The Selfishness of Selflessness

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posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 05:13 AM
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Is there really such a thing as true self-sacrifice or is everything conditional?

A mate of mine raised the idea of 'Social Investment' and that we get something out of all acts of kindness and charity which is why we do it in the first place.

The simplest example of this is letting someone into traffic. Imagine a time of heavy traffic. To the side of you, there is someone waiting to get into traffic, getting frustrated waiting. You wait a little to let him in, saving him quite a bit of time and costing you just a bit.
Or another example is when you are at the supermarket with a big loaded trolley. Someone else comes along with two items, a bottle of coke and a bag of chips. You do the ‘good’ thing and let them ahead of you so they don’t needlessly have to wait for you. The reason you do this is that you hope that someday when you find yourself in similar situations, other people will be ‘nice’ and help you out.

People who act 'selflessly' are far more likely to be helped out in a time of crisis. Quod erat demonstrandum: 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.' In New Zealand there is a show called “Mucking In” where the most charitable are found, and the communities that they work for come together refurbish their house.

If you are the type to 'selflessly' help out everyone you can in the community and one day a tornado strolls through town and destroys only your home. I would imagine your grateful community would come together to help you out, maybe even build you a new home. They'd certainly give you a shelter in the mean time.

Some people work hard to earn the title of "Good" person because good people “deserve” to be protected and saved from unfortunate circumstances. People are motivated to be ‘good’ and while many aren’t, nearly all would like to be.

Interestingly one form of a reward for a good deed is in knowing that you deserve a reward. Some people just need to know that they are not scumbags, they aspire to be more.

It really bores down to the idea that if I help someone else out who is in trouble and doesn’t quite have the ability to help him or herself, then I may become known as a good/decent person. Then, if I, a known good/decent person, am myself in trouble, people will be much more likely to help me. I would have invested in the community, and would be ‘due’ help. An investment.

On the other hand, if I help people out and do not become known as a good person, then it'll be on people who were helped. They'd be more likely to help others to repay society (on the large scale) for the good done unto them. The whole social group becomes are part of equation if we were to go on help anyone less fortunate- consider the movie 'Pay it Forward'.

It's the general nature of mutually beneficial relationships. Such behaviours are instinctual in us; reinforced in childhood by our parents, who instruct us to share and be nice and polite, to behave. On the most basic level we naturally form strong bonds with one another, as a means of mutual protection – a very simple but effective principle. So effective in fact that it spawned morals, all based around ‘doing the right thing’, charity and selflessness. Having a society built on rules that are designed to benefit all 'good' members and detrimental to those who defy the group (bad people) produces a sense of justice, along with the concepts of right, wrong, morality, honour and respect. The universe is entirely amoral but our societies force a system of Karma into affect, where you do get out what you put in and you are accountable for your actions.

It seems to be reinforced by the fact that you get a little internal reward in the form of the "warm fuzzies" for doing something 'good', for working to the groups rules.

Everything is conditional; every selfless act is in reality an act of self-preservation with a few minor exceptions.

Self-sacrifice for the benefit of the next generation is the most common exception, where the needs of children are put above everyone else. Although sadly not always the case but the concept of “unconditional love” for a child is a fairly universal convention. Imagine a parent sacrificing their life to donate their healthy heart to their ill child. Such a sacrifice would be considered well worth it. Although it doesn't have to be that extreme, it could just be a matter of time, money or resources. Parent's tend to do what they have to to support their children.

Another example where people are exempt from the rules is when an individual has something that a group needs. If you are that good, or you have whatever it is, you’re instantly permitted to act selfish, as long as you can deliver or are of use. I'm thinking Greg House on this one.

Although, I’m not sure how much these things are actually instinct and how much they are just pushed on us as a social code of conduct. But noticing that most species of mammal (if not all, I’m not entirely sure) have social structures that work on this premise, it would seem to be that it’s a fairly common evolutionary development.

(edit to add) I think a major problem is that the principle seems to break down in large populaces. We all know that as a rule of thumb that small towns are friendlier than cities. People smile, say "good morning" when they go by, let you into traffic. But in a city, such behaviour seems bizarre and unusual, everyone is 'supposed' to act completely autonomously. If I'm right then the reason humanity is so apparently evil and 'selfish' (in the immediate sense) is that human social dynamics simply do not work large scale, practically. In theory, sure, but not in practise.


