helpful

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Did selfishness — or sharing — drive human evolution? Evolutionary theorists have traditionally focused on competition and the ruthlessness of natural selection, but often they have failed to consider a critical fact: that humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and social reciprocity of a group.

Last week on Slate, evolutionary anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson explored the question against the backdrop of two cultural events in 1957 — the consequences of the rogue, selfish activities of a pygmy hunter in a Congo forest, who used the group’s collective hunting efforts to benefit only himself, and in New York City, the publication of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, whose protagonist champions the author’s notion that human nature is fundamentally selfish and that each man “exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”

Atlas Shrugged counts many politicians as admirers, perhaps most notably Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, who cites the book as one of his main inspirations for entering politics and is known to give Rand’s books frequently to his interns.

(MORE: ‘Paradise Built in Hell:’ How Disaster Brings Out the Best in People)

So, does Rand’s theory comport with current evolutionary theory? The data is not exactly kind to her position. For example, Johnson describes an anthropologist’s account of the pygmy tribesman, Cephu, in the Congo who lived by the Randian ideal that selfishness is the highest morality. Cephu was part of the Mbuti tribe for whom “hunts were collective efforts in which each hunter’s success belonged to everybody else,” Johnson writes, detailing how the tribe “employed long nets of twined liana bark to catch their prey, sometimes stretching the nets for 300 feet. Once the nets were hung, women and children began shouting, yelling, and beating the ground to frighten animals toward the trap.”

It was a group effort, for most:

But one man, a rugged individualist named Cephu, had other ideas. When no one was looking, Cephu slipped away to set up his own net in front of the others.

Soon caught in this blatant attempt to steal meat, Cephu was brought in front of the whole tribe:

At an impromptu trial, Cephu defended himself with arguments for individual initiative and personal responsibility. “He felt he deserved a better place in the line of nets,” [the anthropologist Colin] Turnbull wrote. “After all, was he not an important man, a chief, in fact, of his own band?” But if that were the case, replied a respected member of the camp, Cephu should leave and never return. The Mbuti have no chiefs, they are a society of equals in which redistribution governs everyone’s livelihood. The rest of the camp sat in silent agreement.

Faced with banishment, a punishment nearly equivalent to a death sentence, Cephu relented.

He apologized, handed over his meat to the tribe and then, essentially, was sent to bed without dinner. As Johnson explains, selfishness is considered far from a virtue in such tribal groups, which still live in ways similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Indeed, every such group ever studied has been found to idealize altruism and punish selfishness, in everything from their mythologies to their mating practices.

(MORE: How Economic Inequality Is (Literally) Making Us Sick)

Although Rand accepted that early human life was a collective effort, she failed to realize how this shaped our brains. In most societies, for example, a man like Cephu would be seen as the opposite of a good catch for a woman wanting a partner. A good mate — and one whose genes were likely selected for and passed on in our earliest evolutionary history — would have been a cooperative hunter, one who didn’t put his own goals ahead of those of the tribe. He would have been altruistic in battle too, particularly when warring with other groups. A selfish soldier, after all, is known as a coward, not a hero.

The evidence for altruism as a critical part of human nature isn’t limited to anthropology. Studies of 18-month-old toddlers show that they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do so: if the adult is reaching for something, the toddler will try to hand it to them, or if they see an adult drop something accidentally, they will pick it up.

However, if the same adult forcefully throws something to the ground, toddlers won’t try to retrieve it: they understand that the action was deliberate and that the object is unwanted. These very young children will even assist (or refrain from helping) with a book-stacking task depending on what they perceive to be the adult’s intention. If the adult clumsily knocks the last book off the top of the stack, the toddler will try to put it back; if the adult deliberately takes the last book off, however, toddlers won’t intervene. Even before kids are taught to chip in — perhaps especially before they are told it’s an obligation — children are less selfish than often presumed.

Another study found that 3- to 5-year-olds tend to give a greater share of a reward (stickers, in this case) to a partner who has done more work on a task — again, without being asked — even if it means they get to keep less for themselves. And those cries of “That’s not fair!” that plague sibling relationships: they’re not only selfish; they reflect children’s apparently innate desire for equity.

