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Book Review: Survival of the Nicest

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Books 176

jsuda writes "In a world of intractable wars and conflicts, spiteful and persistent political gridlock dominating (at least) American politics, rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition and exploitation, and haters everywhere, Stephen Klein tries to convince us why it pays to get along. In Survival of the Nicest he says that we can be, and ought to be, 'nice' for our personal and social benefits." Read below for jsuda's review.Mr. Klein constructs arguments deriving from current brain research and genetics; economics, history, and social psychology; game theory; and behavioral and anthropological experiments which are intriguing, to say the least. Klein is an acclaimed science writer and writes about complex ideas in an accessible (if not always coherent) manner. He has a remarkable synthetic overview of a large number of elements which condition human economic decisions and behavior. He draws upon individual human stories, social science research, and especially game theory and economic logic to show that purely rational self-interested behavior is rare and probably impossible on a broad, societal level. He implies that the macroeconomic theories of the Austrian school of essential self-interest are reductionist at best. Society would eventually collapse and die off without a substantial amount of altruism particularly when under stress from environmental or competitive pressures.

Emotions, psychology, and cultural conditioning play a huge role in how people interact with each other in terms of selfish versus social decisions and behaviors. He cites natural and social science research which suggests that giving and altruism are essential for happiness itself. (There's even a biochemical basis for this in oxytocin and other substances.) Elements of community-level trust and fairness are probably more prominent than naked economic calculations. He gives many examples of how these elements of trust and fairness run counter and (or are complementary) to what ought to be expected from pure self interested logic and calculation.

He also points out that even the perceived effectiveness of reason and logic strategies depends on often-ignored assumptions like differences in consequences over short, medium, and long terms, the presence of imperfect knowledge, and the like. He sprinkles numerous examples of how game theory favorites like The Prisoner's Dilemma, The Free Rider Game, Ultimatum, and the amazingly effective Tit-for-Tat strategy (where a certain short-term level of--irrational--trust is essential to its success) are relevant for a whole host of social and economic situations.

There are intricate arguments about how game-like stratagems combined with tribalist elements condition self-interest and social-interest behaviors. Surprisingly, he argues how the success of generosity and good-naturedness depend on the presence of some degree of self-interest. Community-wide mores depend on an us-them competitive situation where the tribal effects unify people into efficient social structures where altruism is essential for the group to compete with and/or defeat outsiders. If and when that competition subsides, the group may then develop "freeloaders" who will increase in number in effect and collapse the social interest by rejecting its mores of trust and fairness.

The historical perspective on all of this is not very well developed or very coherent nor are the references to evolutionary theory. Mr. Klein sides with the proponents of the current controversy over group genetic selection position versus the more established individual selection position. He argues that generosity is hardwired into the human species at both the individual and group levels. Nevertheless, Klein shows that the selfish-vs-social attitudes have evolved over the centuries due to advanced philosophical concepts and the influence of condensing world geography, cultural shifts, and globalization-like elements.

He draws upon this evolutionary process to propose that we are in a historical period (The Global Village) where people are becoming more and more interdependent, unified by communication and transportation developments, and less tribal (at the national and cultural levels, at least) than before. These events will likely promote greater elements of trust, converging senses of fairness, and a recognition of the long term efficiencies of social behavior versus that of the mere self-interested personal attitude.

As a better educated society (mainly in economic efficiency theory and morality) we can change our thinking about how we relate to one another. We will recognize the evolutionary advantages to altruism. We can practice habits of fairness and altruism. Interestingly, he refers to science which categorizes humans as comprised of three main groups: about one third are consistently self interested, one-fifth are consistently altruists, and the rest are pragmatic opportunists who act depending on the environmental variables. Optimistically, he states "The Future Belongs to the Altruists."

I don't know how convincing this book can or will be given the enormous tidal wave of selfishness and narcissism which seemingly has infected our world. It seems right that a new way of thinking is a start towards something different, anyway, and this book certainly is intriguing and thought provoking.

You can purchase Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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b e t a creators are not the nicest (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46269883)

Will they survive then?

