What does it mean to be altruistic? Is it just about WHAT you give, WHO you give to or is it eventually about YOU- the giver?
Many have defined altruism differently with many sophisticated words, but I think the concept of altruism is summed up clearly in three words, ‘Giving without receiving’.
There are so many advertisements these days about the conditions of the poor especially in the third world countries. In fact some companies will demand that when one purchases their product they will have contributed to improving the life of the poor. Is there really anything wrong with such a pro social actions? On the surface no, but upon closer examination there really is. Consumers of the product obviously increase their purchase of the product because they know that the money they spend purchasing this product will help someone in need. Eventually, the company’s scheme is working to their advantage- they are increasing sales a lot more. In addition the Gift aid scheme also enables them to pay fewer taxes and they eventually make more profit. It is a win-win situation to them, but from the angle of altruism, I say it puts a bullet in the concept of altruism. Not only have these companies callously manoeuvred profit for themselves but they do so successfully, unnoticed and unhindered. Altruism is DEAD!
Then we come to the customers who purchase the goods, are they really being altruistic when they buy the company’s product? Social psychologists have for decades attempted to objectify this issue as best as possible to determine whether one is truly being altruistic. Eventually the whole essence of giving collapses into egoism. Individuals will give most of the time because they want to feel good about themselves, or because they know their names will be written in the company’s weekly magazine as the person who bought the most products. Whatever reason an individual will give for giving often collapses into selfish reasons. Whether producers or purchasers the motive is the same… Altruism is DEAD!
On a personal level however, when was the last time you helped someone -thinking of just solving that person’s problem… I guess it is difficult recalling. Often before we help, our minds tend to do a ‘cognitive algebra’ weighing the costs versus the benefits; we wander what we may gain when we help that person as opposed to the cost of doing so. It’s either we hope for a reciprocal treatment in the future or the immediate obtainment of a reward when we help. For example, it is a rainy day, supposing this is a male reader, you see a young woman at the bus stop struggling to stay under her umbrella which will soon give way. You do not know this woman, but 70% of the time I bet if she was beautiful the average man will assist her! Why? He might not want something immediately from her; it is just her phone number he is after! I tell you Altruism is DEAD!
When was the last time you volunteered your time or resources to assist an NGO knowing you will not get paid? I am sure your resumé was what you thought the most of when you agreed to partake in this activity. When last did you give someone money knowing he or she was unemployed; knowing you will not be paid back, I bet you only did it so everyone will call you generous! I tell you altruism is DEAD!
Do you watch Ellen Degeneres or Oprah and still think they are the nicest people in the world… don’t be silly, they only give a tiny fraction of what they earn and gain some more money by just giving! When was the last time you obtained free call credit on twitter and thought the celebrity was the nicest person in the world, I bet they only did it to get more followers on twitter… there is no such thing as free lunch… there never was! Altruism is DEAD!
As humans it is so easy to manifest our selfish animalistic side, it is only compassion that separate us from the rest of creation. Yet, we have to struggle constantly to show this beautiful aspect of ourselves. If you are still thinking by now that helping your relative in need is true altruism, I tell you again you are only supporting the ‘kin protection’ argument’ for altruism- that is egoism. I quiver at the thought of how life would have been in Hobbes’ state of nature, where man will do anything to protect himself and his kin.