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Fundamental tendencies toward altruism aren’t only seen in children, either. Worldwide, the aftermath of natural disasters are typically characterized by heroism and a sharing of resources — within the affected community and in others farther way — not selfish panics. During the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, there were no accounts of people being trampled rushing out of the World Trade Center towers; rather, those who needed assistance descending were cared for, and calm mainly prevailed. The same occurred after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011. The cases in which people stampede or look out only for themselves tend to be rare and involve very specific circumstances that mitigate against helpfulness.

Moreover, our stress systems themselves seem to be designed to connect us to others. They calm down when we are feeling close to people we care about — whether related to us or not — and spike during isolation and loneliness. Even short periods of solitary confinement can derange the mind and damage the body because of the stress they create. And having no social support can be as destructive to health as cigarette smoking.

Of course, none of this is to say that humans are never selfish or that we don’t have a grasping, greedy part of our nature. But to claim, as Rand does, that “altruistic morality” is a “disease” is to misrepresent reality.

(Share the love and read the rest of Johnson’s fascinating feature here.)

MORE: An Evolutionary Explanation for Altruism: Girls Find It Sexy

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

82 comments
KevinKindSongs
KevinKindSongs

Since all behavior has to benefit the individual's genes eventually, there can be no such thing as altruism.  However, it does appear that all social species evolved for cooperation - "The human response to unfairness evolved in order to support long-term cooperation, according to a research team from Georgia State University and Emory University.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-human-fairness-evolved-favor-long-term.html#jCp

KevinKindSongs
KevinKindSongs

First, there is no such thing as free will.  Second, there can be no such thing as altruism since, by definition, any behavior must benefit the individual - at some point.  However, all social species apparently have evolved for cooperation, e.g., "The human response to unfairness evolved in order to support long-term cooperation, according to a research team from Georgia State University and Emory University.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-human-fairness-evolved-favor-long-term.html#jCp

ChristopherPaulWatts
ChristopherPaulWatts

Cephu obviously was not acting in his self interests. Cephu does not illustrate that Rand was wrong, just that Cephu made an incorrect decision.   Obviously it would have been in Cephu's rational self interests to continue to hunt with the tribe.

WilliamMueller
WilliamMueller

This is the funniest piece of reporting I've read in a while... not only does the author make the opposite point she thinks she is making by confusing irrational selfishness with logical egoism, it includes this wonderful gem: "Indeed, every such group ever studied has been found to idealize altruism and punish selfishness, in everything from their mythologies to their mating practices." Tell me more about these women that select mating partners based on the pity they feel for them rather than the value they see in them... unless they are so deranged as to value a mate they can pity and feel superior towards, what's the benefit to them or their children? And wasn't that the argument of Elliot Rodger? That his need should trump their (lack of) desire?

JohnSparacio
JohnSparacio

We also need to understand where we come from. a good example for this is rape:

Rape in the animal kingdom otherwise called nonconsensual sexual activity is real and if you are a fan of nature, you will see it often. This brings me to the correlation between man and animal and my and others theory that humans are not u...nique to themselves and their minds. In that, our mindfulness comes from animal kind. It is simply a manifestation from animal to human. Both have the same motivations but with humans, it becomes confusion in the intellectualization of the drive to dominate and control mixed with the primal innate need to copulate and regenerate.
I am not condoning rape I am pointing out that we are more like animals than we think.

Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity
by Bruce Bagemihl, Ph.D.

Once one realizes that our thoughts and emotions are exaggerated contemplations from a once primal mind and can look at that primal state now in animals they will realize why they do the things they do and feel the things they feel! It becomes very simple when we look into the mirror and see not a god but a cow or reptile.


JohnSparacio
JohnSparacio

My reflection: Innately we are more able to do good than bad or selfish behavior but our culture is driven by individual success therefore our culture becomes a kind of driver for group think led by individuals. These individuals create this overwhelming mindset of selfishness. Our civilization has been modeled not from a group but from aggressive individuals whom have conscripted the group through their own diabolical and manipulative consciences.

