*My assignment is down below, and it may make more sense to read in chronological order*
The question thread over in the class I'm taking got me thinking...
I originally stated I believed that there is no such thing as pure altruism. Every time I say that, however, I'm met with looks of surprise. Or if I'm online, I'm met with: O_O.
So I've thought about revamping my definition. I think I'm willing to concede that altruism exists, but only as the opposite of selfishness. My definition of the two would be as follows.
- Selfishness: Acting in your own self-interest at the detriment of others.
- Altruism: Acting in your own self-interest for the benefit of others.
I believe that every time we make a conscious decision, we go through a cost/benefit analysis, and then choose an action based on rationality (or perceived rationality). We weigh the benefits of the action against the perceived costs of the action, and then simply choose the most rational path.
For example, let's say I come upon a $20 bill lying on the ground. I do a quick cost benefit analysis and determine that the cost (the act of bending over and picking up the money) is worth the reward (being in possession of the money after the cost has been expended). It's a simple exercise in economics (referring to Dave's question for this week).
However, if you move the $20 to the inside of the lion cage at Hogle zoo, then suddenly the cost has risen. After analyzing the situation, I may decide that the benefit is no longer worth the cost. In my analysis I may look at how desperate (hungry, in debt) I am (which would raise the benefit of obtaining the money), or I might look to see if the lions are sleepy, absent, or have just eaten lunch (which would lower the cost side). If the benefits outweigh the costs, then every time I will perform the action. If the cost is too high, then every time I will not perform the action.
Now, I know what you are saying... You are saying that it is not in your interest to painfully smack yourself upside the head, but you just did it to prove me wrong. And I would say, "But in that case the benefits did outweigh the cost. The cost of smacking yourself upside the head (which left a mark, by the way), was lower than the benefit of proving me that I was wrong.
We are doing these cost/benefit analyses all of the time. What we have for breakfast, whether or not to go to class, whether or not to buy the textbook, whether or not to read the assigned chapter; it is all based on what we think the benefit is, and what we think the cost will be. Sometimes our perceptions are wrong. In looking back we are made aware that our actions were irrational, but only based on the new knowledge that comes with experience. At the time, we were acting completely rational based on what we knew then.
So, tying that all back in to USENETS, you could almost ask, "Why is the internet, particularly bulletin boards and online communities, so good at giving us opportunities to serve our self-interests, while still serving others' self-interests?" or to shorten the question, "Why is the internet so adept at helping me while helping you?" Or to take it out of question form, and put it back in a self-interested frame of reference. "Let the internet help you, help me."