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

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Sep 14 22:27:11 UTC 2008

Harvey writes

> "Lee Corbin" <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote,
>> [Have I surmised your reasons for anything, or is it that I just keep 
>> asking? You
>> probably shouldn't surmise my reasons.]
> Just to answer your question, you are constantly surmising my reasons for 
> things:
> - You keep arguing that I am being altruistic when I claim I am not.

That may be true, but if so, it's because I want to pin down
the meanings of the words, not that I would dare to argue
that you were a certain way when you claimed you were not
(insofar as behavior outside this forum goes). 

> - You keep arguing that my answers are really lies because I am afraid to 
> admit the truth.

Find me anywhere where I have argued that. Please. I cannot believe
I would ever have done that. I have stated on any occasion that you
were telling lies? GO AHEAD. Try to find an instance.

Indeed, that you were "afraid" to admit the truth? How ever should
I know that? Perhaps you are projecting your own behavior when
you have the temerity to announce how what I *think*? (That's only
a question, though it does factually relate to your earlier statement:)

      >>> You only think I am having trouble because my conclusions
      >>> are different than yours.

> - You keep arguing that my explanations for my behavior aren't the real 
>    reasons I behave this way.

I certainly wasn't picking you out specially on this one. I claim
that indeed all of us are often unaware of the real reasons we
do things. I'm sorry if you took that personally, but I think that
if you read back what I wrote, it was not directed at you
personally, but only to people in general.

> - You keep arguing that I am afraid to let you lead the
>    conversation because I'm afraid you'll prove me wrong.

I have never, to my knowledge, announced that you were
afraid of anything. Please give me a concrete example where
I did so claim. I have made the general claim that there exist
some people who indeed are afraid of having to change 
their minds, and so are reluctant to answer multiple questions,
but there could be other causes as well of refusing to answer,
or complaining about questions. 

>>> You only think I am having trouble because my conclusions
>>> are different than yours.
>> No (and once again you dare have the balls to tell me what I am
>> thinking)---I was just responding to what you wrote!
> That's because when you response to what I wrote, you told me what you 
> thought was more accurate than what I thought.

Well, of *course* very, very often I believe that what I am thinking
is more accurate than what someone else is saying, but so far as
I know, I don't often assume I know what they're thinking. And
when I do, it's most often in the form of a question, or, especially
in the case of math or physics, what I hope is helpful guess on
my part that they'll appreciate.

> This "joke" is wearing thin, as you have repeatedly asserted
> that I [am] too cowardly to admit the truth.

Oh, please where, WHERE have I said anything at all about
anyone on this list being cowardly, least of all you! This *sounds*
to me a matter of your own invention. Cowardly? You? Hah, not
from anything I've ever seen! Please say where, please.

>> I ascribe "genuine altruism" to people whose behavior is exemplified by
>>      a. leaving a tip in restaurants even though the
>>          waiter mentioned that he's moving back to Mexico
>>          in less than an hour (and won't be talking to anyone
>>          about your less than generous behavior)
> It's not altruism to pay someone for a job well done.  If I got more service 
> than the minimum required, paying them a little extra money for the extra 
> service is not unreasonable.  Genuine altruism would be tipping servers at 
> other tables who didn't serve me.

Well, we should perhaps strive to avoid the word "altruism", since
its use seeds confusion. What I am saying is that in these special
circumstances it cannot be well argued that so paying would be
in the payer's self interest (modulo the conscience note again).

>>      b. letting someone out of a crowded parking lot in
>>          front of your own vehicle, although that only slows
>>          you down, makes it more likely that you'll not make
>>          it past the next yellow light, while all the time there is
>>          almost chance that the driver of that vehicle will ever
>>          or even would be able to hold it against you
> It's not altruism to drive cooperatively in traffic rather than 
> competitively.  It's safer for me to let him go first rather than
> for me to go first and hope he stops.

I was not talking about a car in motion. So very often when
the traffic is bumper to bumper, I see a car lined up to get out
of a parking lot, but being very restrained and evidently 
patient about it (I want to entirely avoid the case where 
he or she is posing any risk to one).

> Genuine altruism would be letting multiple cars go ahead
> of me instead of just one, or letting cars behind me go around.

Well, not in any way I can see, even on your usage of terms.
For one thing, to let *anyone* go at all is at least slightly 
unfair to the people behind one. In fact, if I believe that the
traffic will clear, I may refrain from even letting a single car
go ahead of me, because of all those lined up behind me.
(Not to mention the rare cases where I'm very upset or
extremely anxious to be somewhere on time.)