YourMomsLover
YourMomsLover

This article conflates benevolence, the desire to help others, with altruism, an ethical system that mandates you live your life for others, that's what altruism means, other-ism.  An egoist can be benevolent, there is no contradiction.  Also, Rand didn't argue for egoism based on the premise that it is a natural behavior, that would be a poor excuse for any ethical system, altruist or egoist.  There are plenty of natural behaviors which we consider good, and plenty of natural behaviors that we consider evil.  The purpose of an ethical system is to rationally identify the nature of the good, and to use this insight to evaluate behaviors as good or evil.  Rand used reasoning in her argument for egoism, not the claim that it is natural.  

Me_Nobody
Me_Nobody

I have to say, you are way off on this subject simply because you presumed "there is no subconscious intention" behind all those so called "altruistic actions!"

There is no doubt in my mind, that "intention is the foundation of every HUMAN action!" Therefore, so called "good deeds" or "altruistic actions" are ALL performed (either consciously or unconsciously) for selfish reasons.


For examples:

When the lovers say "I love you" BECAUSE the action of loving will make them happy!

When the someone sacrificed themselves for their lovers BECAUSE the action of sacrificing will make them feel happy! In other words, in they mind, they "feel happy" to die for their lovers. (Have you heard people say: I'm so happy that I can die for you?)

3- to 5-year-olds tend to give a greater share of reward BECAUSE (intention here) they will feel happy (self gratification)

People help weaklings in their group BECAUSE (intention here) they will feel just (self-righteousness) for:

1. moral superiority - I can do better than you, so I'm helping you! Therefore, I'm happy!

2. future survival - If it happens to me, other will help me too! Therefore, when the time comes for them to help me, I will survive so I will feel happy!


Or this classic one, I'm refuting your immature conclusion BECAUSE you are wrong.

But why? BECAUSE I'm right.

But why? BECAUSE I feel better that I'm right and you are wrong.

But why? BECAUSE so I can feel that I'm better than you.

But Why? BECAUSE I feel happy when I know I'm right and you are wrong.


See, if you ask enough why-because questions, you will find out that it all comes down to have "better feeling for oneself"; hence, "selfish!"


So, now, I'm happy!

ArturoVerdugo
ArturoVerdugo

Every human decision that is made is a result of independent variables, but the most important of those variables is selfishness. Selfishness affects our decisions because everything time that human beings make decisions, they are trying to get the most of something, or they are trying to loose the least of something. Every human decision allocates any kind of resources, which mainly involve material goods, and the very important feelings that influence our lives.

When someone donates their kidney, they are doing so because they value the friendship and love of that person, or because they are trying to avoid feeling bad because of letting someone die. When someone sacrifices their life for someone or something, they are doing so because it makes them feel good or because they can not live with the thought of not having sacrificed their life.

Alas, selfishness itself can not be labeled as good or bad. Only the decisions that human beings make can be labeled as being good or bad, because they are ultimately what end up allocating anything and everything.

(At least this is how selfishness is viewed from an economics standpoint)

Vincas
Vincas

Altruism is not when I feel pleasure in the fact that I am giving you, but when I enjoy the fact that you get.


JujuCosta
JujuCosta

i think if ppl topped being so envy it would already, nowaday be considered altruism

SteveSleep
SteveSleep

The  benefits  of altruism are selfish in nature. Be it in appearance of being a good person, or be it the satisfaction  one gets when giving, this is fundamentally a philosophical/ethical debate, that quickly turn into a paradox. all aspects withing this framework hold an equal validity, Naturally, we are both selfish and altruistic. It usually is dictated by situation, not genetics, morality, or any other of the subjective emotional appliances we wish to attach to it. And anyone that  wants  to quote statistics as evidence or  mathematics  or what have you, all of those "Proofs" are entirely subjective. Numbers mean nothing unless value is given to them, just as words emotions etc. All  evidence  must be filtered and structured using the brain and all the quirks and  unconscious  prejudices that come along with it.

KevinKindSongs
KevinKindSongs

There is no such thing at "altruism" since, by definition any activity of an individual has to improve their reproductive fitness or they and their offspring would be selected against.  The vast, vast majority of what is misnamed altruism is behavior benefiting genetic relatives.  For example, there is some evidence that homosexual men's women relatives have more children -- forget which ones.  Aunts?  Don't think it was sisters.

