Altruism Does Not Exist

Repost from the old site. The other day I brought up this theme to three people. Two left the room, one with a hurt look on her face, the other slamming down a book on the table and shouting. That left one male, and I succeeded in slowly pissing him off over the next hour or two. I talked to a female friend about this theme tonight and she stormed off too, saying she had to go to sleep. I’m off to an excellent start, but I’ve only pissed off four people. That’s a piss-poor showing, but the theme shows great promise as a provocation. This blog has 800 readers a day, and if I can toss this theme out there and piss off even a small number of them, I can sleep well tonight. Here is my notion: altruism simply does not exist. Along the same lines, everyone uses everyone. If you don’t like the term “using”, we may substitute the term “utilizing”. I really love this theme, because people are always fretting about being used. Suppose you were a millionaire – all your friends would be using you, including those armies of horny and beautiful women besieging your abode. The horror, the horror. I’m 50, and I still look at young women. I’d date one if I could, but 9 Although this desire is as old as modern man, and probably even our ape-like ancestors, this drives modern US women insane. “Any young woman would just be using you!” They huff. Indeed. Use me every day and sometimes at night and then get up and use me some more. I’ll cry all the way to my grave. To this nonsense, I usually say nonchalantly, “Everyone uses everyone,” with a shrug. This really makes most Americans furious, because they are caught up in the ludicrous delusion that they are altruists. We vote Republican, marry for money, ruthlessly climb the corporate ladder, frantically purchase status symbols to look down on the Joneses, yet we are a nation of Mother Theresas and Father Terrances. Uh huh. What is most amusing about this is that you tell most anyone from another country that everyone uses everyone and they just laugh and say of course. You tell them that middle aged men ogle young women they can’t get unless they are rich, and they laugh, acknowledging that males are genetically similar to dogs and this cannot be changed. American women are funny. Feminism acknowledges that men are dogs, but instead of seeing it as an inevitable genetic heritage probably from as far back Homo Erectus, they see it as a pathology, a deviance, a sickness to be cured. Men who act like normal dog-men are losers, pathetic, sickos and perverts. Usually there are rejoinders that women do not act like men, that is, a 50 year old women has no need for a boy toy, and therefore men are twisted. Women don’t need boy toys because their genes tell them that. Men ogle unattainable daughter types, obeying the imperatives of their genes. Back to the theme. Yes, everyone uses everyone. Hence, manipulation is no big deal in my book, as long as the manipulator is friendly enough. I would seriously love to be callously used by a nubile, neurotic 20 year old seeking a father figure who cares nothing about me. I long to be used as a high salary employee but a soulless corporation would as soon throw me to the curb when I am am used up and done. Give me a cool million so I can be surrounded by fair weather friends who will leave me the minute the money spout dries. In this thinking, there is a kind of liberation. One no longer frets about “true friends”. What the Hell are those anyway? If you are over 30 and have one “true friend” who is not related to you, consider yourself lucky. Friends are good, true or “non-true”, as long as they are domesticated and generally friendly, or at least put on a good show of it. One no longer worries about “being used”. If the users fill my time and space and keep me company and are pleasant, it’s all good. There is a difference between utilization and use. We can say use is callous, even unfriendly, and grossly manipulative. It might not feel good. We all utilize. We utilize objects and we utilize others. We utilize others for company, conversation, love, friendship, food, shelter, utilities, rides, drugs and booze, phones, tunes, TV shows and computer time, sex and love, for this, that and everything. We utilize our pets and they utilize us. Even in love, we utilize each other to love and be loved. We do not enter into relationships without needs and wants. To fulfill those needs and wants, we utilize others in the form of relationships. If you have no needs and wants and do not utilize others, you are on a level with a rock on the ground. Rocks neither need nor want, hence they neither utilize nor use other things. Along the same lines, almost all of our actions are driven by selfishness and narcissism at least in part. Hence, altruism is a lie. We are friendly to be nice, to keep relationships going smoothly, and as part of our morals. I say that nice people are also motivated in part by selfishness. They are nice to give themselves “nice person” points to feed their egos. Even the most selfless acts have a selfish aspect. Your daughter calls you in the middle of the night and you drive 50 miles to pick her up when her car stalls, then spend the night at her place. It’s all a drag, and 9 Even acts that are totally degrading are in part self-motivated. A person crawls on hands and knees through the rain and mud for two hours. Why? In part, to get selfish “masochism points” that their ego desires. Totally incomprehensible behaviors of crazy people are some of the most selfish of all: the crazy person is acting totally based on their own desires, and other humans are usually not involved at all. A man opens fire on strangers, then kills himself. Sheer selfishness. He projected his self-hatred onto others and stole their lives from them in utter contempt for their rights. And one could hardly argue for a more selfish act than suicide, though the benefits to the person are usually dubious. The most selfless act of all? A mother throws herself in front of gunfire to save her children’s lives. As she always told them, “I would die for you!” She goes down in a hail and the kids live. 9 There is a liberation here too. Americans, unlike Third Worlders, are hung up on the idea of selfishness. We have a selfish economic system and everyone knows our society is outrageously selfish, but we all insist that we are not selfish ourselves. Indeed, selfishness is the worst thing of all. No American is selfish, and if this is so, then narcissism, selfishness’ outlier, cannot exist either. When we step back and realize that we are all selfish and we are all narcissists, and pathology is only a matter of degrees of such, we are liberated. Sure we are selfish, sure we are narcissistic, but just not too much. And we are free to enjoy ourselves with less guilt. There is a glass of red wine by my side as I type this. There is no need for me to drink it, but I will. I will utilize the glass to move the wine from the container to my body as I utilize others in my relationships. I am not drinking this wine for anyone else; it is for me and me alone. This glass of wine is a parable of our lives, admit it or not. Interesting but intense discussion along these same lines at the very difficult but interesting blog Overcoming Bias. This post prompted a post at the always interesting Entitled to an Opinion blog.

