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

Harvey Newstrom mail at harveynewstrom.com
Sun Aug 31 01:59:39 UTC 2008

On Saturday 30 August 2008 16:26:44 Lee Corbin wrote:
> if it gives you a warm glow to anonymously help someone you
> don't know on the other side of the world, this "warm glow"
> is *not* to be counted as self-interest.

Agreed!  I've always hated this argument that feeling good about helping 
others was somehow selfish and bad, and only people who didn't like helping 
others were virtuous.  It seems backwards.  Doing good is desired, but 
actually enjoying doing good would be so much more efficient.

>       (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.  And I'm happy to do it.

>        (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?  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.

> 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.

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.  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.

Harvey Newstrom <www.HarveyNewstrom.com>

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