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False altruism (from the site Quora)

in Religion - Spirituality - Philosophy Wed May 17, 2017 12:51 am
by Lizzy67 • 1.369 Posts

By Zach

Original source link :


Adding to this my personal note : quite many people claim to be altruists. However the truth is that most of time they're narcissists seeking attention, aiming to promote a company, an organization, a religion or whatever so. This is so true today with Internet social networking making even more some kind of altruism a duty or obligation. Authentic generosity is, in my opinion, spontaneous, nothing planned at all. It's nothing to be forced like a scam or huge donation progeam for a big cause.


The divide between altruism and egoism is tricky, even in situations that appear fully altruistic. Theories which explain the presence of altruism in a an evolutionary context generally indicate there is some kind of reciprocity involved (even if not for your benefit directly, somehow for that of your genes - i.e. if a bee sacrifices itself to save its hive, it might be dead but it increases the probability its genes are passed on because the rest of the hive survives and is fairly genetically similar). Similarly, plenty of philosophers will debate whether one can divide altruism and egoism, or what these mean.

There are also countless specific examples of self-interested acts in the guise of altruism. From my own personal decisions [as my motivations are the only ones I can really know] and I can immediately recall dozens... donating to a charity to attend a benefit, peer tutoring in 10th grade chemistry because there were a lot of cute girls in the class, giving away items when graduating college because I was too lazy to move them to the dumpster. I doubt any of these are particularly interesting, so to be more systematic I can think of at least a few empirical categories of false altruism. That is to say, reasons someone offers to give something up seemingly against their self-interest, while in fact there are other motivations in play.

1. Expectation of reciprocity. Giving to someone or some entity without the explicit discussion of receiving something in return, but nonetheless with the expectation of such return. This happens all the time. I think of the beginning of season 4 of The Wire when Marlo, a big-time drug dealer and murderer, offers all of the kids in the neighborhood money for school supplies. Seemingly there are no strings attached, but the smartest of the kids, Michael, refuses the money knowing there is an expectation of future information and loyalty. The best documented empirical example of this I know is alumni giving to universities. As Meer and Rosen document ( alumni give more when they have children and far more when those children approach the age of college admissions (with a clear drop-off after the admissions process). This is of course consistent with the expectation that donating will increase the chance their children are admitted.

2. Giving to signal. Making a large charitable donation can be a prime way to signal one's wealth - a theory of this is presented by Glazer and Konrad ( It's not socially acceptable to publicize your net-worth, but it is certainly acceptable to make a huge charitable donation.

I think another interesting example of the phenomenon is offering advice to demonstrate how knowledgeable/smart you are. This I think is particularly relevant to Quora. Why do we spend hours answering questions for others? I am sure that for most of us the genuine desire to help people with questions and spread information is among our primary motivators. Nonetheless, it is also an amazing way to signal your expertise in a public place. If you answer a ton of questions on technology, you are not only helping others in search of your knowledge, but you are also building your own online presence and making your domain expertise known.

3. Financial benefit. Empirically tax breaks have a substantial impact on giving rates - an interesting fact that evidences self-deception about this impact is on average people are twice as likely to say it impacts others like them than to say it impacts themselves in giving decisions (Clotfelter 1997 Other examples might include corporate giving as a marketing campaign (with the goal of eventual financial benefit) and more nefariously the use of tax-exempt non-profits as a cover for illegal activities.

4. Psychological benefits. In a very cool study, fMRIs of people as they donate money to charity shows that the ventral striatum (a reward center of the brain) is stimulated ( You could argue this is just a positive effect of altruism, but I thought it was worth including.

Some other areas might include a) mating purposes [I recall seeing a paper about how men are more prone to demonstrate heroism around women] but this is sort of a subset of signaling, b) networks... if all of your friends are doing something, you might as well, if only for social purposes. For example, attending a benefit your entire social circle will be at. c) familial decisions - most notably, the decision to have more children and then how to raise them. This is actually a huge area, deserving of its own discussion, but I am not qualified to give it a great treatment. In Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee's Poor Economics, they describe how families often view children as savings vehicles and that decisions on gender of children are often driven by parental needs. I.e. the poor often have more children as a means of building a safety net for retirement. More unfortunately, many female children are aborted or provided inferior health care in areas where male labor is more beneficial to the family. This is not necessarily 'altruism' but there are many cases when it is assumed the parents are acting in their children's interest, and they can portray it that way, but they are in fact not (the decision to have children being a big one).

Last edited Wed May 17, 2017 1:19 am | Scroll up
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