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3 thoughts on “Altruism Does Not Exist”

  1. I think altruism deniers should be killed. I would kill you myself, just to do the world a favor, but I’m afraid that one (or both) of us might enjoy it!
    Altruism is behavior that isn’t, or doesn’t seem to be, at all selfish by normal definition. Just because someone “gets something” from acting altruistically doesn’t make the behavior selfish or self-interested.
    Your definition of non-altruistic behavior is too broad- kind of like people who say everyone is an alcoholic (if you’re not, then why don’t you quit?)even if you can’t drink, or drink only once a year.
    You’re geting close to strict Utilitarian theory here- creature comforts, humans as just rational animals, etc. Explains a lot , but doesn’t explain all human behavior.
    Humans do alot of stuff that they get no enjoyment from, not even of the perverse variety. Self-destructive and self-defeating behavior that gives no reward is not really acting in one’s own interest, or being selfish.

    1. Self-Destructive and self-defeating behavior gives reward because you do it for a reason.
      The presence of a reason means that you had a motive. With a motive comes a want. With the completion of a want you gain reward. Since completing wants are defined by the author as benefits, then logically according to him, altruism indeed cannot exist. The author actually uses a point system to show the accomplishments of our wants, but they are basically wants all the same.
      I propose an alternative definition of altruism; one that is typically used by the world, but in the author’s words.
      Altruism: Gaining altruism points.
      This is what the world believes altruism is. The desire to do something that is more beneficial to somebody else, although still one’s own desire, is what the world sees as altruistic.
      Desires are inherently beneficial to ourselves. But a certain kind of desire is deemed altruistic by the world.

  2. Robert, if, according to your article, a mother throwing herself into a hail of bullets to save her children is an act that is 99 percent altruistic, does not that mean you DO believe altruism exists? Life is complex, and trying to find singular motivating factors for human actions can be problematic. Does altruism exist independently of other human traits? Probably not, but can any human behavior actually exist in a bubble? Just because altruism most likely never exists without at least a smidgen of self-interest or other intent does not mean it has no existential reality. It just means that altruism is but one of many constituents that comprise the human experience, albeit a small one.

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