Altruism: That’s just bad economics

September 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

How many decisions do people make everyday?  How many are conscious?  Unconscious?  While the jury is still out trying to “average” the number of decisions one makes in a day, the number is staggeringly high.  For, example, with each key I punch by moving my finger to type this blog post, I make a decision.  With each break in typing to think, I make a decision.  There are several more decisions that divide these to but go unnoticed on a macroscopic level.  But what spurs me to make each decision?  In economic terms, it’s the marginal utility of each action.  In other words, it’s the amount of satisfaction I stand to gain from following through with my next decision.  It’s the benefit I can receive.  And like most decisions are difficult to name, so too are the more intangible benefits.  But I would argue that every single decision is made for self-benefit in some way.  In seemingly selfless actions, like donating money, I stand to gain satisfaction and that tingly feeling that you’ve done something good.  I briefly researched “altruistic actions,” and found articles entitled “Taiwanese pursue happiness through altruistic actions,” and “Altruism in Action: Japanese Surfer Hero Rescues His Wife, Mother and Others.”  In the first, the Taiwanese gain happiness.  In the second, the pain he stands to suffer if he does not save his family, many may argue, is incentive enough to risk his life.  Thus, I problematize the existence of fully self-less, or altruistic, actions and very strongly oppose the repercussions of implementing altruism-inducing genes.

At its most basic level, altruism would upset the balance of incentives in the world.  By no means do I oppose the development of a more “self-less world,” but I feel as though altruism does not exist for a reason, it does not make sense.  To implement a genetic code that upsets the very nature of human development would have vast consequences.  While ideally it would lead to a world in which everyone helps one another, to tamper with the very nature of decision-making, the core of societal development would have innumerable external consequences.  Especially in a world already established with non-altruistic people.  How would these new gene-bearers fair against those that do not make self-less actions.  After all, they are still seeking for their satisfaction in life.

But I question you all, if one is misinformed and unintentionally causes the benefit of another with nothing to gain, is that altruism?  If a dollar bill falls from my pocket without my knowledge and one who needs it finds it, is that altruism?  I raise this question, because my argument against this gene emerges from a definitional conflict with reality.  Altruism does not logically make sense, but perhaps it falls under one of the many illogicalities of the world we live in.  And if it does, the consequences of such actions on a biological level are still questionable.

-Kevin M.



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