Re: virus: Altruism and the Prisoner's Dillema

Martz (
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 22:31:23 +0100

On Mon, 28 Apr 1997, Reed Konsler <> wrote:

>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"

I mostly agree with this but I think "sacrificed" is too strong. I don't
think altruism necessarily means the actor has to suffer. Perhaps

>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 agree with all of this too (I must be losing my touch) but would add
the proviso that our sense of group-interest stems from us seeing it as
to some extent being synonymous with self-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

My only disagreement here is that altruism is commonly taken to mean a
lack of self-interest (although not necessarily opposed to it).

>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.

In this instance the tautology seems justified. It needed to be pointed

>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.

Again, one small point. That degree of harmony is unachievable short of
borganism. "A universe with finite access to resoures and more than one
independent actor cannot reach political utopia." - Damien R. Sullivan.
There is a lot of room for improvement though, and pointing out those
areas where we can cooperate to mutual benefit is a Good Thing (IMO).

>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.

We can hope. We are a pretty stupid species at times though.

>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.

Another one for the quotes file. 8) It's been a good week.

>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.

The concept is a good one, but I'm still a bit hung up on this
"altruism" bit. To attach a new meaning to a term people have a lot of
unlearning to do. "You mean I *wasn't* being altruistic all this time? I
was really being *selfish*? Fuck off." If you propogate the concept
without attaching it to the term then people can feel they're learning
something new. "OK. You're not trying to tell me I've been shitting
myself all these years so I'm prepared to listen to you. What's that you
say? It's OK to be selfish because quite often doing what's good for
myself also does good for other people? Sounds groovy. I'll give it a
try. Where's that gazelle?"

>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.

Thank you Reed. To the rest of you; I know I reproduced more of that
post than I needed to but it deserved to be heard again.


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