LessWrong begins its Altruism page with the standard definition “Actions undertaken for the benefit of other people.” Unfortunately, it then immediately banishes it to the realm of the self-defeating and nonsensical by continuing “If you do something to feel good about helping people, or even to be a better person in some spiritual sense, it isn’t truly altruism.”
Any person with sufficient understanding of the current state of affairs on Planet Earth realizes that intelligently practicing altruism is virtually/practically guaranteed to bring far more benefits to the practitioner than the costs. Any person who is intelligent enough will therefore practice “altruism” — except that it is then no longer truly altruism according to the Altruism page.
Every intelligent “action undertaken for the benefit of other people” has a high probability to benefit the “altruist” markedly as well. Sufficiently wise people understand this well and act accordingly.
There is also the problem that many “rational” people claim that altruism isn’t evolutionarily favored. The second closest analogy to that is claiming that talking isn’t evolutionarily favored because it requires listening (and subsequent action) on the part of others. The closest analogy is bee dances. A bee dance is a useless waste of energy unless some critical number of others in the bee community understand and act upon it. (Actually, it could easily be argued that a bee dance isn’t an analogy because it IS an example of altruism).
INSTANT POLL: Is a bee dance an example of altruism? Why or why not?
Of course, rational self-sacrifice doesn’t exist in the land of the rationality über alles either. Either you are furthering one of your goals (making it a “self”ish choice rather than a true sacrifice) or you’ve been less than rational.
The spirit of the meaning of altruism and self-sacrifice can easily be redeemed by changing the definitions to:
Altruism: Actions undertaken for the benefit of other people without the expectation of direct reciprocation. If you do something to feel good about helping people, or even to be a better person in some spiritual sense, it remains altruism.
Self-sacrifice: Actions harmful to one’s immediate self (or harmful to one’s selfish goals) undertaken for the benefit of other people without the expectation of direct reciprocation or enhancement of the probability of selfish goals. If the act causes you to feel good because you are furthering your goal of community, it remains self-sacrifice.
So the question for discussion is . . . . Why does über rationality seemingly demand that altruism and self-sacrifice not exist? Is it that the demand for absolutes and guarantees necessarily squeezes out higher order concepts, that the über rationalists haven’t figured out how to get back the higher order concepts, or is it that the entire point of über rationality is to allow the notoriously self-deceptive mind to “rationalize” selfishness?