Re:b e t a creators are not the nicest (0)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46269909)

I really detest beta, but "beta sucks" is quickly becoming a joke meme a la "beowulf cluster" in terms of no one taking the post seriously anymore.

(Imagine a beowulf cluster of beta.slashdot.org. *shudder*)

Re:b e t a creators are not the nicest (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46269949)

Re:b e t a creators are not the nicest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270231)

Awesome, they finally managed to get ancient slashcode (pre-D2) running.

All-powerful poopy pumpernickel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46269975)

I tend to agree with such things.

Congratulations. (4, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46269885)

You've just reinvented "enlightened self-interest" under the 1 millionth new name! Click here to claim your prize.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46270481)

"You've just reinvented "enlightened self-interest" under the 1 millionth new name! Click here to claim your prize."

I also wish they'd get their economics straight. Exploitation is not "capitalist". Exploitation tends to occur even more in non-capitalist economies. In fact, exploitation of others is directly contrary to Smithian capitalism and free markets, which depend on purely voluntary exchanges. Exploitation is rather the opposite of "voluntary".

Re:Congratulations. (4, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46270553)

You can exploit the hell out of people with their "consent" when they're left with no other options(see modern human trafficking for details), or when you're compelling them in ways that don't happen to be illegal. The pragmatic reality of starvation tends to intrude on Smiths perfect hyper-rational world, and the only laissez faire answer to that is social darwinism. I don't disagree with your implied premise that other systems such as fuedalism, Stalinism, or slavery exploited people in far worse ways, but that doesn't necessarily lead to a path where free-market capitalism is the ideal.

Re:Congratulations. (2)

Livius (318358) | about 7 months ago | (#46270787)

Maybe exploitation isn't a strictly either-or concept.

Re:Congratulations. (1, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271041)

"You can exploit the hell out of people with their "consent" when they're left with no other options"

Nonsense. That isn't "consent". There's nothing "voluntary" about that at all. Coerced behavior is not "voluntary", in any sense of the term. They are mutually exclusive.

"The pragmatic reality of starvation tends to intrude on Smiths perfect hyper-rational world, and the only laissez faire answer to that is social darwinism"

Smith described the provably best economic system the world has ever seen, which led to a smaller percentage of people starving than ever in history. Can you somehow show that is not true? I doubt it, since it is a fact.

Even China has fewer starving people now that it has adopted more elements of Capitalism.

History doesn't lie: no economic system has ever beaten capitalism. Not one. Ever.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46271915)

You're reaching.
It comes off as "Consent is defined the exactly the set of things I need it to be for my world-view to be ideal, rather than the conventional definition"

Re:Congratulations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46271917)

"Democracy with good balances between social support/market freedom and private/public sectors within a mixed economy led to a smaller percentage of people starving than ever in history."

There, fixed that for you.

As it stands for the last 30 odd years starting with Thatcher/Reagan and the emergence of neo-liberalism, a vast proportion of the western world has been on a steady road to destroying this balance by eroding social support in favour of market freedom (don't want to work for $5 an hour? Guess you'll just have to starve), and destroying the public sector in favour of private sector (so that now basic needs like electricity, food, water, healthcare, etc are all beholden to the gods of profit and infinite growth). But lo! The great capitalist wisemen all shout "Competition promotes innovation and efficiency!" (...and environmental destruction, lowered wages, a captive workforce, unsafe work conditions, disproportionate wages for the upper tiers (the parasite tiers) of the strictly hierarchical corporate dictatorship).

Re:Congratulations. (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46270653)

You see that gold mine over there? Imma exploit the shit outta that bitch, and getting your panties in a twist over nomenclature ain't gonna stop me!

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271081)

"You see that gold mine over there? Imma exploit the shit outta that bitch, and getting your panties in a twist over nomenclature ain't gonna stop me!"

"Nomenclature" aside, exploiting a piece of ground is different from exploiting people. Some people might use them together but they are not the same things.

Re:Congratulations. (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46272007)

Some people might use them together

Aww, it's like capitalism for toddlers!

