Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dark Shadows of Altruism

There are some dark sides to altruism, some of which I have written about before. One of them is rage against cheaters. And another is guilt.

All humans—except the one percent who are psychopaths—feel shame at doing something that hurts other people who are not hurting them; and more shame when they get caught. Shame is a feeling that reinforces altruism. In fact, the intensity of shame might be a rough measure of altruism. People who do not experience shame, and maybe do not even try to fake it, are a public menace.

A Japanese research team in 2013 announced that they had discovered a way to induce body cells to turn into stem cells. If this report had been true, it would have revolutionized medical science. It seemed too good to be true and, of course, it was. I don’t know why scientists sometimes try this, because they will always get found out eventually, often sooner than later. And that’s what happened in this case in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, one of the researchers hanged himself in a stairwell.

This level of remorse is excessive, but is understandable for someone who has not just abused research funds but abused the public trust. Remorse, occasionally extreme remorse, shows that the person has a functioning instinct of altruism, absent which the person may be clinically psychopathic.

The point I would like to make is that I have never heard of a politician or business executive or preacher or lawyer committing suicide in shame over deliberately faulty conduct that is just as abusive of the public trust as anything that any scientist has ever done (except for the Nazi doctors and Stalinist creators of mass famine).

Scientific fraud is relatively rare, compared to the countless illegal actions so common among politicians, lawyers, preachers, and business executives. The prodigious discrepancy between sincere acts of remorse—and it doesn’t get much more sincere than suicide—among scientists and among politicians, preachers, etc., is a clear measure that scientists are much more sincerely altruistic than politicians, business leaders, preachers, and lawyers. I trust scientists—while keeping my eyes open for the remote possibility of fraud—while I assume outright that preachers, politicians, and business leaders are liars—while keeping my mind open for the possibility that individual ones are not.

Might I suggest that some business and political leaders who have blatantly abused the public trust—such as the CEO who oversaw the illegal activities of Bank of America, for which the corporation recently had to pay a $16.65 billion fine to the government, the largest settlement in history between the federal government and a single corporation—consider the suicide option. The same for tobacco corporation executives, who knowingly profit from marketing deadly products. Maybe they should consider seppuku (hara-kiri, which is ritual Japanese suicide). It would make a great YouTube vid.

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