I’ve been reading a lot lately. Most of the books have been on psychopathy (and the neuroscience of psychopathy, in particular), but I’ve also been reading books on how to be a better blogger and social media user. While these latter books are focused on businesses and corporations, their teachings extend to the up and coming blogger and writer as well. An interesting trend with these books is that they champion the use of altruism as a means for outreach. The authors of these books – such as The Tao of Twitter – argue that being selfless is the key to the hearts of others. The implication is clear, however. Do for others so that others will do for you. However, does not this violate the core definition of altruism? That actions are to be made solely for their own sake and without an expectation of personal gain as a result?
As I’ve written before regarding altruism, I believe the concept is inherently flawed. Short of throwing oneself on a grenade to save one’s comrades at the expense of their own life, I fail to see how the overwhelming majority of actions that are considered “altruistic” are truly such. Whether altruistic actions are born from hopes of quid pro quo behavior or even as a means of inflating one’s own sense of self, nearly all actions have a benefit to the one performing them – unless one is just self-destructive and performs only actions that harm themselves. So how can one be purely selfless with discourse? I don’t believe that it is possible.
With discourse, there must be a motivation to speak. Is the motivation born from the desire to be acknowledged and heard? Does the topic being discussed have a direct impact on those speaking, as with marriage-equality discussions in the United States? What of those that are entrepreneurs and are speaking solely for the potential payday at the end? Is it ethical to claim at any point with all people that discourse is simply being had for its sake – with no wanted benefit by those contributing? I find that we often swallow information too easily without understanding the motives of another. Maybe it is true that the intentions of another are pure, but they still always have something to gain by moving their mouths or their hands and certainly that gain cannot be divorced from the mind.
Returning to the opening paragraph, how am I to be truly selfless when my expectation is to continue growing the network that I interact with on a daily basis? I could be – and, for better or worse, am – honest with my lack of altruism. Others do not wish to hear that, however. Few want to know that the interactions that they have with others are always laden with motives. They want to believe that their presence is enough for others to seek them out and to value them … to value them. And this is crucial. To be valued, there must be a benefit for the other party. In return, the valuation by that other party increases the strength of the words of the one being valued. Thus, there is incentive by both parties to engage. Not very altruistic at all, now is it? (Though I should note that a lack of altruism should not necessarily imply a lack of respect or valuation).
And while it is much more appealing to the non-thinker that discourse through blogging, social media, or even face-to-face, should be selfless, the intellectual and truth-seeker should look deeper. Everyone is attempting to gain something through discourse. Maybe the goal is social change, a future sale, a boost to the self-esteem, or combinations of these and others, but everyone wants something, even if it is only to be heard.
Side note: I am going to try posting new posts in the morning (1200 UTC) for a while and see how this affects engagement. During this experiment I will try to publish “mini-posts” at the usual time 0000 UTC. We’ll see how long I can keep up the frenetic pace before I tire.