Re:Congratulations. (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | about 7 months ago | (#46270723)

Exploitation is rather the opposite of "voluntary".

What utter nonsense. Many people are exploited in their jobs. Yet they could give up the job.

The antonym of exploitation is fairness.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271153)

"What utter nonsense. Many people are exploited in their jobs. Yet they could give up the job."

Exploit n. To take advantage of (a person, situation, etc), esp unethically or unjustly for one's own ends

If you don't leave, then you are consenting. Freely given consent implies voluntary. There is no contradiction there. However: if the consent is not freely given, then it may not be voluntary.

Just so we don't get caught up in a scuffle over terminology: when I wrote "exploit" I meant it in the sense of "to coerce".

A coerced agreement may be consent but it is not FREELY GIVEN consent. That is the difference. A person might feel it is the best choice under the circumstances, but coercion implies a lack of alternatives, so the consent is not freely given.

Example: American cable TV and internet companies. In most parts of the U.S., their use can be said to be coerced because there are few if any other choices. If you want broadband internet, you rent cable service from the only company in town. As a result, you pay higher rates than if there was healthy competition. The higher prices are exploitative because your choices have been artificially narrowed; it is not a "free" market.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46270533)

I should add: he also seems to have the mistaken impression that Austrian economics is somehow anathema to altruism, which is ridiculous.

To be blunt, either the author or OP needs a lot of schooling in both politics and economics. One of the two is -- or perhaps both are -- conflating completely separate ideas into a great, hopeless muddle.

Based on this review, I think this is a book that can be safely ignored without negative consequences.

Re:Congratulations. (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46270581)

Well, Austrian economics is easy to take apart as pseudo-scientific bullshit based on fundamentally flawed assumptions rather than empiricism, so forgive my lack of concern over that quibble, especially since the neoliberal policies that are treated as the conclusion of the theory are fundamentally an anathema to altruism.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271217)

"Well, Austrian economics is easy to take apart as pseudo-scientific bullshit based on fundamentally flawed assumptions rather than empiricism, so forgive my lack of concern over that quibble, especially since the neoliberal policies that are treated as the conclusion of the theory are fundamentally an anathema to altruism."

Nice troll. You didn't address the actual point but used it as a jumping off point to change the subject and rant about your lack of education in economics.

Please give us an actual example of these fundamental flaws you describe, rather than painting with such broad, vague brushes. I can say any school of economics is based on flawed assumptions, but without an actual example it amounts to nothing more than hot air.

Also, despite Wikipedia's use of the word, Austrian economics pre-dated "neo-liberalism" by several decades.

Re:Congratulations. (3, Informative)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46271369)

You didn't address the actual point but used it as a jumping off point to change the subject and rant about your lack of education in economics.

Yeah, thinking Austrian school has no bearing on reality is reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal "uneducated" of me. Yep.

an example of a fundamental flaw, for the pedantic and self-righteous:
The fundamental "axiom"(note this bizzare and outlandish term used for hypotheses, that in science would be tested, not assumed) of action, which posits:
"human beings take conscious action towards chosen goals."

Now... if you've ever met a person, you would no the frequently make no effort or action towards their personal goals. You might say "well that's just people being lazy, economics is for people who work," but almost every major praxology in the of Austrian economics takes the axiom of action as an assumption about the entire population.

Now people throw in post-hoc and ad-hoc justifications for why these things don't matter like the efficient market hypothesis, but in the end, the Austrian school has no empircal roots and can basically be considered bunk in a non-hypothetical world.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271473)

"Yeah, thinking Austrian school has no bearing on reality is reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal "uneducated" of me. Yep."

Yep. Austrian economists INVENTED many of the principles and equations that other schools of economics use as fundamental tools. But you didn't seem to be aware of that.

But... nice example! It just so happens, that Keynesian economics and Neo-Classical economics (which together make up the majority of "mainstream" economists today) ALSO rely, at their very roots, on the fundamental principle that "human beings take conscious action towards chosen goals."

