Altruism

Created by: Piero Formica

Being and counting more together with others is the pre-condition for innovating and having more. Human beings and innovation do not attract one another directly. At heart, there is the culture that both change and they are in turn influenced by it. Between selfishness and altruism, the range of cultural values is wide.

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Words are ideas’ wrote Ernst Schumacher, German statistician, an economist, in the 1973 essay Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered that made him famous. Words are ideas that allow you to converse and discover new things. In his The ‘Characters’, writing about society and conversation, Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), teacher and real tutor, stated that ‘The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his wit is also greatly pleased with you.’

We enter the theatre where Innovation is represented. Among the words of the characters put in the mouth of the actors, stand out those expressed by the voices of the protagonists, mainly the Curiosity that leads viewers on new roads. Let us listen to them. ‘Altruism' is one of those words.

If the invisible hand of the competition represented by Adam Smith in his work The Wealth of Nations (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, W. Strahan and T. Cadell, London, 1776) could induce selfish behaviour, the author himself in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (printed for Andrew Millar, in the Strand; and Alexander Kincaid and J. Bell, in Edinburgh, 1759) suggests that human beings, as social creatures, tend to shake hands to regulate their relationships better.

Being and counting more together with others is the pre-condition for innovating and having more. Human beings and innovation do not attract one another directly. At heart, there is the culture that both change and they are in turn influenced by it. Between selfishness and altruism, the range of cultural values is wide. Concerning the circumstances, selfish accent or altruistic intonation will be setting the scene. Egoism and selflessness chase each other in the cultural space.

Following selfish lifestyles, innovation takes shape through “the astounding belief” – to borrow words attributed to John Maynard Keynes – that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone”. In contrast, in an open environment, innovation is shaped by people and organisations whose nature is altruistic and who are therefore biased towards cooperation, less selfish and more likely to share. According to David Sloan Wilson (Does altruism exist? Culture, genes, and the welfare of others. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), an evolutionary biologist, in communities in which selflessness is firmly woven into in the social fabric, the altruistic groups get the better of selfish groups over time.

Experimenting with co-operative behaviour codes, where material motivations (money that bestows status) and intrinsic satisfaction coexist, can produce a balance between what each of us gives to the community and what we expect to receive in return. A propensity to altruism depends on maintaining a proper equilibrium between the two demands. It is worth noting that the type of altruism that is not disinterested being entirely linked to reciprocity (when and how much you will receive in return) plays its part in tilting the balance towards selfishness.