All people act selfishly
A question of instinct?
For Charles Darwin, the phenomenon of altruism was incompatible with his theory. The British evolutionary researcher had found out that strength and assertiveness were among the things that mattered. So if one living being voluntarily sets aside its claims in favor of another, it falls short and cannot survive.
It is the other (Latin: age) who is put above one's own interests. Examples of this are abundant in our society: We tip in the restaurant, even if we may never go there again. If the forces of nature have left behind destruction and suffering somewhere in the world, we donate money for emergency aid.
A prime example of altruistic behavior is also volunteer work - in associations or social institutions. From a material point of view, that doesn't bring us any profit. On the contrary: we sacrifice a part of our possessions and our free time that are otherwise one of our greatest assets.
And yet there is an equivalent for it. Those who work for the well-being of others, their reputation increases. After all, that can be an advantage.
People who are known to be cooperative enjoy greater trust in society. It is very likely that good will be done to them too.
Trimmed for cooperation
So is altruism just a more cunning form of egoism, true to the motto: "Scratch an altruist and you'll see a hypocrite bleed"?
Scientists do not believe that we help others solely because we speculate on personal self-interest. Nevertheless, the thought of an advantage does play a role - if not consciously.
Our instincts determine whether we help or not. Because the human brain is trimmed for cooperation. This guarantees social recognition and acceptance, which in turn triggers feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Factors that are quite beneficial to health.
Accordingly, studies have come to the conclusion that people who stand up for others do not get sick as often and live longer.
Self-abandonment for the community
Humans are not the only living beings that stand aside for others. Elephants support or carry injured herd members with their tusks. Worker bees in a beehive have no offspring because they tend to the queen's brood and fight intruders.
The North American Belding ground squirrel, a species of ground squirrel, even risks its own life to warn closest relatives of enemies. At first glance, this seems puzzling, but this is how ground squirrels can pass on their own genetic make-up. Because some of them are present in the family's genetic material.
Interestingly enough, so do the animals that have no offspring, but only siblings or extended relatives. The genetic match between siblings is statistically 50 percent. If the warning ground squirrel falls victim to the attacker, but can save the lives of at least two siblings, its genes are passed on by them.
The same applies if four half-siblings can get themselves to safety, because they share 25 percent of the genetic make-up with the rescuer. If there is no family relationship, there is no warning call.
A solidarity community in which everyone benefits from one another
If altruism in the animal kingdom is tied to a genetic connection, humans act according to the principle of "indirect reciprocity". This means that not only family members can be favored by his benevolence. Strangers are also helped. It does not matter whether the person in need returns the favor from the person who is helping.
Behind this is the rule: "I will help you and you will help someone else or someone else will help me." This can create a community of solidarity in which everyone benefits from one another. The prerequisite is, of course, that everyone obeys this rule. Selfish behavior aimed at maximizing personal profit can destroy such a system.
But there will always be black sheep. The members of a community based on solidarity must be able to recognize and remember the parasites so that they can be avoided in the future. This requires high cognitive skills.
In addition, it must be possible to communicate these experiences with free riders to the others linguistically. Man is the only living being that is capable of this.
With altruism against environmental destruction
Scientists like the climate expert Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker believe that humans can even curb the overexploitation of nature through altruistic behavior. Less consumption today for the benefit of tomorrow. He suggests that those who use too much energy should be punished. Those who behave in an environmentally friendly way should, however, be rewarded.
Von Weizsäcker wants to start with the energy price: if this were to be increased continuously and in a tolerable manner, industry would also have to react. Manufacturers would be forced to buy fewer raw materials, but with which they would have to produce more efficiently. Otherwise your product would be too expensive. If the manufacturer does not do this, the consumer will be punished: he will refuse to buy.
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