Which means that to the extent Austrian economics is wrong, those other schools of economics are wrong, too. (They teach you in Econ 101 that an underlying assumption of all of economics is that human beings make rational choices to maximize their own benefit.)

So... congratulations! You just shot down basically the entire science of economics, in one Slashdot post. Or not.

Re:Congratulations. (2)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46271851)

They teach you in Econ 101 that an underlying assumption of all of economics is that human beings make rational choices to maximize their own benefit.

A statement which is not actually true. For example, the Austrian school doesn't make that assumption and a lot of economic behavior studies are about how humans appear to deviate from rational choice making.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46271897)

Yeah, I had a feeling the phrase "econ 101" would come up, because that's as far as any Austrian dipshits ever seem to pay attention.

Re:Congratulations. (3, Interesting)

Livius (318358) | about 7 months ago | (#46270749)

It still astonishes me that people can so readily embrace the fact that humans are like other animals and yet fail to understand that humans are social animals and are most like other social animals.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#46270871)

This should seriously piss off the Libertardian Social Darwinists.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46271965)

What doesn't? When nothing short of people starving to death(as if that's the way people would choose to go out when crime is an option) will satisfy you, you aren't going to be satisfied in any society that works.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 7 months ago | (#46271071)

We're good on the "self interest" bit. It's the "enlightened" part that we seem to have so much trouble with.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

sanjacguy (908392) | about 7 months ago | (#46271113)

You've just reinvented "enlightened self-interest" under the 1 millionth new name! Click here to claim your prize.

Too bad nobody can ever seem to agree on what the enlightened part actually is.

Re:Congratulations. (1)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46271877)

If it's my self-interest, then it's enlightened.

Plagiarism (2, Insightful)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 7 months ago | (#46269891)

The Buddha is really pissed at Stefan Klein and has hired a battery of lawyers to sue his ass off.

Re:Plagiarism (3, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 7 months ago | (#46270357)

+5 funny, Bhudda wouldn't have sued anyone (great parody, good job) Christ isn't happy either, he doesn't much like lawyers. [mcgrewbooks.com] Or greedy, selfish people, and neither does Bhudda.

There isn't a single religion I know of except mammon worshipers (the US's primary religion) that have anything good to say about society's actions. It seems society has forgotten everything ever said by any sage or wise man and has become sociopathic.

Selfishness and greed and having no thought for your fellow man are not normal. [psmag.com] Someone needs to find a cure for our sick society before it succumbs completely to this deadly disease.

Re:Plagiarism (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 7 months ago | (#46270985)

Don't worry, it's a self-correcting problem.

LONG LIVE SOYLNET NEWS (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46269913)

RIP Classic Slashdot
SWIFT DEATH to Beta
LONG LIVE Soylent News

Not buying it. (1, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | about 7 months ago | (#46270007)

Book is probably written by a selfish asshole trying to convince the rest of us to be pushovers to his advantage.

Re:Not buying it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270031)

I much agree. Empathy is how we connect, those who feel for each other help each other. Yes, but it's not the only way.

I feel like his pizzaz is trying to simplify something that is inherently complex, not able to be simplified.

Re:Not buying it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270099)

Exactly this. It's why we have the nice guys (Democrats) always giving in to the Republicans. Every single law passed is what they want. Just look at the ACA. The Democrats were too nice and let the Republicans define every single part of it. The Republicans copied their RmoneyCare scam they shoved down the throats of Massachusetts, and talked the Democrats into voting for it. Now, we are suffering under the Republican plan with their incompetently run exchanges.

Re:Not buying it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270251)

Trolling, or irony?

altruism (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | about 7 months ago | (#46270013)

Yes, the meek inherit a 3-by-8 foot plot of the earth.

Re:altruism (2)

StefanJ (88986) | about 7 months ago | (#46270179)

Mmmm.

Everybody inherits a 3 x 8 foot plot of earth.

It might be concealed under tons of vanity, but in the end, that is all you get.

Re:altruism (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46270703)

Hardly. The sufficiently wealthy get mausoleums.

Re:altruism (1)

QilessQi (2044624) | about 7 months ago | (#46270993)

I'll bet they enjoy them equally as much.

