Interesting read: Chimpanzees share humans’ unselfish genes
I had barely put aside my lamentation on altruism: ALAS, when I was clued on to this revelation by a LiveScience blog.com blog alert in my mailbox. This article on the Australian seems all warm-fuzzy – Altruism is alive and well.
Or is it?
The LiveScience blog.com blog entry contains the epilogue for this altruism discovery. After reading the LiveScience blog.com entry (appended), life as we know may never be the same again. Excuse me while I scrunitise my existence as a cat minion.
Author Robert Roy Britt
Americans have big hearts. They give and give.
Last year, in fact, they gave 4.2 percent more than the previous year. Charitable donations soared to $295.02 billion, the third straight record year.
True, a good chunk of this money was given by corporations trying to look good and by people who won’t miss it, like Warren Buffet ($1.9 billion). But 75.6 percent of the total was donated by individuals. And 65 percent of this individual giving “comes from homes with less than $100,000 in annual income,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
So is charitable giving truly altruistic, as many givers would like to believe? (Altruisim: unselfish concern for or the devotion to the welfare of others.)
Some who give in big ways no doubt enjoy the warm and fuzzy press they receive and their increased status in the eyes of others. In short, they gain, so their giving is not truly altruistic. While individuals giving $100 here and there don’t enjoy much public adoration for their deeds, they can derive emotional benefit simply because the act of giving makes them feel good. If they tell a friend or loved one, the increased status thing kicks in.
So by definition most charitable giving is not altruistic unless one sees altruism as having degrees rather than being an absolute principle.
Meanwhile, a new study out today suggests altruism (or whatever it is) is as old as humanity and even older. Chimpanzees, our close relatives on the primate family tree, have been known to exhibit altruistic behavior in lab settings. In the new research, chimps were found to help other chimps (as well as humans) retrieve something that was out of reach so long as the other chimp (or human) demonstrated a desire to have the object. The altruistic chimp had to expend some energy to help and got nothing in return.
In the wild, however, altruism among chimps is rarely noted. And a hungry chimp tends not to help another but rather feed itself with little or no altruistic effort. Could be, researchers say, that “one difference between humans and chimps might be the ability to read the intentions of others and discriminate whether help is needed or not.”
Worth noting, however, that charitable giving by humans tends to go up or down depending on how well-off people are. The increase this year, the Journal reports, “partly reflects the growing number of high-net-worth households.”
No surprise there. But that means that for humans, as with chimps, altruism is based on whether their own needs are first met, which is anything but unselfish.
This entry was posted on Monday, June 25th, 2007 at 9:58 am and is filed under Uncategorized, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.