We do everything for a reason, we all have agendas, everything is conditional, and just about everything is about the preservation of self. Selflessness is Selfishness.



 

Edit to add:

I find the dynamics involved in friendships quite interesting in this regard. Humans are naturally social animals, we have a biological drive to interact with each other and when that drive is satisfied, we get satisfaction. There isn't much out there better than being reminded that you have friends who will help you, protect you, rescue you and so are trustworthy. People with these kinds of friends (who don't just do it out of a feeling of social obligation) are truly happy. You are grateful to these people and so will likely be very willing to repay these people.

[edit on 28-3-2009 by Welfhard]




posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 05:58 AM
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What a thoughtful post. Thank you for making it, it's unusual to see here. I hope a passing Moderator drops you some applause.

Charity, in the Christian sense, expects no rewards at all.

It's not charity in the sense of benevolent giving, the more typical use of the word nowadays. It's more your outlook on life, a generally loving and kindly demeanour, patient, knowing your own place in the world and seeking not to take advantage of others. I see it in terms of glimpsing a little bit of God in everyone, no matter their circumstances, and recognising in oneself that a generous, unselfish act is really best kept between yourself and your Maker. And also too that any reward comes not in this life but the next.

As you get older, you know, you expect less in return for the kindly act. Eventually you come to a point in your own life of not only expecting nothing in return, you don't even consider any payback. That mindset comes with age, I think.

It's not like when as a teenager you did (A) and expect (B) in return. When you get as old as me, all things material lose their importance, it's a way of thinking that perhaps older people only truly appreciate & perhaps explains why when you visit Grandma you see her surrounded with the same furniture she had 30 years ago or endlessly trying to repair those things best replaced. "Things" don't matter, money even doesn't matter.

What really matters is the here & now. Charity, kindliness and an unselfish outlook greases the wheels of life, I think, and makes the long haul so much more tolerable.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 06:22 AM
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Originally posted by The Lass
Charity, in the Christian sense, expects no rewards at all.


Ironically that's kinda my point. "Charity" is not about rewards, it's about doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. This concept is something we teach children. An imperative to do the 'right thing'.

The 'right' thing is usually defined basically as that which benefits the group - the greater good.

We are encouraged to put the group above ourselves, but we are apart of the group; hence some sort of good should come our way, we 'deserve' it.

Not to be offensive, but religion really jimmies with the system, both in good ways and bad. Much evil and general badness can be pinned on organised religion, but for those who take it seriously, not getting due reward is not so bad - they simply think it's waiting in the afterlife.

On the other hand, the religious can find it difficult to deal with the idea that the universe is not a just place. They all rationalise human cruelty and suffering, natural disasters etc. They can't accept at face value that we act like animals because we are animals.

[edit on 28-3-2009 by Welfhard]



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 06:28 AM
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A great subject. I've always enjoyed discussing the "altruism doesn't exist, every motivated act is to some extent selfish" debate. I don't think there's an objective answer to the question; it's a matter of perspective. After all, none of us ever completely understands all our motives, logically, and even to the extent that we do, they're often very subjective.

For example, the motive of 'feeling charitable', by giving money to a homeless person - is that still 'selfless'? You raise a very good point that perhaps we are somehow trying to reach, in a small way, for a better society, and that is defined by our own imagined ideals, which are by very nature of our egos defined in self-centered terms, and thus somewhat 'selfish', in a broad sense of the term.

A logic puzzle that I think fits well with the theme of the opening post is the Prisoner's Dilema. It's a thought-experiment that shows the intersection between mutually cooperative behavior, and behavior that could be considered 'selfish'. The interesting thing is the discontinuous game-space in which the puzzle presents itself - non-mutual cooperation can be taken advantage by selfish exploitation, which is not the overall optimal solution. The group 'selfish' solution is different than the individual 'selfish' solution.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 06:33 AM
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reply to post by Ian McLean
 



For example, the motive of 'feeling charitable', by giving money to a homeless person - is that still 'selfless'? You raise a very good point that perhaps we are somehow trying to reach, in a small way, for a better society, and that is defined by our own imagined ideals, which are by very nature of our egos defined in self-centered terms, and thus somewhat 'selfish', in a broad sense of the term.


