pathological altruism

here’s another book i haven’t read: Pathological Altrusim edited by barbara oakley and a bunch of other people.

i did read this article [opens pdf] from new scientist written by oakley and madhavan. in it, the authors say:

“Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in research and interest in the positive aspects of altruism. Several disciplines, in particular neuroscience and genetics, are providing useful new insights. Against this background, even to hint that altruism could have a dark shadow seems sacrilegious to many. What if it causes people to stop trying to help others?

“This should not deter us from exploring the issue, given the harm it [pathological altrusim] can cause if left unchallenged. For example, during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, many Hutus killed Tutsis because they thought that in doing so they would help protect their fellow Hutus. In other words, they believed they were benefiting their society, their culture and those most dear to them. And there are many other examples of harmful behaviours that occur within the context of helping those close to us, or our in-group….”


of course genocide is a terrible thing. it is obviously terrible for those people killed; it is terrible for a good number of those who witness such a thing, even via a history lesson; and it is probably terrible for some or even many of the people doing the killing. so, no, i do not condone genocide.

however, many hutus “thought” they would be helping their fellow hutus by getting rid of a lot of tutsis? how about they probably did benefit their fellow hutus — or it’s likely that they did anyway.

rwanda is/was a very crowded place. in any environment where a group of creatures has to share resources with another group of creatures — even if they are partly related — that first group will clearly benefit if they can get rid of the second (more resources for them!). ideally they’d want to get rid of the competition with no repercussions to their own group. i don’t think the hutus really managed that — i.e. i’m sure there are a lot of tutsis around who are holding a grudge.

but it’s just plain silly to think that any genocidal group just “believes” that they’re benfitting their group. if they can get away with it, they probably ARE!

happy thoughts for a friday afternoon, i know. sorry.

previously: gene-o-cide

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