This has been proven experimentally and mathematically, everything is all about math, long ago.  The idea around group selection has been roundly debunked.

If there is any trait, and behavior is a trait, that does not benefit the individual -- it won't last.

worth_every_cent
worth_every_cent

It's not that complicated. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Humans are social animals.  They seek membership in a group. If you recognize group welfare and security as a priority, that does not make you selfless, it only expands your definition of selfish behavior. Altruism is generally considered to come at a cost. The toddler is not paying a cost. Adults in a collective crisis are not knowingly paying a cost for self-control. Examine young children under similar crisis circumstances and frequently you see conflicted responses. Children don't readily identify co-victims as fellows of an expediently formed group defined out of crisis like adults can, but they do maintain existing bonds like among siblings.  

From the group perspective, selfless individual actions can be considered selfish group actions. Further, individuals can reasonably be expected to be doubly rewarded, first for the security of the group which the selfless action benefited, second be a reciprocal action by a fellow group member. This is counter to the usual expectation that the selfless action will have a cost associated with it.

gracetoday
gracetoday

What I find quite strange and ironic is that Rand's critics are mostly socialists, insisting that we are basically altruistic, and that means we need a large government to forcefully take our goods and redistribute them. It seems like your conclusion contradicts your premise. If we're basically altruistic, shouldn't the government leave us alone and let us naturally take care of each other? 

However, Rand's whole theory has nothing to do with whether or not we find naturally want to help each other, it's simply saying that we don't know anyone's needs or desires better than our own. Therefore, seeking what is good, we will first consult what is good for the person we know best: our selves, expecting that other people are in the best position to do what is best for themselves. 

We would all be terribly annoyed by a well-meaning neighbor who decided they were going to put our needs first and take care of us while neglecting to take care of themselves. We would probably say: go mind your business and when I need help, I'll call  you. The best thing you can do for someone is let them take care of themselves - that's the joy of transitioning into adulthood and learning to take care of yourself. That's what people with dissabilities long to be able to have - more autonomy to take care of themselves. There's nothing immoral about this. 

Healthy altruism means that we understand that once we have taken care of

 ourselves, we will find the greatest satisfaction in lifting other people up and helping them become strong and self-dependent. There's still a certain kind of self-interest here - but it's a healthy self-interest. It's one that recognizes that we are happiest when we can be strong individuals in community with other strong individuals. 

Socialism is the opposite of this: first it treats people like permanent infants by giving them a right to have something for nothing, secondly, it takes away our joy and satisfaction in helping others ourselves by forcing us to do it.

Sandeep Singh
Sandeep Singh

Paul Ryan is truly a man of contradictions. Ayn Rand inspired him to join politics and yet he clings to the bible. What's more, he feels no hesitation in shoving it down other people's throats (especially women). 

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Hunter / Gatherer / Killers.

We are the ones that ascended the evolutionary ladder, largely because we exterminated the less determined ones.

Yes at a family and tribal level we have cooperative and social instincts and behaviors but at every other evolutionary level we are combative, competitive and lethal.

Our intellect often points towards humanitarian ideals that are consistently compromised by our selfish short term greed and gratification requirements.

Technology is our final challenge, because it has encouraged the least humanitarian among us to achieve the highest degree of success and at the expense of the population and planet as a whole.

Our economy and civilization are going to fail because of our shortcomings as social beings and it is only when the hard lesson is learned from that failure that we may gain sufficient insight to be more successful.

Of course, that is if we survive at all.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

What the Randian defenders seem to fail to realize is the significance of all the toddler studies showing their inherent altruism.  That is where the true nature of humanity can be seen.

Once the toddler grows and the cognitive functions of reason kick in, social interactions and other external influences then mold that individual into something different than what their inherent nature used to be.  In short, "reason" often trumps nature.  But because "reason" is merely rationalization and is an artificial and mental result of consciousness, it's not necessarily an inherent instinct.

