For the Lack of a Toy

September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Of all the toys available, none is better designed than the owner himself. A large multipurpose plaything, its parts can be made to move in almost any direction. It comes completely assembled, and it makes a sound when you jump on it.”        -Stephen Baker

There could be several different outcomes if children could be genetically manipulated into having an “altruistic gene.” At the best possible outcome, the children would be slightly less disposed to consider themselves first, leading to more sharing of toys, both literally in childhood and figuratively in adulthood. These children would still be motivated for personal gain, but they would be more disposed to sharing their wealth for the betterment of the lives of others. However, there is also the possibility that the new altruistic gene would cause the child to have completely altruistic tendencies and no selfish tendencies. Often young children even learn by focusing completely on themselves, learning whether a certain thought or action has a positive or negative affect on their lives, and thus learning whether or not they should keep the thought or repeat the action. If children no longer have the ability to be selfish, it is possible they would not learn to take care of themselves, instead learning how to take care of others. If this is so, how will they have the instinct for survival?

For example, say there were two young children, Annie and Timmy. Annie was born with the altruistic gene. Timmy was not. Timmy grows up playing with his toys and Annie’s, because Annie felt the compulsion to share all her toys. Timmy is too young to understand how to share, so he takes Annie’s toys, and Annie does not learn to play with toys. As Timmy plays with all the toys, he learns different lessons from them, such as spatial manipulation and problem solving. Annie has no toys, so she cannot learn from them. Annie and Timmy grow older and go to school. Timmy finds many of the problems he is presented with understandable and is able to manipulate his perception of them until he finds a solution, just as he did with his toys. Annie, though still able to learn how to manipulate the problems, has a harder time learning how to do it because her brain is not yet conditioned. As Timmy and Annie grow older, Timmy continues to excel in school, as does Annie, though Annie must work much harder to understand everything, which frustrates her. In middle school, Annie’s altruistic gene again comes in to play when her schoolmates complain about hating their homework and how it makes them unhappy and “sick.” In order to increase the happiness of those around her, Annie feels compelled to help them with their homework. To some, Annie’s help is beneficial. Others see that Annie is easily manipulated and complain until Annie feels she must do their homework for them. Timmy, an average boy of great intelligence, also will gladly help his classmates understand their homework, but he never feels any compulsion to do their homework for them, as they will not learn that way. Time goes by, and a big test comes up. Annie and Timmy both do well, and are satisfied with their results. The people whose homework Annie did for them, however, fail. This test was very important and because they failed these people must drop out of school. Annie realizes that because these people dropped out of school so young they will have a very hard time in life, and feels responsible because she allowed them to scrape by without learning. Annie is devastated because she feels she failed at her internal drive to help people, and instead harmed them. Because there is no self in Annie’s world, other people are her entire world. While Timmy might have been able to say I’ll do better next time, Annie has no I. The purpose of her I is to offer her services to others. She cannot nurse her wounded ego, and she feels her world is falling apart. Desperate to feel better, she tries to make others happy in any way she can, and being in middle school, it is very difficult to make others who are often so self-centered happy. Annie’s happiness depends on the happiness of others. Annie is very unhappy, and therefore is not very healthy. Timmy, though perhaps saddened by the failure of his classmates, must continue to focus on his own survival and continues to learn. He is happy and healthy. As Annie continues through school, she is exposed to more and more of the hard topics of the world. She learns of the suffering of people in third world countries, of minorities, of the poor, of the sick. She feels overwhelmed by all the hurt in the world, and feels compelled to help them all. Timmy is also exposed to all of the suffering, and Timmy is moved to help as well. Timmy, however, choses to help because he has empathy. He can imagine himself in the situation and what he would and would not want, and therefore can understand what would and would not be helpful to the people he is trying to help. Annie only knows she must alleviate their suffering, and throws money at the problem, as money is the only toy Annie has to share. Timmy does research to figure out the most effective way of aiding the people, and his solution to the problem is much more effective, as he manipulated the problem until he found the best possible result, just as he did with his toys. Timmy is satisfied and happy with his action, finds pleasure in it, and continues to use his toys, his abilities, to manipulate the situation and continue finding new ways to solve the problems of those who suffer. Annie finds that her money is being wasted and that she is not really helping very many people, and is overwhelmed by how much “work” must be done. It is her world, her life, her meaning, to help these people, and she is not succeeding. She still struggles to see multiple perspectives on the issue, just as she did in school, and though she has the ability to figure it out, she becomes so unhappy and overwhelmed by her failures she can only see unhappiness all around her and does not have the strength to find a solution. Her life has lost meaning. She has no purpose in life. All for the lack of a toy.

This is only one possible (and somewhat exaggerated) outcome of giving children an altruistic gene. There is the possibility that the children would only become mildly more altruistic, rather than ultimately, as I described above. However, our genes determine who we are as an object in space and time. If our genetic code is manipulated from what “nature intended,” we are changing who we are. If we make an addition to nature, it follows that we make a large change in how the individual perceives and reacts to the world. How would we know definitively how extreme the change in perception would be? Only through human trial and error. Are we willing to have ultimately altruistic human guinea pigs?



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