Re:altruism (1)

wagr (1070120) | about 7 months ago | (#46270245)

If we stack them with the rest of the family, they won't complain. After all, they're meek. And nice.

There are a lot who don't even inherit that. A few ashes, maybe a lantern to float down the river.

Re:altruism (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 7 months ago | (#46270375)

They wouldn't complain anyway, corpses don't care what you do to them.

rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270017)

Rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? Where, exactly? The worst offenders here appear to be state sanctioned monopolies [slashdot.org] and regulation induced oligopolies leveraging their influence to gain advantage. That's not market economics.

Capitalism isn't a blanket designation for all the things you don't like, even if invoking it with abandon is a perfectly safe thing to do given the prevailing group-think.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270191)

Rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? Where, exactly? The worst offenders here appear to be state sanctioned monopolies [slashdot.org] and regulation induced oligopolies leveraging their influence to gain advantage. That's not market economics.

Capitalism isn't a blanket designation for all the things you don't like, even if invoking it with abandon is a perfectly safe thing to do given the prevailing group-think.

And government interference isn't a blank designation for all the things you don't like.

A lot of regulation induced oligopolies got that way because they were already grown so big that they could afford to buy government favor.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270319)

And government interference isn't a blank designation for all the things you don't like.

A lot of regulation induced oligopolies got that way because they were already grown so big that they could afford to buy government favor.

And buying government favor isn't a part of capitalism, it's a perversion of it.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1, Redundant)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46270699)

And buying government favor isn't a part of capitalism, it's a perversion of it.

Unless you're a defence contractor. Then, it's apple pies all way down.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46270781)

>And buying government favor isn't a part of capitalism, it's the purpose of it.
FTFY.

The purpose of capitalism is right there in the name - to favor those with capital. If you don't control enough wealth to leverage it to generate more wealth at an efficiency comparable to the nobility, then you're just grist for the mill. If the powerful are particularly efficient they'll implement polices like a savings tax, aka sustained monetary inflation, that ensure that you can't even save what little wealth you mange to accumulate, but have to hand it over to them to "manage on your behalf" just to keep your liquid assets from evaporating.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271375)

"The purpose of capitalism is right there in the name - to favor those with capital."

Not really. That is about the most sarcastic and pessimistic interpretation of the word "capitalism" possible.

Never mind dictionary definitions when it comes to technical subjects. They show popular usage, not necessarily technically accurate definitions. When MOST economists say "capitalism", they mean free-market capitalism ala Adam Smith.

And free-market capitalism is NOT about exploitation, or greed, or selfishness, or any of those things. It is not about coerced exchange of goods. It is about the voluntary exchange of goods.

Even Smith, clear back then, recognized that monopoly and oligopoly are enemies of REAL capitalism, and wrote that society would need antitrust laws to keep them from forming... to keep everybody playing WITHIN the free-market rules.

It is extremely obvious that the U.S. government has (and State governments have) not been doing their jobs in that respect.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46271543)

I didn't finish my post: what that means is that the more greedy corporations are, and the more government cooperates with them, the LESS you have genuine, free-market capitalism. These are not flaws of capitalism per se, because capitalism actually requires anti-trust regulation. They are failures of government.

Re:rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46272169)

The purpose of capitalism is right there in the name

No, it's not. Capitalism is merely private ownership of capital. It is strictly a descriptive term. There is no such purpose.

I get no benefit from being nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270033)

Alturism is one-way. No reciprocation. What I give out for free is gone forever.

Friends are another story, but the average person is not.

Re:I get no benefit from being nice. (2)

mendax (114116) | about 7 months ago | (#46270567)

Alturism is one-way. No reciprocation. What I give out for free is gone forever.

Hogwash. Let me tell you a story. A much older first cousin of mine, a rather pleasant fellow, spend his entire career at General Motors, starting as an engineer. On the way to the interview, a woman carrying a large pile of papers dropped them in an elevator. He put down his briefcase, crouched down, and helped her pick them up. When he was led into the conference room for the interview, I found the woman was in the room. He later learned that she was an administrative assistant for one of the members of the interview committee and that she told her boss about his simple act of courtesy. He got the job. It is quite possible that this one act of courtesy made him stick out in a field of many qualified candidates and it was the ultimate deciding factor.

