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Is Altruism the root of all evil?

ClassicRobert
Posts: 2,487
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11/2/2013 10:32:01 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
No.
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Magic8000
Posts: 975
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11/2/2013 12:18:33 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Altruism is defined as "the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others."

Saying it's the root of all evil seems analytically false. I'd be like saying you're a meat eating herbivore.
404 coherent debate topic not found. Please restart the debate with clear resolution.

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themohawkninja
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11/2/2013 1:24:46 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
"Evil" is subjective.
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Raisor
Posts: 4,459
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11/2/2013 2:21:11 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
While it is true that 90% of all robberies are motivated by altruism, the 10% that aren't suggests that altruism probably isn't the root of all evil.
marcusmoon
Posts: 12
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11/3/2013 8:25:01 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Is altruism the root of all evil? Certainly the phrasing of the question stacks the odds in favor of a negative conclusion. There is a fair amount of evil caused by other things. That makes for a short and fruitless conversation, so for the sake of conversation, I am going to designate that the phrase "root of all evil" is just a figure of speech. My reinterpretation of the question is basically, "Does altruism function as the root of more evil than of good?"

DEFINITIONS
I am going to define some of my terms here. Obviously there are other definitions, but these are the ones I am using for my discussion of the question.

ALTRUISM: When I use the term altruism, I mean the conscious choice to engage in actions that benefit others instead of oneself, with no intention to garner any benefit other than feeling helpful, righteous, kind, etc. I assume these feelings are indivisible from altruism, and do not disqualify an act as unselfish or altruistic. I do not include accidental kindness, nor do I disqualify actions that accidentally benefit the altruist.

EVIL: When I use the term evil, I specifically mean avoidable human-caused suffering felt directly (not empathetically) by humans, regardless of whether it is an intended consequence. (I am leaving the suffering of bunnies, kitties, and dolphins out of my argument.) Evil is not solely based in malice, selfishness, or a desire to do harmful things, nor is it misfortune caused by a non-human agent unaided by a human.

GOOD: When I use the term good, I specifically mean the reduction in aggregate suffering of humans (regardless of whether it is caused by humans) and the increase of pleasure felt by humans.

ROOT: When I use the term root, I mean is the primary choice, action, or intention that is the conscious beginning point of the series of events that do or do not cause the avoidable suffering. I do not want to get into an endless spiral back through time because that would also make for a very short and fruitless discussion.

ARGUMENT
Certainly, ignorance and lack of forethought make a great difference in the results both altruistic and non-altruistic actions. For the sake of argument, let us compare three sets of response types to the suffering caused by mass starvation.

Scenario 1) Action without forethought
A non-altruistic response may involve complete lack of action, whereas the altruistic response involves sending food. The root cause of starvation is almost definitionally that there is less food available in an area than the people need. The non-altruistic response allows the people to starve to death at whatever natural rate until the population matches the food supply, at which point the suffering ends. The altruist would likely deliver food, thus immediately ending the suffering. At this point altruism is good; it has reduced the aggregate suffering, compared to non-altruism.

The known response to the availability of food after famine is a resumption of normal human activities, including sex and reproduction. A normal population begins to reproduce, most likely to increase, and the food supply is again less than the needs of the population. This begins the cycle over again.

In the non-altruistic option, there are fewer people because some in the population already died of starvation. In the altruistic option, there are more people to suffer, because people did not starve to death before the reproductive cycle. Because more people are suffering, there is more aggregate evil than had the altruist not sent the shipment of food. Now, as long as the altruist continues to send food at the onset of the starvation cycle, one could argue that the per capita suffering does not increase. Even so, sooner or later an unchecked population would either outstrip the ability of the altruist to provide sufficient food, or would reach a point where the aggregate suffering during the time before food arrived would be greater than the aggregate suffering during the original starvation cycle.

Altruism, then seems to be the root of evil. Given enough iterations of the starve-send food-reproduce-starve cycle, it is not unlikely that the multigenerational aggregate of evil would be greater in a society given food than one left to its own devices. This could very well qualify altruism as a root cause of more evil than good, compared to the alternative.

