virus: Altruism, Empathy, the Superorganism, and the Prisoner's Dillema

Reed Konsler (
Sun, 20 Apr 1997 20:43:17 -0400 (EDT)

>From: Dan Henry <>
>Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 13:03:38 +0600

>At 03:23 PM 4/18/97 EDT, Wright, James 7929 wrote:
>>And a few, rare or not according to individual perception, engage in
>>altruistic behavior because they understand that all humans are related
>>by more than common ancestors, that the progress of the race is faster
>>when some individuals cooperate more than they compete, and that charity
>>is its own justification, without regard to how, why or for whom it is
>Sorry, this isn't altruism.
>I cooperate all the time. I help my neighbors, I slow down at yellow
>lights, and I hold doors open for all people. I do all this with completely
>selfish motives.
>Anyone calls me altruistic is itchin' for a fight ; ).
>If there's an expectation of reward, or a sense of duty, then it isn't
>altruism . I agree with Reed; what we call altruistic behavior can just as
>easily be ascribed to other motives.

I like what dave says but I here "Reed thinks:" shifting subtly and I hereby
stop this shifting before is reaches a position too radical for my taste.

Reed thinks there is (or can be) such a things as "altruism", "kindness",
"goodness", "brotherly love", "harmony", "peace", "justice"...and of course
the vaguest of all principles:

"The American Way"

If I didn't, then I wouldn't be having this conversation...I'd be starting a
cult and collecting donations from little old ladies. We can make the world
a better's just that I don't think we're going to solve our problems
or achieve our existential goals "with a Coke and a smile!"

I'm also not sure about our expectations. One principle (or, if you like,
meme) from Buddhism which I find very resonant with my own thinking
is the concept that it is unfullfiled (and perhaps unrealistic) expectation
leads to suffering. As the pessimist says: "expect the worst and you'll never
be dissapointed"

Well, before anyone jumps down my throat on that one...I'm not particularly
interested in meditating my life away. Certianly I might be contented...but
that strikes me as the contentedness of the mind-suicide. I'm just too
Western...addicted to thinking; I like my ever expanding sense of self and
I believe there is utility within it beyond it's obvious illusory nature.
If "I"
am not as solid as I think then there is, in my opinion, some place that
focus is useful, a way in which it will "help"...I am unwilling to dissolve it.

Perhaps what I'm in favor of is maximum effect in action with minimum
frustration of purpose. Who said "Give me a lever and place to stand and
I shall move the Earth"?...or something like that...Aristotle, Pythagorous?
If you're going to move the Earth you really really need to have a clear
perception of things.

When one speaks of things like "altruism" there is often a great deal of
emotional and moral baggage at the table which confines perception.
McLuhan was the first person I remember saying: "If you want to understand
something, stop asking if it is a 'good' thing or not, and try to figure out
HOW IT WORKS"..that's a paraphrase and the emphasis is mine. Asking
"how something works" approach a phenomena from the scientific
perspective...requires the broadest possible perspective and the most
meticulous attention to detail. You have to be willing to set aside old
categories and comfortable algorithims in favor of new, often half-baked
speculations. Howard Bloom's crusade to bring "group selectionism" back
into the light of consideration is both an example of how flexible scientists
need to be and how flexible we, as people, often are not.

Who has the answers?

None of us...and all of us, together.

It is only through commerce, broadly defined, that we understand truth.


Reed Konsler