He retired about ten years ago as the vice-president for fuel cell technology. Now who says that altruism one-way?

Re:I get no benefit from being nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46271703)

Nice story. Here's mine.

I provided help to a classmate out of kindness. Next recess, said classmate performs the daily ritual of taunting me.

I go to reddit/r/games, and give an answer to question. I get downvoted, while another person says the exact same thing 5 minutes later (using lower quality wording) and gets upvoted.

I participated in a school math competition. My reward for a high-scoring result is a simple medal, while the school gets to claim they trained me to that level. In reality, they exploit by effort for something that really was a matter of chance (e.g. I could have attended any school, and they would make the claim instead.)

All in all, I'm better off stripping myself of compassion.

Behavioral flexibility makes us human. (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 7 months ago | (#46270129)

It also means that every generalization you can draw about humanity is wrong much of the time. That said, Social Darwinism has enjoyed the popular pseudoscience stage unchallenged for too long.

The problem with terms like "altruism" and "self-interest" is that they're so vague. Their empirical significance is imprecise at best when applied to a species where an individual's sense of well-being is tied to his social connections.

Those who reduce a satisfying life exclusively to altruism or self-interest can point to supporting data, but they have only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Looked at dispassionately, Hitler and Gandhi are simply two extreme examples in the range of human character; most people would not be able to stand emulating either of them. As a species we did not evolve to fit in any simple, reductionistic philosophical box.

Re:Behavioral flexibility makes us human. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 7 months ago | (#46270487)

Gandhi and Hitler were alike in the aspect that they got a lot of peoples attention. There are a lot of people in the world good or bad who just fail to get much attention. In that case, being extreme good would just make them a pushover, and extreme bad they would be locked up in jail, or killed.

Re:Behavioral flexibility makes us human. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270595)

Gandhi was a lawyer, and certainly no pushover. He invented whole arsenals of tactics and strategies based on non-violence which has served as enlightening examples ever since.

Historically, non-violent regime changes tend to be the most stable, peaceful and prosperous ones, generally (not always).

Re:Behavioral flexibility makes us human. (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46270909)

Such reductionist claims also tend to overlook the fact that the rules change as society scales. Back when everyone in town knew everyone else game theory was far more applicable - you'll be playing various social "games" with these people your entire life, and so everyone can develop a pretty good sense of your character which impacts future dealings, and outsiders are regarded with understandable suspicion - after all they have no reputation to engender trust, and will likely leave before they develop enough of a reputation to be useful. And why exactly are you wandering around in the first place if not to escape from a bad reputation in your home town?

Live in a city with even a half-million people though and things change radically, pretty much everybody you deal with outside your immediate social circle is an "outsider", but you can't treat *everybody* with the level of rational distrust that deserves without crippling your own social potential, and that amplifies the appeal of exploitative behavior - we've simultaneously reduced both the social costs of a bad reputation and the social rewards of a good reputation.

A common misconception (1)

Sigvatr (1207234) | about 7 months ago | (#46270171)

Survival of nice people does not mean that mean people don't survive. It just means that nice people survive. The mean guys aren't going to go away either.

Re:A common misconception (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 7 months ago | (#46270233)

Actually, it doesn't mean that people who are _only_ nice will actually survive all the time.
Perhaps you need to have a healthy "mix" of altruism and egotism in order to have the highest chances of survival.

So something tells me this book actually is a one-sided story.

Altruism is like the universe... (1)

coldsalmon (946941) | about 7 months ago | (#46270235)

...just because scientists can't explain it, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We have been struggling to explain and model altruistic behaviors for centuries, and our failure has caused many to claim that altruism does not exist. However, this obviously clashes with the reality that we observe every day. This dissonance is shown most vividly in the tragic story of George R. Price [wikipedia.org] . "Survival of the Nicest" seems like a refreshing attempt to explain what we can observe, instead of giving up and declaring that we are all deluded because our observations do not conform to our models.