So basically, someone can think their way out of being a nice person by using rationalizations they come across as they grow.  That Rand believes this to be an inherent part of human nature ignores the fact that "inherent" means everyone WILL do it despite the obvious fact this isn't true.  Everyone CAN do it, but it's not instinctive.  It's a variable and unreliable function of reason.

It's the difference between actual (altruistic behaviors shaped by tens of thousands of years of evolution) and potential (rationalizing one's way into being a selfish person).  You start with the actual.  Whether you get to the potential depends on life experiences and the individual's own inclinations toward putting self-gratification first.

This explains the nearly universal altruistic nature of young children and the inconsistently selfish nature of older people. 

But the bottom line is that selfishness is NOT an inherent part of human nature.  It's an acquired behavior, if it happens at all.  Or to put it another way, people who are selfish rationalized their way to selfishness and have defied their inherently altruistic natures.

Talendria
Talendria

The article defines altruism incorrectly.  Altruism is selflessness, i.e., generosity with no expectation of reciprocity or reward.  In the example of the pygmy tribe, altruism would've constituted another tribe who had no trade relation with the pygmies giving them a freshly killed antelope then leaving never to be heard from again.  Behavior within the tribe can never be considered altruistic because they are mutually dependent.  An act that benefits the tribe coincides with the individual's self-interest.  It's the same with children.  They strive to be helpful because we take care of them and they want us to continue doing that.

It would be difficult to prove altruism in any action because there usually is a perceived reward.  Mother Teresa sacrificed herself for eternal salvation.  Bill Gates spends billions to be recognized as the greatest philanthropist in human history.  Angelina Jolie hugs refugees because she's a narcissist in search of fame.  Those who believe in karma are merely "paying it forward" because they believe such actions will lead to future good fortune.

I suppose altruism can only be achieved by anonymous atheists, which is odd because I've always considered myself altruistic.  But if I'm honest about my motivation for doing good deeds, I hope that it will make the world a better place for me and for my child, and I hope that if heaven exists I'll get in.  Technically, that isn't altruism because I haven't abandoned my self-interest.

Brent D. Payne
Brent D. Payne

Very interesting concept is discussed in this article that the natural human nature is to be helpful and lack selfishness. It cites that even 18 month old toddlers will instinctively help and adult stack a pile of books. What do you think? I met a guy in Australia on one of my speaking trips there that believes people are naturally loving, nuturing and kind (see http://www.worldtransformation...). I have always felt that humans were the opposite of loving and nuturing. That humans were like wild beasts in the jungle naturally but we have tried very hard to mask that 'wild' side of us. Perhaps I have had it all wrong. Anyway, very interesting read...especially for Time Magazine (sorry, not a common reader of the publication).

 

f_galton
f_galton

The anthropologist quoted in the Slate piece was a pedophile.

f_galton
f_galton

We've evolved since our hunter-gather days. Shouldn't that be taken into account?

JohnSparacio
JohnSparacio

OR more precisely: My reflection: Innately we are more able to do good than bad or selfish behavior but our culture is driven by individual success therefore it is those individuals who become the driver for group think. These individuals create this overwhelming mindset of selfishness. Our civilization has been modeled not from a group but from aggressive individuals whom have conscripted the group through their own diabolical and manipulative consciences.

kingpenguin13
kingpenguin13

@Me_Nobody  I'm not sure if you're exactly getting the point of the article.  Regarding your statements, I believe a plethora of factors other than happiness come into play when we need to make an altruistic decision.  For instance, in the case of the 9/11 evacuations, the very strong instinct of self-preservation (the key to the selfish argument's foundation) was superseded by a respect for other human beings' right to live.  Or to use one of your examples, someone may die for someone they love simply because they value the loved one's life/freedom/whatever more so than their own.  


Even if I believe that, though, neither of us can say with 100% certainty whether or not the happiness associated with altruistic action is the main motive behind the action or if it is simply one of the many consequences of it; in your words, altruism does not necessarily occur BECAUSE it makes us feel better.  We are (presumably) grown adults who have been conditioned by society to treat altruism as a virtue and to "feel good" about it, and so we view the concept through clouded eyes.  But as the article says, toddlers who have yet to be taught these values have a strong sense of altruistic action as well as equity.


