Sunday, October 21, 2012

On the Subject of Altruism

     I define altruism as the drive to save another, or decrease their suffering, through total non-accountance of self.  I thinkt hat the most common example of altruism (and most likely the only situation in which true altruism can be shown, if not proven) is a death situation.  Better said, a situation in which one dies for another without any though of self-preservation.  I've thought about this, and I think it would be very difficult to prove total altriuism beyond the shadow of any doubt.
     Perhaps an example is in order.  Were a parent to save their child by pushing them out of the road of an on-coming vehicle, only to be struck themselves, does this show true altruism? I'm sure that many would say yes - this parent thought nothing of their safety in order to save their own blood.  But if we search for the underlying reason for the action, could the answer not lay in evolution and genetics?  Perhaps a parent inherently knows that to save their child would preserve the family.  Perhaps the only way a parent will truly live on forever would be to ensure that their genetics live on in their offspring.  So, in this situation, there was a self-interested erason for saving the child!
     Even taking the child's parentage out of the equation does not prove true altruism.  Saving a child from someone else's family still protects the "collective" by seeing that another offspring survives.  Perhaps a better way to say that is that saving another human helps ensure the specie's survival as a whole.
     Taking this idea one step further, if we were to take same-species situations off the table, there are still bars to true altruistic sacrifice.  If anything - a dog, a paper clip, a glass of water - is important enough for a person to sacrifice all or part of themselves, a certain feeling of accomplishment oress" must crop up in the sacrificer's skull.  This feeling of being in the right place in order to save somethign that must be saved is enough to shake altruism.  One must first ask himself if the person is sacrificing in order to feel this sensation or if he is feeling it due to the sacrificing.  Obviously the first situation is more sacrifical dare-devilry than true altruism.  The latter is much different.
     There are also certain actions that are done to avoid negative outcomes or feelings.  While a feeling of "rightness" or accomplishment is positive and may push a person to sacrifice, avoiding a negative outcome is just as much of a motivator.  Not saving that child might bring on a punishment which would be unfortunate and possibly severe enough to abhor lack of sacrifice.
     Intent is the most important part of this.  Why was this happening?  Split reaction to a problem shows no intent, so it has nothing to do with altruism.  A truly altruistic situation is one in which the person has absolutely nothing to gain from an action - not even a feeling!  I think that intent is one of the most important part of psychotherapy.  If there is no intent, then the action or thought has no merit (unless one wants to mention the depth of the intent - overt or unconscious). 
     So . . . if one sacrifices themselves utterly without intent, they cannot be seen as truly altruistic because they are supporting something else.  But to be without intent, I argue that one cannot be truly altruistic either.  This situation yields only insanity or, as mentioned previously, reaction.

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