the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

a dark side to altruism

In human behavior on June 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

A new study looks at warfare and the evolutionary origins of altruism. One quote jumped out at me: “Lethal hostility toward other groups could thus underpin cooperation and support within human communities,” writes Ruth Mace, a University College London anthropologist. Does the drive to protect the common good emerge from the creation of a common, generalized (read: imagined) evil? Do we have to create “the other” to conceptualize, through its negation, what is exemplary, what is good?

I’ll stop myself before the obligatory third rhetorical question, and say this: our reasons to evolve, not just how we evolve, are constantly shifting; altruistic behavior now need not be covertly selfish simply b/c of its origins. We should be cognizant, though, of how shaky and shifty perceptions and identity become when we help others.


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