RE: virus: Altruism, Empathy, the Superorganism, and the Priso ner's

Wright, James 7929 (
Tue, 22 Apr 97 08:14:00 EDT

Martz wrote:
>So what motivates your selflessness? Don't forget you've been steeped in
>the trappings of a deific culture all your life, like it or not.<

Must there be a motive? Background: Some Zen art depicts two ragged
wanderers, bereft of property or position in the world, who nonetheless
are having a great time. They are seen cooking rice like everyone else,
observing leaves falling in the autumn, watching the moon in the sky;
usually they are laughing their heads off. To answer the question better,
if you lose the concept of self, what happens to the concept of motive?
*Who* is being motivated?
Being steeped in a deific culture is a good point: how can you really
know when you've overcome or transcended a lifetime of conditioning? One
way would be to adopt an agnostic position, as someone suggested earlier;
however, I consider agnosticism a religion like any other. I think I'm
pretty close to abandoning any need for deities at all, now; I don't
think I need a supernatural protector from the forces of nature.

>Because for our species it confers survival advantage - a
>selfish motivation.
>>My gracious, you have a pessimistic opinion of humanity! (Not that I
>>favor martyrdom, for any reason).
>Pessimistic? Me? Never. I'll now invoke the traditional response of the
>hardened cynic. "I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist." So there. <

Well, if you're going to act like that, I'll just take my toys and go
home! <VBG!>

>I expect people to act from a prime motivation based on self. To me,
that means
>that people are just getting on with living the best they know how <

Seems fair and accurate to me.

>and the occasional act which touches my life for good or ill is purely

If you live among exploitative people, then perhaps this is true. I have
lived among those who appear, at least to me, to have genuine charity and
altruism in their natures and who give without thought of reward for
themselves as a consequence. To you, in your circumstances, this may seem
unimaginable or that I am fooling myself regarding their true motives;
but if they are, they certainly have forgone many instances where they
could have "taken the money and run" when no one would have been the
wiser, and helped those who needed it when there was no advantage to be
gained therefrom.

>That attitude has served me well so far and is a big improvement over a
previous >me who thought that selflessness existed.<

Define "improvement", please?

<snip grocery store example>
>>Does this (admittedly small) act qualify as altruism in your view?
>Every act may be altruistic, it depends on motivation. Was this one
>altruistic? Who knows. Can I think of any selfish motivations for it?
>Yes. The same as would apply to acts of charity and a bunch of baser
>ones as well (if I can help screw the store out of a few cents I'll
gladly do it).<

We appear to have reached a circularity. If altruism depends on motive by
definition, and motive is impossible to *prove* in any instance, then the
existence of altruism is unprovable. Denying that it exists is also
unprovable, however; the best that we can say is that is exists as a

>>Thanks for a thoughtfully-written post.

>You're welcome, but I only did it cos it made me feel good. ;)<

AHA! Then I did it for altruistic reasons! (prove otherwise!) I will now
proceed to forget that I did it.<VBG!>