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
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
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
. 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
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
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
[edit on 28-3-2009 by Welfhard]