Scenario 2) Action with forethought
A non-altruistic response may involve complete lack of action, whereas the altruistic response involves sending farm equipment, seeds, birth control technology, etc. The non-altruistic results would be the same, but the potential results of the altruism are a solution to the problem that may end starvation in the population for many future generations. In this scenario altruism causes more good than evil, compared to the alternative.

Scenario 3) Action with forethought
A non-altruistic response may involve complete lack of action, whereas the altruistic response involves the use of a pain-free neurotoxin to exterminate the population. The end of the population"s existence means the reduction of the population"s aggregate suffering to zero. This is by definition good. The fact that the neurotoxin is painless means that it causes no suffering, so by definition, it is not evil. This is good, therefore altruism has caused more good than evil.

Obviously I cannot discount the argument that causing the deaths of all those individuals is an evil not encompassed in my limited and excessively pat definition. This is a fair criticism. Consider the obvious fact that all living things die at some point, this means that the neurotoxin is only the proximate cause of death. Birth is the primary cause. The neurotoxin was not only a shortcut past the suffering inherent in life; it was also a shortcut past the pleasures of life. Decreasing pleasure, was not part of my definition set, only decreasing pain or increasing pleasure, and our genocidal altruist did manage to fit the definition.

MY MAIN POINT
Sloppy definitions and carefully crafted definition both stack arguments in favor of one conclusion or another. The one party who seems consistently to benefit is the altruist, who at least feels the pleasure of being altruistic, regardless of the definitions.

It is true that people with good intentions screw up a lot of things. Barack Obama and Franklin Roosevelt can arguably be blamed for robbing some people of hard-earned money, robbing others of self-reliance and independence, and destroying a nation"s long-term economic growth and stability. Adolph Hitler meant to make the world a paradise for Caucasian heterosexuals. All these people certainly had good intentions, and were arguably altruistic. This does not mean that the good intentions and resulting altruism are the root of the problem.

The problem is that we all have different values, desires, and definitions of good and evil. I know a lot of people disagree with my assessments of the roots and results of the actions and intentions of Obama, Roosevelt, and Hitler, because they value and define things differently.

CONCLUSION
These differences are the root of all perceived evil and all perceived good. So no, altruism is not the root of all evil. Altruism is not the root of more evil than good.
Sidewalker
Posts: 3,713
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11/3/2013 2:11:27 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/2/2013 2:21:11 PM, Raisor wrote:
While it is true that 90% of all robberies are motivated by altruism, the 10% that aren't suggests that altruism probably isn't the root of all evil.

Oh please, I can believe it is true that you simply made that statistic up, but it's also nonsense.
"It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive." " C. W. Leadbeater
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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11/3/2013 4:41:28 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/3/2013 2:13:22 PM, FREEDO wrote:
At 11/2/2013 10:32:01 AM, ClassicRobert wrote:
No.

/thread
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to be Gay, he'll positively influence the GDP.

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wrichcirw
Posts: 11,196
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11/3/2013 4:57:26 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/3/2013 8:25:01 AM, marcusmoon wrote:
[etc]

tl;dr:

At 11/3/2013 4:41:28 PM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
At 11/3/2013 2:13:22 PM, FREEDO wrote:
At 11/2/2013 10:32:01 AM, ClassicRobert wrote:
No.

/thread
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?
marcusmoon
Posts: 12
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11/4/2013 6:48:56 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/2/2013 12:18:33 PM, Magic8000 wrote:
Altruism is defined as "the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others."
Saying it's the root of all evil seems analytically false. I'd be like saying you're a meat eating herbivore.

Selfless concern for others in no way necessitates goodness, or even lack of evil. One can find ample examples of well-meaning dictators who become oppressive out of a real desire to protect their populations from some evil, or garner the benefits of social engineering for the nation, despite the brutality it may necessitate in the mean time. The Chinese Cultural Revolution is an apt example.

Both my studies and my personal experience indicate that most harm an outrageous cruelty is not the result of greed or malice, but rather of ignorance and lack of care and forethought. Those people who seem most likely to go off half cocked are the foolish do-gooders who are so caught up in their self-assured altruism that they never notice that they are making the world worse. The Taliban are of this ilk. They truly want everyone to live in a holy Muslim paradise ordered by Sharia, and this concern for others is, ironically, why they are so brutal.