I would sooner believe that the primary reason we would do such a thing is that being good simply makes us feel good. It's an internal reward of dopamine the same way that good acts are rewarded when we are children. Consider the feeling of having a friend honour our trust on some troubling issue. It just feels good - because we're engineered to behave cooperatively.

Yes the prisoner's dilemma. Interesting isn't it. Looking out for number one is human nature, but cooperative behaviour is just as, if not more beneficial than the more direct selfishness.

[edit on 28-3-2009 by Welfhard]



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 06:35 AM
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reply to post by Welfhard
 



Great post welf...





IN all honesty, I find that my motivation for doing 'good deeds' does in fact partially stem from the idea that I may benefit in some way from doing the deed; or I may not, but regardless, I'm helping, or giving back...so win, win.



Here's a link that discusses Social Capital - something that may interest you...





posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:02 AM
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Originally posted by WelfhardBut for those who take it seriously, not getting due reward is not so bad - they simply think it's waiting in the afterlife.


Well, that's where faith kicks in, trusting in your own religious beliefs without 100% certainty. A bit of a gamble, I suppose.

But holding the door open for an old person, or letting someone's car in before yours, doesn't bring much of a reward really does it ? Apart from a "thank you" with some friendly pleasantries, or simply an appreciative wave. And no-one knows you've been kindly apart from that individual stranger, there's no gallery to play to.

Obviously sometimes it grates that the little act of thoughtfulness isn't recognised but that quickly passes and is soon forgotton. Alternatively you start making reasons up for their ungratefulness, you assume the other person is too wrapped up in their own life, is having a bad day or has a whole barrel load of their own troubles to contend with ... and in a way that justifies the charitable act even more.

The fact they might just be a self-centred and very selfish person doesn't come into it, for that would make you a fool for being so kind in the first place. Well, it would if it were important. But it isn't really.

I guess what I'm saying is that as one ages, the focus shifts from what material things you can get out of life to what you leave behind when you die. I've long since given up on my adolescent dreaming, that great speech I was going to give before some hushed and expectant audience, or scoring the winning goal.

I enjoy my little acts of kindness, it makes me feel good, I expect nothing in return. And when my acts aren't recognised I'm seldom disappointed, it doesn't matter in the great scheme of things really.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:10 AM
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Originally posted by The Lass
But holding the door open for an old person, or letting someone's car in before yours, doesn't bring much of a reward really does it ?


And yet you enjoy them all the same. You may not get a reward from another but you still feel good for what you've done.

Ask yourself; "If these things didn't feel good, despite not often receiving rewards, would I still do them?"

If acting kindly ceased to make the day bearable, wouldn't you become a sour miserable and ungrateful person?

Trust me, you get the reward. regardless of whether or not there is an afterlife.


I do nice things for people often because I ought to try and make the system work. The system will work if enough people contribute kindly, ergo, it would be wrong for me to not do nice things. But I should point out that I have not conditioned my mind to respond with happiness when people show gratitude, only when it comes back round again- and in my home town it does, people always let me into traffic!

[edit on 28-3-2009 by Welfhard]



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:23 AM
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Altruism!!

I've done MANY things throughout the years for complete strangers. Some of the things give me no internal or external pleasure. Some of them cause pain. It just seems instinctual and/or intuitive.

There are times when I do things for others and feel great inside. That's selfish, I guess, but it's all about intent. I intend to help because I can. As a reward, I feel better. I just don't buy that all of my good deeds stem from a desire to feel better internally. It sure helps make the act easier overall, but it's not the primary motivation.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:36 AM
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reply to post by unityemissions
 



I've done MANY things throughout the years for complete strangers. Some of the things give me no internal or external pleasure. Some of them cause pain. It just seems instinctual and/or intuitive.


