can we evolve altruism?

in my last post about altruism, i ended on the idea of evolving altruism, but i didn’t really map out, logically, how or why that could happen. hopefully this connects a few more dots.

one point i didn’t make in that post was one problem i see with altruism that i’ve learned from working in nonprofits. when there is no excess, altruistic giving evaporates. because altruistic gifts theoretically have no value to the giver, when times get hard, people stop doing things that aren’t valuable to them.

so this leads to my conversation with last week with kate talking about altruism and self-interest. where we landed, which is where i almost always land, is that we are all connected and the more we can surface that reality, the better off we all will be.

now, some people would say that selfishness is what makes collective systems break. in fact, capitalism is based on the idea that people are rational actors and systems need to be designed to optimize choices of individuals to create the most good. selfishness is what is believed to make all of nash’s theory irrelevant (if cooperation allows all parties to be better off, why do people not cooperate? selfishness - see the prisoner’s dilemma).

self-interest will likely forever be part of humanity. and it’s not even really a bad thing (i don’t think). so the trick is to figure out how to make self-interest good for the collective.

and i think the way to do that is to make it obvious that what’s good for self is also good for society. in reality, this is pretty obvious if one took a moment to think about how the ecosystem and planet works. however, we’ve got lots of (mostly constructed and systemic) barriers to that realization.

so how do we expand/evolve self-interest so that people’s acting in their own interest is also good for the well-being of others (and the planet)?

who knows, but we should figure it out. and probably soon.

ps - although i don’t know the answer, i like rory sutherland’s approach to problem-solving. i’ll be exploring along that pathway if anyone wants to join me…

pps - the idea that what’s good for others is also good for you is basically what every major religion has been preaching for forever. #thereisnothingnewunderthesun