Tuesday, September 12, 2006

False Construct of the Day: Sacrificial Altruism

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Altruism: The belief that the quality of doing good is proportional to the amount of pain suffered by the good-doer.

It seems to me this belief is described best as the existence of "good" as a giant doughnut. Some of us have large pieces of doughnut, others have very little. In order to do good, one must sacrifice part of his doughnut for someone else. In fact, doughnuts can be made from flour, water, yeast and fat. Good, like doughnuts, is made from other things, like time, energy, money and desire. If this Good is truly Good, it benefits the do-gooder by fulfilling his Values.

You will find, throughout the web, that mother-child relationships, in human and animals are sacrificial and altruistic. Do we find most mothers claiming that giving all to their child does them harm? Are their children not among their highest values?

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Does it not occur to anyone the evolutionary benefits of this so-called "sacrifice?" Does it not encourage a harmful, sexist stereotype that mothers, in order to be good, should be constant sufferers? Does it not propagate the harmful myth that suffering should be sought after, and admired? Can we not do away with the teachings of Christianity, in a secular world?

Who performs an act he considers good that goes against his values? That would certainly be a sacrifice. Does a devout fundamentalist Roman Catholic supply condomns at bathhouses? Yes, that would almost seem to be a sacrificial, altruistic act. Yet, it is a good act, and it would certainly benefit the doer, even if he disagrees with it, by protecting his community, and probably his loved ones from certain sexually transmitted diseases.

The point I'd like most for people to take away from this is that if the action is really good, then it stands to reason it should benefit the one performing the good act. Instead of judging good by the suffering in the work, which is irrational and propagates this false construct, we judge values by their rationality, and acts by their benefit, and opportunity costs. Morality is in our brains and in our hands.


breakerslion said...

"Does it not encourage a harmful, sexist stereotype that mothers, in order to be good, should be constant sufferers?"

It is a harmful stereotype, whether it is sexist or not. It is the perpetuation of guilt, and we know who benefits from that. When a parent hurls the "all I've sacrificed..." accusation at a child, what purpose is that trying to serve? Should not said parent take pride in their work, regardless of the outcome that was not fully in their control anyway?

An Italian-American friend of mine handles the classic moaning from her mom in this way: "Martyr/victim. Martyr/victim. You can't be both, pick one!" To go a step farther, as you have, why should one feel like either one, except for the example set by one's parents and reinforced by the cultural meme?

Hellbound Alleee said...

Exact. I do say it is sexist, in that the gender of the person is connected to the belief. Mothers are expected to sacrifice their bodies, for their children and their husbands. Men are expected to sacrifice their bodies as well, in hard labour, and that comes directly from genesis. Yes, both are expected to sacrifice, but mothers in particular are compared to the martyr figures. I can't help but gag when I think of the children's book, "The Giving Tree," much beloved by ex-children. The tree is definitely a mother.

However, genesis says nothing about having children to benefit the family. Why do they have children in the first place? To better mankind? I think not.

Sheldon said...

IF you are an evolutionary psychologist, the sacrifice of the mother, or the father is not a sacrifice in evolutionary terms. It is just what you need to do to get your genes into the next generation. And that is the purpose of it all. That is IF you are an evolutionary psychologist.

D.R.M. said...
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D.R.M. said...

“Altruism: The belief that the quality of doing good is proportional to the amount of pain suffered by the good-doer.”

This is clearly a straw man argument. Inflicting pain onto yourself isn’t altruism. Altruism specifically refers to putting the needs or, sometimes, the interests of others above your own. It specifically pertains to the consequences a given action will have on others.

And, using this egoist value theory, if a parent didn’t value their child would they be justified in not feeding the child?