Now isn't that interesting. So you are compelled to do good. Sounds like a product of evolutionary psychology.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:37 AM
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First of all, I'd like to agree with everyone who has complimented you on your post.

For myself, I try to do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. The difficulty can be in knowing what the right thing is.

I think some people try and help a person or a situation without first finding out what is actually required. I remember reading a letter in a newspaper from a man who was complaining bitterly that he'd bought a sandwich for a homeless woman but she'd turned it down. She wanted a bagel. He couldn't see that, even in her situation, she had a preference for what she ate for lunch.

I did a personality test once and there was a question along the lines of: Do you always do the right thing or the best thing?

That took a bit of thought, because at first one might think the right thing and the best thing would be the same.

I'm hesitant here to write about any good deeds I do, because that makes them less selfless. BUT, most of them involve small creatures, getting a bug out of the road or fishing a fly out of the pond, putting out food for instance.

I did think that I'd have to wait for a reward in the afterlife for good deeds like that
but these little beings can be surprising.

I tend to agree that there probably are really few completely selfless acts, but I suppose the best thing is to try anyway.

If one gets to the afterlife and is told 'No kudo's for you - you weren't completely selfless' well, just take it on the chin.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:37 AM
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reply to post by Welfhard
 


Thinking hard about it, I feel good not for the charitable act in itself but for the social interaction it brings. One downside of older age is isolation, so perhaps I do get something from it after all



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:49 AM
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There is nothing people do not do without thinking of themsleves. Whetehr it is there ego or what ever, thats why people are so easily turned into monsters who have no consideration for others, and do not care one bit.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 07:53 AM
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reply to post by The Lass
 


Yes well I, on the other hand, am a young, eccentric, psych-student, head case!



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 08:00 AM
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ahh .. takes me back to my days in psychology classes!


Does alturism exist or is it all subconsiously known that when you help others you really help yourself so therefore it is all selfish? Interesting discission for which there is no answer. Kinda makes your head go



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 08:16 AM
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Originally posted by andy1033
There is nothing people do not do without thinking of themsleves. Whetehr it is there ego or what ever, thats why people are so easily turned into monsters who have no consideration for others, and do not care one bit.


First off, you're using a double negative, but I get what you're saying.

I don't agree with it, though. Do you have any evidence of this?

Why is it that people turn into monsters? Because they have no consideration for others, okay. What does that have to do with altruism?

Altruism is Selfish, but not selfish.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 08:33 AM
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reply to post by unityemissions
 


Altruism is Selfish, but not selfish.


Ooo I like that summary. Very poignant.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 10:48 AM
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I am just like unityemissions. There were times in my life when I was not only down and out, but desperately so, let me just put it that way, and no further. And I came across situations where people dropped their money or their wallet full of credit cards and cash, and I --made sure-- to reunite the owner with his/her item. Sometimes anonymously. I have self analysed this, and determined that, just like unityemissions said, it was purely instinctual. There was no other motive beyond that. I AM CERTAIN that there is a good chance that another individual would -not- be so helpfull if it was me, who dropped my wallet and cash. But I DON'T CARE. I will KEEP instinctively being the way I am.



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 10:52 AM
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You're missing the point of selflessness or giving. Those who give, do so without any expectations of help in return, though many are helped as well. For without this model, those who have been trained and programmed by the renegades who run this planet, to be heartless and ignore the plight of others have no brain food, no ideas, no examples to broaden their own. It can be a conscious philosophy practiced. Or a spontaneous living from the heart, unquestioned. But the intent is to shine your light. A match lit in the darkness illumines an area larger than the match head, and if are others around to notice, especially young eyes, more and more lights will shine.

[edit on 28-3-2009 by mystiq]



posted on Mar, 28 2009 @ 11:04 AM
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Originally posted by mystiq
You're missing the point of selflessness or giving. Those who give, do so without any expectations of help in return, though many are helped as well.


Hey, I just call them like I see them. The social investment model works everyday, it does not need be entirely selfless. There is nothing inherently wrong with compromised selfishness, in fact it seems to benefit all. There is nothing in selflessness for selflessness's sake. We don't have to expect and receive help in return of help for it to be selfish. It's the reason that make selfless actions actually selfish.





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