Egoistic Altruism - a selfish argument for making the world a better place

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I haven’t seen the video yet but i presume they touch on The Selfish Gene and related works?

Despite the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ the ultimate criterion which determines whether [a gene] G will spread is not whether the behavior is to the benefit of the behaver, but whether it is to the benefit of the gene G …With altruism this will happen only if the affected individual is a relative of the altruist, therefore having an increased chance of carrying the gene.

— W. D. Hamilton, The Evolution of Altruistic Behavior, pp. 354–355


Unfortunately, a non-trivial fraction of people want something more than to have nice things, for others to not. That is to say that they derive their sense of self-worth mainly from having more than others.


I wish more privileged people were smart enough to choose this selfish argument over the typical conservative/Libertarian version of “I’ve got mine, Jack.”


Is there a name for this way of thinking?

The Grand Old Party.


I watched it and it’s hard to argue against it. Over time I think it is clear that elevating the lowest only helps everyone else. Instead of trickle down, I think hand up or help up is a better idea. I am a bit surprised the rich don’t advocate for this more, as the richerer the base gets, the more they can afford your products, the more money they make as well. I think that our base of poor and how we treat them is the core difference the US has compared to most of Europe.

Interestingly, the social programs put forth by Otto von Bismark (which was more of an appeasement of the underclass to prevent a violent revolt like had happened elsewhere in Europe) he branded it “Practical Christianity”.



I don’t know, looks pretty bleak to me.

Look up enlightened self interest. For me it boils down to the fact that being helpful feels good and in the end is what gives meaning to life.

But from an economic perspective I don’t think it is a winning argument.

The formulation that hits home for me is not that we want more than others but rather:

Nobody wants a worse deal than the next guy.

That rather than greed is the root of most inequality and I am a part of it.

The mechanism/behavior for altruism and self-sacrifice for the good of the group (and even across species) exists in nature. Clearly there’s a good incentive that it can be seen among many different animals, that we don’t fully understand the motivation and benefits is besides the point.


So everyone gets more points in the prisoner’s dilemma if we all cooperate every time?

But, wait, I get more points right this moment if I defect just this once?

I don’t think this kind of argument really works out. There’s an old story of the world’s only altruistic man in a life craft with one of the world’s millions of selfish people with only enough food for one. If the altruistic man takes the food for himself and lives then he’ll be able to help many others but if he lets the selfish man live then no one gets helped. So he takes the food for himself, right?

When examined in a philosophy classroom selfishness and altruism end up looking like the same thing. But in reality we have one person who puts the group lunch on their credit card and leaves a bad tip, collecting everyone else’s cash and effectively getting their meal for free; and we have another person who volunteers to cook meals at the homeless shelter. No one is confused about which one is a selfish jerk and which one is kind and giving.

Wanting some things for yourself is pretty universal and is presumably pretty healthy. Being selfish and egotistical is a classic character flaw that you can’t spin into a good thing by pretending that selfish people actually would be good if only they did selfishness right.


Clearly so. Jonathan Haidt talks a lot about this in book ‘righteous mind’. I think the reason I feel good helping others is mostly this evolutionary instinct. And this hardwiring shapes much of my morality. The painful consequence is that morals aren’t actually about maximizing good as much as survival of the fittest. And not everyone is the fittest

Not sure this applies quite as neatly as we’ve come to expect from Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory. There are behaviors that benefit older, sick, and injured individuals from a group of animals. There are also evolutionary developments that occur at a clear disadvantage of the group or at no real advantage.

Much can be said on the topic, i just have a tangential awareness that the “fitness” concept as we know it isn’t quite right.


“Survival of the fittest” just means “the things that are most likely to exist are those things that have the traits that made them mostly likely to continue to exist”.

If morality is a trait that makes us more likely to continue to exist that doesn’t really debase it or make it just about “survival of the fittest” it means it’s a good idea.


You left off the end that forms a corollary that I’ve always found frustrating and perplexing “…even if your life is by all objective measures completely fine”.


Indeed. The Virtue of Selfishness [Ayn Rand]. Which is why I hold this in very low regard.


Indeed. Somehow I keep thinking we’re missing some part of the equation here. I see every part of this video supporting the human teleological meme that “WE must get better off”. I can’t help but think that not only should we be helping ourselves (humans) but every other resource and their needs. Unfortunately this adds a very important level of complexity that, frankly, we’re not even close to living up to. Yes we’ve helped grow the population to 8 or even 10 billion; but we should be helping every fish stock to grow accordingly to support the balance of our (and why just our?) needs. Creating fixed support areas for wildlife is a good step but it is also launching help at a moving target while we undermine those areas with serious climate change. Are we really imagining that all of this will continue at this rate for the next 75 years? 400 years?

If we assume ‘it’s all for us’ then, fine! Yay! We’ve got lots more humans and cities (smart cities, of course, here and there but the majority will be sprawl) and lotsa rockets blasting off (and their pollution) for research and itty bitty drones (with their surveilance side jobs) to replace the bees the rocket fuel kills off. I doubt nature could or would create a better inter-disciplinary fail plan.

The planet had a pretty good system for a few billion years. Apparently we’re trying our own out now. Will we figure out a way to support us and it? Someone said that language was a virus from outer space once. Maybe but it is the one primordial technology we can point to for the last 100,000 years. Between that and our social/species-centric selfishness it sure has created a lot of concrete and asphalt tumors. It ain’t looking good for our host.

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Fun fact: Darwin did not coin that phrase; one of his fans did.
But it became so popular that Darwin included it in later editions of The Origin of Species, although it is somewhat of an oversimplification that lends itself conveniently easy to demagoguery.

Edit to add: “the fittest” survive because they fit best into a given ecological niche.


I had a strong feeling that wrong when i wrote it but i was too lazy to really source who actually said it. Yay laziness :stuck_out_tongue: I do appreciate you bringing it up though.

Well, I’m too lazy right now to look up who actually coined the phrase…
IIRC an eminent journalist of the time.