Regardless, even if altruistic morality ultimately stems from some evolutionary need for happiness, it is entirely irrelevant.  That same happiness can be obtained through more selfish means.  Up until he was caught, I'm sure Cephu was pretty happy with himself as well as all the food he had.  So, because that happiness exists on both sides of the equation, we can set it aside and assess the situation objectively.  And objectively, independent of happiness, unconditioned humans will choose to help others before themselves.  That's what the article is suggesting.

StephenCataldo
StephenCataldo

@ArturoVerdugo This definition seems to twist in upon itself: if someone feels good for making sacrifices to help others, then they're not selfish, or else the word selfish is starting to lose it's normal meaning. I'm pretty sure that many people have sacrificed themselves for others who could have lived with themselves. You're much closer to disproving the founding assumptions of western academic-economics than disproving human kindness.

VinkaHodgeon1
VinkaHodgeon1

Steve Sleep.

There are amazing human beings: eg. people who donate one of their kidneys to another human being whom they have never met. To me that is an epitome of altruism. And of deep empathy. Philosophers and psychologists will theorize about the underlying egoism. Camus wrote a novel called La Chute (the Fall) in which a man jumps from a bridge to save someone's life. According to Camus, the man was motivated by the internal motive of ego-gratification. Load of Jackson Pollock. You could easily reverse it and say that Camus was defending his own ego

VinkaHodgeon1
VinkaHodgeon1

Steve Sleep.There are amazing human beings: eg. people who donate one of their kidneys to another human being whom they have never met. To me that is an epitome of altruism. And of deep empathy. Philosophers and psychologists will theorize about the underlying egoism. Camus wrote a novel called La Chute (the Fall) in which a man jumps from a bridge to save someone's life. According to Camus, the man was motivated by the internal motive of ego-gratification. Load of Jackson Pollock. You could easily reverse it and say that Camus was defending his own ego from the unfavourable comparison with the unselfish act of his main protagonist. If we as a species have propensities for both selfishness and altruism, then capitalism will whip up the former at the expense of the latter.

RobertSF
RobertSF

If we're basically altruistic, shouldn't the government leave us alone and let us naturally take care of each other?

That's the typical conservative view that the government is a tyranny imposed from the outside. But there's no reason to view it that way. Government is us. And it is necessary because, although we are altruistic as a group, there are always selfish individuals, and just one selfish individual can be horribly damaging. Therefore, it is up to us, through our government voice, to neutralize such individuals.

And of course we are infants, or at least, as weak as infants. You don't think that, but for the government, powerful wealthy interests could not destroy you with impunity? Of course they could! Socialism doesn't "force" you to help others any more than the laws against theft "force" you not to steal.

gracetoday
gracetoday

I have had two toddlers and it is true that they love to help. But to say that this proves were are completely altruistic is a stretch. Toddlers love to help because they want to feel helpful. They want to be recognised and approved of. They are fundamentally doing it for self-interest. If you don't believe me, try letting one toddler help you and the other one not help you. If they were altruistic, the one being told not to help would happily go on his way. However, most of the time, you will get a tantrum. Toddlers don't just want to help, they WANT to help, whether you want them to or not (and all parent's know that most of the time, they would be more helpful not helping.) But they insist on helping. Why? because you are taking away something from them that they want, something that gives them pleasure. You're depriving them in their hard-wired drive to gain new skills and abilities. There's nothing wrong with this, but it is still healthy self-interest

RobertSF
RobertSF

No, it's you who is defining "altruism" incorrectly. You're defining it out of existence, basically.

max4374
max4374

 Well, there you go.  I guess he was wrong on everything then.

architect424
architect424

Until recently (as in the last 150 years) selfishness would still have been seen as an innate flaw, and thus as regression as opposed to any sort of evolution.  Even in today's society it is more beneficial to cooperate than to be selfish.  

max4374
max4374

 Society has evolved.  Perhaps not humans.

gracetoday
gracetoday

Laws against theft do force me not to steal. If I steal, I am punished. The power of the state is being used to keep me from stealing. The state has a unique power of constraint, which justifies keeping it limited, since the humans who are in charge of the state are always fallible and easily corruptible. The larger the government, the greater the moral hasard. The state should only do what is necessary to keep people from destroying each other.