>>      d. would however, immediately cease a lot of their
>>          ("nice") behaviors like this were they to learn that they
>>          were in a simulation wherein they were the only conscious
>>          individual
> Nope.  Your examples all give real value to me for which I am willing to 
> "pay back" for.  I wouldn't tip bad service, or call a absentee parent who 
> was never there as I grew up.  Nor do I do these things to make the other 
> people happy.  The waiter earned a tip whether he's a human or a robot.
> The other cars are still dangerous to me, whether they are driven by
> humans or simulations.  I owe my parents a lot, whether they are humans
> or just simulations.

Well, as I indicated above, perhaps we are not talking about the same
traffic situation. Since it was I who brought it up, now hear this: I refer
to the situation described above wherein no other car is threatening one.

More importantly, I do not believe that you grok my meaning of 
"simulation". I will explain again, by a hypothetical. You find out
that not only your parents, but everyone else in the world is nothing
more than a puppet manipulated by a vast and cool and unsympathetic
intelligence that is to us as we are to amoeba, and whose motives are
completely unknown, except that you know that it is not "keeping
score" on your behavior for some later purpose. In this situation,
do you really think it makes sense to "pay back" people who have
been nice to you (when there is utterly no possibility of future 
encounters with them where the simulation will hold a grudge)? Before
you answer, let me make that even clearer if I can, (so that we avoid
needless confusion):

Namely, you find that you are the only conscious entity in the entire
scenario, (the vast and cool and unsympathetic intelligence perhaps
not even being conscious), and that these utterly lifeless automatons
are in no way capable of any experience or can in any way be
conscious of whether or not you have defected, and *most important*
of all, will not act any differently towards you in the future because
of your defection (in these particular cases I have in mind). Thus,
hopefully, closing the last loophole (I should think) of any of your
(one's) self-interest being at stake.

> These examples are simply poor examples of "genuine altruism" because they 
> all involve me getting benefits.  Why don't you come up with examples of 
> "genuine altruism" where I don't get anything back?  Such as:
> - Giving away money to strangers just to make them happy?

Good example. Those who contribute anonymously to charity (and,
very subtly, honestly and truly never intend to tell a soul about it),
I would label the way you do. But since the word "altruist" is
proving problematic, we can agree that in this case one would
be acting without self-interest.

> - Doing odd jobs for strangers?

Could also be a good case. I believe that there are indeed people
who do this, and would do it entirely anonymously if given the
right opportunity---it's what benefits accrue to *others* that
separates these worthies from the likes of some of us.

> - Carrying bags of groceries for the person behind me at the store?
> - Waiting until last to get on the bus?
> - Giving blood?
> - Driving people to the polls to vote?

I like the last two, provided that one would maintain his or
her anonymity in these cases, else selfish motives could be
working deeply but perhaps unnoticeably.

>> Well, then, you may wish to describe your behavior before you got
>> very far along on the road towards fame and fortune. From what you write, 
>> yes, indeed, it is now self-interested of you to engage in these 
>> behaviors, even if there is also (evidently unbeknownst to you) a
>> component of genuine altruism. You'll know if you are able to accurately
>> recall how it was for you many, many years ago.
> No, I haven't changed.  I always had the hubris to assume that I would be 
> very successful in life.  I was intelligent, creative, did well in school, 
> and accomplished many things growing up.  I always knew I could make it big 
> on my own, and never felt that I needed to take from other people to get 
> ahead, even if I could get away with it.
> Why cheat at a sport you are good at?  Why cheat at a game are winning?
> Why fake work that you can do easily?  Why steal or skimp for money you can 
> easily earn?  Why try to "secretly get away with something" that you don't 
> need to do anyway?

Yes, right. I'm not really talking about cases like that. Even the
likes of Willie Sutton would steal only money, and then use it to
buy goods instead of just stealing them too. 

> Nobody who was successful or expected to be successful would bother with 
> this penny-ante stuff to get ahead.  You keep asking "why not cheat?"  But 
> I'm asking "why bother?"

Well, granting the possibility that there are no people who cheat
for the thrill of it, or are so greedy that they refrain from stealing
when they already have amassed a great fortune, I'm really talking
about those who could use the money, or the high scores, or some
other benefit, even if it harms others, and have no problem executing
such a plan provided that they're convinced they'll never be caught
or found out. These I call the "only self-interested", "the truly selfish"
and actually go so far (at odds with clinical practice, evidently) of
claiming that they're so far gone from altruism that they're really


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