I know a place: altruism, the misguided New Man and how to get people to care

Are you familiar with the concept of the New Man? It has its roots in religion and philosophy and has been used by political groups from left to right.

Basically it’s the idea of the evolution of humans thinking in terms beyond themselves. Hardworking and selfless. No national identity. Or just national identity.

Viewpoints differ on how the New Man arises. Some theories believe it is a self-guided evolution, whereas communism and fascism leaned heavily on creating the constructs that would curb human needs and desires and the New Man would emanate from these societal pressures.

It’s an ideal. And it’s why I never bought into communism. It relies on a sense of altruism that isn’t inherent in human beings. The sociological and evolutionary beginnings of altruism come first and foremost from preserving one’s genetic material. You can be “altruistic” about your family members because they ensure your genes, or a percentage of them at least, get passed on, even if you or your progeny don’t survive. This sense of altruism diminishes with cousins, who have some but share proportionately less of your genes. The innate protection of people stops at about third cousins, who only share 0.78% of one’s DNA. This is about the size of a clan. So people protect their clans.

Beyond that, altruism can be seen, but it requires a sense of quid pro quo. You don’t hurt me, I don’t hurt you. This is why treaties are so important. They build bonds between nations so that people can live in peace. But they require a balance of equity. If the treaty tips strongly in favor of one nation over another, the treaty will fail due to resentment.

You can’t force someone to be better than they are. Altruism is rarely pure altruism. Even modern day robber barons who have donated vast fortunes first made sure to take care of their own needs.

You can inspire altruism. But when it is forced upon someone, that is not the spirit of altruism. That is taking from someone and telling them to smile while they “give” it involuntarily.

The only way, I think, to establish the best result for people is to provide for everyone and show them how their contribution to the whole returns in benefit to them or their kin. In order to elicit altruism, you have to appeal to someone’s intrinsic evolutionary selfish needs.

Now, if I knew how to strike this balance, I’d be writing my manifesto instead of posting to my blog.

But if I were King of the Forest (not duke, not prince, not earl) early education would include a lot of social skill building that affirmed the social net needed to instill the understanding necessary for communitarian values. This is what religion tries to be when it is faith, but always seems to get manipulated to benefit the few to the detriment of the many.

The corruption of all things community focused just reaffirms for me that greed is inherent across culture and time because resource scarcity is directly linked to passing on genes—the whole purpose for being alive in the most reductive sense. But this is what I see in the poorest communities: the less they have to fight over, the more they share and the more they look after one another. This is why Bed-Stuy feels homey and the UES feels so indifferent to me. It just seems so intuitive.

All of this is to say, if you want your ideas to appeal to someone, you have to find a way to convince them it is for their own good. And carrots work better than sticks. Because, and this is what we see, there are people and institutions out there who will appeal to great swaths of people using carrots just to keep them oppressed and to keep them oppressing others for the benefit of the very, very few.

Now, how you do that, I’d proffer, requires a whole lot more pre-school and kindergarten teachers than cops and lawyers. Artists over politicians. People who will inspire and teach critical thinking skills over shame and conformity.

Basically, what the Children’s Television Workshop did with Sesame Street.

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