There`s a balance that must be kept since the state is itself made up of corruptible people that are also liable to use this power to, as you say, destroy people with impunity.  The state is not controlled by angels you know.

If the state gets too big, you create a moral hasard and the very thing that is suppose to protect us becomes another oppressor. The state is not some evil thing. but it can become evil because unchecked power in human beings pretty much always produces evil. The bigger the government, the more impossible it becomes for citizens to keep it in check.

Talendria
Talendria

Give me an example of an altruistic behavior that has no benefit to the protagonist. The behaviors mentioned in the article as examples of altruism were motivated by self-interest (the tribe that wants to eat, the child that wants to be nurtured).

I think altruism is rare, which is probably why we all love superheroes. They personify altruism because they're continually sacrificing their self-interest for others, and no matter how they suffer through pain, rejection, and loneliness they remain devoted to a community that excludes them.

When you hear stories in the news about people doing good deeds, they often say something like "If the shoe were on the other foot, he would've done the same for me" or "I'd like to think that if it had been my child, someone would've done the same for her." I think those statements illustrate that we're not doing these things "just because." We're applying the "There but for the grace of God go I" philosophy and hoping that someone will help us in our hour of need, which is an expression of self-interest.

f_galton
f_galton

The Mbuti tribe was unselfish with its boys, you can see how that might skew a pedophile's observations about selfishness in general.

f_galton
f_galton

It's a fact humans have evolved since the hunter-gather days.

Talendria
Talendria

You probably have more subconscious motivation than you realize. You mentioned that the neighborhood is yours and safe, which means you have a vested interest in protecting it. Your behavior may have been different if you were in another neighborhood, particularly if you felt like you didn't belong there.

I've been doing volunteer work since I was a teenager, initially because it was required for membership in the National Honor Society. I continued volunteering, primarily in education, over the years because it increased my self-esteem and because I believed it made my community better. Now that I'm in my 40s, my outlook is transparently utilitarian. I mentor disadvantaged kids because I don't want them to join a gang and carjack me. I watch over other people's kids because I want them to watch over mine when I'm not there. I donate whatever I don't need to charity so I don't have to feel guilty about being fortunate. I don't consider any of that stuff altruistic because I'm acting rationally in my own self-interest.

I can only think of one time when I did something good that didn't benefit me. When the tsunami hit Asia, I donated a bunch of money to the Red Cross. I don't know anybody who was affected by the tsunami, so it's hard to imagine how that served my self-interest. I remember feeling that it was a historical event, and I wanted to be on the right side of history, so to speak. It was the same when I voted for Obama, I guess. None of his policies benefit me in particular (it's debatable whether they benefit anyone), but I wanted to say that I'd helped elect the first black president.

You may think I'm splitting hairs about the precise definition of altruism, but I think it's important to understand why we do good and helpful things so we can entice others to do the same.

RobertSF
RobertSF

Not to toot my own horn, but I was walking along in my neighborhood at night (it's a safe one), and I noticed a car with its inside light on. Then I noticed that the door hadn't closed right. The engine was still making the crackling sound engines make when cooling down, so I knew it hadn't been parked long. But overnight, the light on would kill the battery.

I pushed hard and fast on the door to close it. For a moment, I thought what if it has an alarm and it goes off? But I had shut the door by then, and no alarm went off. The whole thing only took less than 15 seconds.

I didn't think about doing it. I just did it, and later, I realized the car's owner would never even know. And I'm hardly a do-gooder. I don't feed the homeless or do volunteer work or anything like that. I'm sure there are many others who would do the same because it's just a normal human reaction.

