Altruistic behavior – is there such a thing?

Posted: August 12th, 2013





Altruistic Behavior

For long, the subject of altruistic behavior has been studied under various fields. Under scientific viewpoints, altruistic behavior has been studied under social sciences such as anthropology, psychology and sociology. In definition, altruistic behavior is regarded as the application or principle of concern as regards the welfare of other individuals. The society deems altruistic as a moral and impeccable behavior. This is evidenced in various cultures where the behavior is seen as a conventional virtue. Additionally, altruism is also revered by society since it is an aspect of an array of religious practices. However, not every person in the society is genuinely altruistic. While altruism implies improvement of another person’s wellbeing, egoism implies improving of one’s own wellbeing to satisfy one’s self interests. Egoism is a fundamental aspect that answers the question regarding genuine altruism. Egoistic tendencies arise whereby an individual seeks to maximize their benefits by expressing self-interest. One of the main theories that indirectly describe egoism is conflict theory. The conflict theory illustrates the struggle between classes in society in order to gain tangible and intangible resources. Egoism comes in due to the scarcity of resources in the society. This scarcity forces people to engage in conflict with each other in order to maximize their self-interests. This describes one of the main reasons that lead to egoism. The society also pressures individuals into becoming altruistic. The societal pressure internalizes personal standards. These personal standards are norms and rules through which events are adjudicated and thus commended or disapproved. Thus, in order for individuals to be in terms with personal standards and gain a commendation on their actions, altruism sets a perfect platform for them in order to avoid them from being deemed as deviant. Empathy also motivates people to engage in altruistic behavior. That which is deemed empathic by the society, is susceptible to force people to engage in empathy. Thus, if one does not conform to society’s standards, he or she is regarded as egoistic and thus a deviant.

Social stratification refers to the decision of the society into classes based on common socio-economic preferences. It is used as a basis for ranking members of the society into a hierarchy. Inequalities in the society result from scarcity of resources and thus force society to group itself into classes based on the inequalities. Additionally, social stratification results in the exploitation of the poor, or popularly known as the working class, by the rich (upper class), who have the resources to provide for themselves. Since the poor do not have such resources, they are exploited by the rich who exploit them for low wages in order to maximize their self-interests. This assertion solely proves that social stratification results from exploitation from the upper class and scarcity of resources. Moreover, these resources are responsible for the grouping of members of the society into classes. Hence, altruism is not used in covering social stratification. Instead, altruism breaks social inequalities by providing resources to the people that do not have. Utilitarianism results from altruism since it considers the distribution of resources equitably in the society for the welfare of the majority. Consequently, altruism provides a fair platform for the members of the society that do not have resources to gain and assist themselves in climbing the social ladder. As a result, social classes are broken and the poor are able to move up the social ladder since they are availed with scarce resources and at the same time, they are not exploited. Exploitation would only lead to the furtherance of the upper class but the consistent degradation of the working class due to egoistic tendencies that seek to maximize self-interests and personal gain.

Non-ism, in this context, describes the behavior of rejecting the benefits that arise from maximizing one’s personal gains, including activities or objects that have a negative implication on one’s wellbeing. Altruism borrows much of its aspect from non-ism. This is because altruistic behavior is concerned with the provision of resources that are beneficial to another individual who is unable to gain the given resource. Therefore, by providing assistance to those that are incapable of providing for them, the individual is able to achieve a moral obligation by serving others and ignoring himself. Additionally, with respect to non-ism, altruism is genuine and does not come in terms with egoism, which focuses on the maximization of personal gains arising from self-interest. Moreover, altruism is not a cover to appear socially acceptable. Regardless of the communal pressure that influences individuals into being altruistic, at the end, the individual expressing altruistic behavior regardless of motive does not gain anything except personal gratification, which is not entirely considered as a benefit. In contrast, the individual engaging in altruistic behavior for social acceptability can be considered egoistic. This is because by engaging in altruism, the individual seeks to gain social acceptability as a benefit. This is usually evident in political situations where politicians seek to donate or provide commodities to less privileged members of the society in order to gain acceptance in society. By doing this, they are able to exploit members of the society into electing them due to their past altruistic actions. However, this becomes egoistic due to sacrifice of personal resources to gain maximum benefits.

The society is unable to diminish or extinguish covert ‘ism’ behavior due to the prevailing nature of self-interests among members of the society. Various factors promote antisocial behavior among members in the society. For instance, the mass media is an example that increasingly creates antisocial behavior among individuals in the society. Much of the mass media is subjective. This means that much of the information provided by the mass media is subject to bias. Additionally, media such as newspapers convey information that is controversial and propagated in order to increase the number of clients and even gain a competitive edge over other competitors in the mass media industry. This summarizes to the notion of egoism whereby the mass media uses negative publicity and propaganda in order to gain more customers for maximum profit in their business transactions. Moreover, such information pits individuals against each other leading to antisocial behavior among people. For instance, stereotypes form a considerable barrier against promotion of cohesion among members of the society. Usually, these stereotypes are formed against particular groups of people in the society based on cultural, racial, ideological and biological dimensions, which leads to discrimination between different members of the society.

Various strategies can be used in the education of the next generation regarding altruistic behavior. One of the methods that can prove to be efficient in teaching children altruistic behavior is moral education. Much of the education in American schools encourages secularization. Secularization focuses on abstaining from employing religion in educating children in schools in order to avoid religious discrimination. As much as secularization is beneficial to schools, it is important separate moral education. Moral education focuses on inculcating moral values in children through moral development, study, explanation and action learning. Another strategy that can be used to educate children is advertisement through mass media. Most advertisements in the media induce materialistic tendencies in people hence leading to egoism. However, advertisements that delve much on donation and the importance of providing for the less privileged can be encouraged in order to encourage altruism among children. Families also have an obligation in encouraging altruistic behavior among children. This can be done by organizing special occasions that involve visiting community centers and orphanages whereby every family member will provide assistance in order to aid the unfortunate in the centers (Harwood, 312-318).




















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