virus: Altruism and the Prisoner's Dillema

Reed Konsler (
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 12:26:25 -0400 (EDT)

>From: Robin Faichney <>
>Date: Mon, 28 Apr 1997 09:48:00 +0100
>DHR obviously thinks that the use of dictionaries and the
>belief that meanings are context-dependent are contradictory.
>Sorry, I don't have the patience right now to explain why that's
>not the case. I am working on the assumption that most of
>the people that read this have at least 2 functioning brain
>cells. Maybe someone else can explain it to him.

We've been trying. I understood what you were saying
before the thread became polarized.

I'll try to restate my position from the beginning:

The concept of "altruism" is an abstract; it involves
(at least subjectively) a component of intentionality. The
idea "altruism" as it is synonymous with "selfless" assumes
a "self" or "I" that is being sacrificed (to whatever extent)
toward some "greater good"

It is important that we all recognize that there are some
"natural" reactions which almost every human shares...
known, in philosophy, as "intersubjective" values.

One such "intersubjective value" is persistence, or survival.

Another is propogation, or reproduction.

A third is freedom of action and expression.

These three values (and others, this conception is hacked
togehter "on the fly" so you are welcome to edit it to suit
you) combine in what are commonly called our "interests"

If we are concerned about ourselves, as defined by "I"
these values are called our "self-interest"

If we are concerned about the cultural unit we are part
of this is called "group" or "community-interest"

I propose (as have others) that the opposite of
"self-interest" which we can call "selflessness" is not
synonymous with "community-interest" or
"altruism" In other words, "self-interest" is not
the opposite of "altruism".

I further propose that one of those concepts we wish
to encourage in our community, here refered to
as "altruism" is not only not opposed to "self-interest"
but is, in fact derived from and dependent on

To clarify my point:
The opposite of "self-interest"
is "self-NONinterest" = "self-apathy"

The opposite of "group-interest"
is "group-NONinterest" = "group-apathy"

The opposite of "X-interest"
is "X-NONinterest" = "X-apathy"

In other words apathy is in opposition to all forms of
interest, which is so tautological I can't believe I'm
writing it.


Different forms of interest are not in opposition. They
can be in opposition, and they can be in concert.

Thus, it is not our moral responsibility to make
"self-apathetic" individuals so that they have more
energy to spend on "community-interest" but to find
processes and institutions which harness all forms of
interest in mutual concert and harmony.

As people and culture develop new "interests" will
arise and others will lose their significance, and thus
our morality will shift to accomodate (as best we
can) the most interest-cooperative patterns of
commerce and behavior.

The most important point:

Morality, ethics, and culture are technologies, not
absolutes. Like all technologies the moment they
work well and are generally understood to be useful
they are obsolete. It is the reponsibility of free-thinkers
to imagine and attempt to establish new, more complex,
and more adaptive systems of morality and ethics so
as to provide maximum concert and synergistic benefit
between all the different levels of interest of which
they are aware.

In this process we must respect and remember our
predecessors, lest we waste valuable time and energy
recapitualting their ethical inventions needlessly. It
is important to read and attempt to understand previous
philosophers and thinkers...not in order to categorize
them neatly into the "obsolete and thus ignorable" box...
but in order to build upon their inventions and make
our contribution to the teleobiological evolution of

We must, of course, ignore some voices...none of us
can hold all previous thought in our head. But it is
imperative that each of us recognize that each time we
categorize some "meme" as insignificant, meaningless,
dangerous, or foolish it is a SACRIFCE we make out
of acknowledgement of our own WEAKNESS, and not...
as often seems the tendency a "valid" and "useful"
judgement we make of our own "strength".

As this applies to the concept of altruism:

The concept of altruism I think is best expressed in
my mind as "community-interest" with the "community"
part left intentionally vague and accomodating.

This is an interest which I propose is of value and in
pursuit of which ethical technology should be developed
and implemented.

All technology is an attempt to build and maintain more
complicated, useful, and valuable things from the
environment of currently existing "starting materials"

We must have "well characterized" "starting materials" other words, we must understand the intrinsic
charcteristics, tendencies, quality and quantity of our
resources...or else we will never be sure if our
"engines" are producing their outcomes according
to our conception/design (or failure thereof) or becuase
of our incorrect (or serendipitous) assumptions about
the "starting material".

The statement above is general, in that it is a lesson
I learned in organic chemistry which is also (I
believe) true in ethics.

Often, in this process of attainment we must disabuse
ourselves of misbegotten categories, beliefs, and
processes. To attain "altruism" we must determine
what, precisely, we mean by "altruism"

Some ideas expressed here and elsewhere which are
unresolved in our culture:

Altruism is all about behavior, only to DOING counts.
Altruism is all about intention, only the THINKING counts.
Altruism is all about the SELF and how you define it.
Altruism dosen't EXIST, except as an incorrect notion.
Altruism exists as an INSTITUTION.
Altruism exists as an institution, but is DYSFUNCTIONAL.

It is this ambiguity in the concept of altruism that is it's
strength as an abstract and it's weakness as a synthetic target.

In short: If you want to get to heaven, you can either
"imagine" that you are or will get there and retreat
into your head...


You can look at the world with a critical eye, and try
to figure out how to make those things given what
there currently is to work with. Such responsibilty
is very great as, in essence, one attempts to be both
the mind and the hand of God.

But each of us is not alone, there is a world of fellow
travellers to assist, teach, and comfort us. And though
our contributions may seem insignificant in "the grand
scheme" culture is built from such infinitesimals.

Every bit one can contribute helps.


Reed Konsler