[ExI] People are Genuine Altruists, Sociopaths, or Confused/Moody

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Mon Sep 1 05:27:49 UTC 2008

Harvey writes

>>       (1) do you leave tips in a restaurant that you are certain
>>             you will never visit again (and you do not believe that
>>             in some hidden way "what goes around comes around"
>>             (in this case) and that you'll eventually benefit, nor is your
>>             belief that such actions simply make the world a better
>>             place for you (and those you love) the ultimate cause of
>>             your action)?
> I don't see this as altruistic.  It's just part of the bill.  There is a 
> minimal payment for the food and minimal service.  Then there is a quality 
> rating with a payment for good service.  It seems dishonest to me to not tip 
> good service.  The server's salary is deliberately lower than minimum wage (in 
> some cased) because of this expected tipping component.  To cheat them out of 
> their tip just because I won't return and they can't force me to pay does not 
> seem fair.  Thus, it is not altruism, but fairness that causes me to tip good 
> service.

Why would one *ever* be fair? Or adopt "fairness" as a standard behavior?
I see no necessary self-interest component to being fair to others, even
though in most situations indeed there is. Surely the answer is at least
in part genuine altruism.

And I do not buy the argument I've heard that it's "simpler" to just
adopt one practice (e.g. tipping, or being fair) and apply it routinely,
because we humans are *so* good at contextual dependencies. And while
you're waiting for the check ("Check please", or whatever the phrase is),
you may be contemplating the size of your tip while the sociopath
(as I've wished to use it (so far without having yet read Stathis'
post which may contain a demur)) will be noticing if this is
one of those situations he should not tip.

>>        (2) if it was revealed to you that you were living in a simulation
>>             wherein you were the only conscious person, and everyone
>>             else merely a puppet under the manipulation of a cold,
>>             distant, infinitely calculating entity who had no emotions
>>             whatsoever, and was merely clinically performing an
>>             experiment, would your behavior towards others change
>>             at all? (That is, would you knowingly waste time being kind
>>             to others when there was and could be no eventual payoff
>>             to you, such as in the final restaurant case of
> I don't see this as altruistic either.  I am not kind to others because I 
> expect a payback.  But I also don't want to be cruel to others for no reason.  
> I am not cruel to animals, who are less than people.  So why would I be cruel 
> to these simulations?

Because they do not genuinely have any feelings or emotions or
any personal thoughts whatsoever, as I said. This cold distant
entity is going to be vastly *less* affected by your responses
than you will be by whether the ants in your driveway appear to
be going rapidly or slowly for the garbage you put out last night,
and this is the only other even .0001 thinking entity in your world.

> They simulate pain or hurt feelings if I am unkind.  
> Even if this is less pain or different than a real person, I don't see any 
> basis for ignoring their "pain" any more than a "real" person's pain.

This makes no sense to me, on any level. Even if a human is shamming
pain, I'm very likely going not only to fail to take that pain into
consideration (politics allowing), but will probably be also repelled.
So just how much *would* you inconvenience yourself for the sake of
robots or these awful simulations? Are you courteous to traffic lights?

>> 3. Those not falling in the first two categories, I conclude, are either
>> confused or moody. The confused are those who act almost entirely by
>> impulse and show no pattern sufficiently strong to place them in categories
>> 1 or 2.
> That's really your theory?  That people are altruistic or selfish or confused?  
> That limits people down to a single continuum between altruistic and selfish, 
> with the confused randomly jumping around in the middle.

Being altruistic is not the same as being genuinely altruistic, (though this is
a mere terminological point), because altruism is very often explained in
the literature as most often springing from self-interest.

> What about people who just follow the rules of society to smooth out social 
> interactions?  They're not just being nice to others for no personal gain.  
> But they're not just selfishly doing what they want either.

That is self-interested behavior, or at least partly motivated by self-interest,
since your clarifying statement says that it's not just to be nice (without
personal gain). Does it or does it not have a genuinely altruistic component?
That is the question pursued here by me, and in some cases the answer
will be yes and in some cases no.

> Nor are they 
> random and unpredictable.  Societal expectations probably explain most 
> people's behavior, with altruistic and selfish behaviors being rare exceptions 
> on the fringe.  And the confused would be a rare exception of unpredictability 
> for no reason, whereas those who follow society's rules are predictable.  So I 
> think most people would fall outside of your three categories.

I submit that these do lie on a continuum, but a three-cornered one. E.g., 
someone may be steadfastly genuinely altruistic in one entire kind of 
situation and steadfastly be self-interested, selfish, or "sociopathic" in
another entire kind, and quite consistently so.

The "moody" and "confused" categories arise from literally being in
different moods in the first case and from being unreflective
or illogical in the second.


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