From Darwin to Eternity

Evolutionary moral psychology.

Morality Should Manage Human Competitiveness, Not Ignore It

Many evolution-minded moral philosophers have implored us to maximize the happiness of others, and to suppress our own competitiveness. But is this approach to morality really the best way forward? Read More

Age old Topic and always current

Would be interesting to see how wisdom traditions (with usually a practical and experiential approach rather than an intellectual one)
would inform this topic.

Tibetan Buddhism (being one of these traditions) could provide much interesting insight.

What we need is balance . . .

. . . between self interest and altruism.

I'd write a book about it (, if I could ever find a publisher--or a coauthor who has a publisher.

Wise Selfishness

Carolyn, I don't think a balance is needed. I think we need to learn the difference between wise-selfishness and unwise-selfishness. In a contest between a greed-motivated entrepreneur and an altruistically motivated entrepreneur, the greedy one will lose by putting his interests ahead of his customers. Wise-selfishness is best expressed by the aphorism: We serve ourselves best by serving others

I don't care whether we call it balance . . .

. . . or wise-selfishness. What I care about is countering the unremitting campaign to justify UNwise selfishness, and de-legitimize altruism, that's been going on for the last 50-plus years. -

I think the difference between us is more than about terms.

I read your linked article earlier. I thought you made a clear and concise statement of the problem. I also agree that your goal of countering the Greed message is a worthy one. However, I think you should consider that this difference we have in the terms we use isn't just a quibble on my part.

As I see it, the battle, Greed v. Altruism, has been going on for centuries and altruism is winning it. Well into the 1800s, Greedy Management used slaves and child labor. Up until the first half of the last century, Greedy Management hired thugs to kill and maim strikers who wanted fair wages. In my other post, I wrote of the way Japan's car makers won their competition which opened the eyes of management world wide who began putting the customer first and building better products.

I don't believe there will be a balance. Altruism will win the competition by a knockout. It's just a matter of time.

Well, the scenario you present, . . .

. . . of altruistic behavior taking over altogether, isn't a good thing, I believe.

The greed vs. altruism battle has been swinging back and forth, at least for the last 150 years, and it's caused a whole lotta suffering. That's why I call for balance.

This is from the book ( I can't find a publisher for:

"People who live in tribes do not have a 'greed is good' mentality. In a tribal environment selfishness is discouraged, while generosity is admired and rewarded. One did not become a chief simply by being the strongest. An aspirant for chiefdom had to build coalitions of supporters, be willing to listen to the wisdom of the elders, and respect the natural world. He was most likely to become and remain chief if he was known as a brave hunter and warrior, but also as a fair and generous person.[6]

"Living in groups actually predates our species, if we can assume that the common ancestors of humans, apes, and monkeys lived in the same kinds of troops our simian relatives live in to this day. Evolutionary biologists are finding that social skills, including altruism, honor, and even a sense of fairness and justice are tendencies found in the apes, our closest relatives. (See Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Frans de Waal.) Perhaps we can also assume, then, that these are traits we and the apes have inherited from a common ancestor.

"If these scientists are correct, we humans are born with a built-in conflict. As even the earliest philosophers understood, we are torn between our self-interest and our desire to help others. Plato called it the animal-human and the human-divine. Which of us has not felt the internal struggle between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? But the struggle need not be destructive. As psychoanalyst Rollo May has said, 'The dialectical poles of self-caring and love for the other fructify and strengthen each other. Fortunately, this paradox can neither be escaped nor solved, but must be lived with.'[7]

"Those who say that giving in to selfishness is part of the natural order sound very much like those who tried to justify the enslavement of Africans and the repression of women using the same excuse...

"The true natural order is that we are both selfish and altruistic, and we must acknowledge both parts of our nature, or pay the price. Further quoting Levine,

"'If selfish interests are denied for too long, there is discontent due to a feeling of being unjustly treated; if empathic interests are denied for too long, there is discontent due to guilt. In either case, the executive function of prefrontal cortex [located in the new mammalian brain and] (mediator between all "three brains") is required to restore balance, generating the reciprocity required for effective social and economic structures.'[9]

"Since we cannot for long deny either side of our nature, then it follows at the societal level that neither communism nor laissez-faire capitalism can serve us well in the long term. Communism, which in its ideal form is pure altruism, does not work because it ignores self-interest and encourages freeloading. Laissez-faire capitalism, which in its essence is pure individual self-interest, does not work because it promotes feelings of guilt in those who accumulate wealth—and even more important, it goes against the self-interest of the many by encouraging a dog-eat-dog world where only the unscrupulous get to the top."

Reply to Carolyn

Carolyn wrote: Well, the scenario you present, of altruistic behavior taking over altogether, isn't a good thing, I believe.

When I read the above, I expected you to give me reasons why the scenario I presented would not be a good thing. Instead, you copied and pasted from your website (which, as I wrote earlier, I had already read). When you wrote your article, you had never considered my hypothesis as a possibility; and it seems that you aren't interested in doing so now.

That's fine. No problem.

I wonder how this is possible

... to get moral code to manage the competition.

- Competitiveness is consistent across any level - self-centered either at "me" or "my family" or "my group" or "my community" or "my state" or "my country" - well I would go on but we are not powerful (or challenged enough) yet to say "my world/globe". There is always this common factor "I or My" on all of these.

- Whereas Morality is relative to favor any given situation - the focus is on others. The problem is: "others" is undefined and takes shape as the situation favors - there is not necessarily a common factor. Good in the eyes of one group at one place at one situation is totally bad in the eyes of another group, place and situation.

I think only laws (local or global) can manage human competition.

I will look forward for your future posts.

Morality always has been managing competition, Michael

When Japan's car makers took W. Edwards Deming's advice on quality control, they were able to offer better value to the customer than their American competitors who were building obsolescence into their products. Japan's success caused widespread change in the manufacture of all products.

When business managers put the customer first, and produce the best value, they will win the competition. This is just one example of the wisdom in "We serve ourselves best when we serve others." We might call this "wise selfishness."



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Michael Price, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the psychology department at Brunel University, West London. He is also the co-director at the Centre for Culture and Evolutionary Psychology.


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