I think those people in the news you mentioned are applying a post-hoc rationalization. Sure, you hope someone would also do you a favor, but it's not a deliberate calculation you make at the time you do the favor.

f_galton
f_galton

What's sad are people who deny the fact of evolution.

max4374
max4374

 It is truly sad watching people like you.  You know you lost the argument, as if you had one to begin with, and yet...Perhaps Bill Maher is right, people like you just live in a bubble of your own making where nothing other your pre and meta conceptions will penetrate.  Just making crap up is no way to live your life son.  Go in peace.

f_galton
f_galton

Turnbull hated the Ik because they wouldn't provide him with a boy like they Mbuti did.

Turnbull's sexual relationship with pygmy youths is well documented.

It's a fact not all anthropologists view themselves as scientists, see "Anthropology a Science? Statement Deepens a Rift" in the New York TImes.

It's a fact humans have evolved since the hunter-gatherer era. We've never stopped evolving. There are evolved differences between today's hunter-gatherers and humans of civilized descent.

max4374
max4374

 Not science like physics? My dear, science is science.  It is called science because those who practice it use the scientific method, whether it is applied science, formal science, physical science, life science, social and behavioral science, or interdisciplinary science.   Or, within those disciplines, whether it is observational or experimental science.  And next to me I have a wife who is very perplexed by "not all anthropologists view themselves as scientists" because as a university HR administrator she thinks that would come as a big surprise to anyone who got a degree in sociology, anthropology,

psychology, archeology, criminology, history, linguistics, political science,

international relations, economics, geography, linguistics and other social sciences.

As for the biased, every research is biased.  Once again, a big part of the scientific method is self-correcting against those biases.  For example, the one research of Colin Turnbull that is very controversial is his research on the Ik of Uganda.  And the controversy is very well documented, ergo, controversial.

But one thing I didn't find anything about, after my curiosity was awakened by your  persistence, was anything about him been a pedophile.  Not one article, not one mention of that anywhere.  Now, why would that be? A mass conspiracy that only you are privy to?  I wonder.

As for your objection below that man's nature has evolved since the hunter/gatherer times, perhaps it is pertinent for me to point out here that 1/6 of the land surface today(!) is roamed predominatly by hunter/gatherers.  But perhaps you are referring to the people of the Paleolithic era.  Fair enough.  Except that the Neolithic era did not become predominant until 3500 B.C. in Sumeria, while most of the rest of the world was still  deeply Paleolithic.

f_galton
f_galton

It's not a science like physics, not all anthropologists view themselves as scientists, and the field is full of examples of biased research, like that done by the pedophile cited in the Slate article.

max4374
max4374

 Anthropology is a science.  Anthropologically curious that you are so fixated on this as a way to disprove the theses.

f_galton
f_galton

A pedophile anthropologist's account of his sex vacation with pygmies is not the same thing as a physics paper.

max4374
max4374

 All observations by an individual are skewed, to one degree or another.  That is why the scientific method has developed measures to self-correct.  Perhaps he, for whatever personal perception, was one who observed and even developed  a theory.  But for it to even be considered for validation, much less thought off as valid, had to pass all the rigors of science, including peer review.

RobertSF
RobertSF

I'm trying to figure out what you're trying to say.

f_galton
f_galton

Hunter-gatherers mated with Neanderthals, I suppose you think differences between us and them are trivial. You claim we haven't evolved recently, but then claim the evolution that occurred was not "significant", then go back to denying the scientific fact that humans have evolved recently.

RobertSF
RobertSF

Actually, no. A modern day human could easily mate with someone from 50,000 years ago and produce fertile offspring. We have not evolved significantly since then. The only thing that has evolved is our culture.

f_galton
f_galton

The time between hunter-gatherers and Socrates is about double the time between Socrates and Rand. We've evolved mentally since Socrates.

max4374
max4374

 Physically perhaps, but mentally?  Don't confuse knowledge of reality with understanding of reality.  The time between hunter/gatherers and Socrates is almost the same as the time between Socrates and Rand.  And I don't see much change, or improvement in intelligence.

f_galton
f_galton

Why do you say perhaps? Humans have evolved physically and mentally.

max4374
max4374

 Perhaps humans have evolved physically, but has human nature evolved?

architect424
architect424

Is it a fact that they have grown more selfish? and that that is a positive thing?  The fact that our society is slowly self-destructing (socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally) would seem to indicate that it is not positive at all.