Re:Altruism is like the universe... (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | about 7 months ago | (#46270911)

Altruism isn't unexplained. It's explained by the selfish gene. It even explains why we care more for people close to us than people further away.

We are most altruistic to the people we share most genes with - close family, then extended family, then people in out tribe, then race, then members of our species, and as species get less and less closely connected to ours, the less we care.

Survival of the most genes like ours is what we strive for. That's what explains altruism.

History has a lesson. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270255)

History teaches that the biggest group of mutual altruists wins in the long run. Would-be rulers have used the cult of personality, religion, nationalism, racialism, marketing, whatever tool came to hand in order to get people to fight for something other than themselves; but those are all just methods to achieve an end.

Because if you have a thousand people fighting for themselves, and I have 800 people fighting for each other, your guys are most likely doomed.

Remember, Ayn Rand died bitter and impoverished while many of her disciples were living the high life... selfishness and greed are inherently self-limiting, and numbers count.

Re:History has a lesson. (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46270941)

Did Rand really have many disciples leading the high life? Or was she simply a convenient conversation piece among those whose pre-existing ideology her writings glorified? It seems like most of her "disciples" were among those embittered failures convinced they too could be living the high life if it weren't for stupid society holding them back.

Re:History has a lesson. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46271879)

Yes, she most certainly did.

But there's never been any scarcity of the embittered failures and cynical sociopaths you mention, either!

Courtesy (3, Insightful)

mendax (114116) | about 7 months ago | (#46270285)

This book reminds me of a favorite sci fi story from the 1950's by Clifford B. Simak that was dramatized by NBC Radio in the old X Minus One radio series titled "Courtesy". I've never read the story but have listened to the dramatization [archive.org] many times.

The premise of the story is a human expedition arrives on an alien planet that is inhabited but shows ample evidence of an older civilization that was destroyed by a plague. The humans, arrogant to a man save one, know about the plague and have a vaccine for the plague, except that the ship's doctor's bad eyes misread the expiration date and the vaccine is no good. The crew is doomed to die, yet the natives seem to have an antidote, and the humans are determined to beat it out of them if necessary.

The ship's doctor goes out to meet with the natives to see if he can learn about their immunity. However, he falls off a cliff and dies on his way back. After the crew recovers the body, they find a piece of paper with a single word written on it: Courtesy. In the mean time the crew starts to die of the plague... except for one man, the man who has some humility and stepped out of the way of a native they'd captured as a matter of courtesy.

Too late, the captain of the expedition realizes that the natives survived the plague by abandoning their cities and started to live simply and with humility. He and his men, save the one, are going to die because they were not willing to display courtesy.

In some ways, the way we live now is a kind of a plague that is slowly killing us. Wouldn't life be a lot easier if we simply were respectful to each other without exception?

Re:Courtesy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270589)

Courtesy is another way to hide animosity. I learned this by moving to 'the south'.

My usual way to reinforce this idea happens 2-3 times a year. I will be walking towards a door. Suddenly someone will decide 'its a race'. Nearly *every* time they do that I *will* beat them. Then hold the door for them. They will then act very sheepish and go thru the door. People are dicks... Sometimes you have to be a 'nice jerk' to show them. Always being nice gets you put at the back of the bus every time. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.

Another example is communism it is a really neato idea. Until you figure out that some people are dicks. They fail to be nice and help others, but gain much. Less effort gains reward. Until everyone figures it out. Then no one gains. Then the guns come out.

Re:Courtesy (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46270873)

Nice story. Too bad the natives weren't courteous enough to teach them how to survive ;)

Re:Courtesy (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46270999)

Holy jumping snails! I'd never thought of looking for old radio shows in the archive. Thank you!

Re:Courtesy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46271209)

Wouldn't life be a lot easier if we simply were respectful to each other without exception?

Yes! And ponies and unicorns would have sex with bling, wrapped in nerf, while we all circle jerked off together in one big fuzzy love in, Richard Stallman would use deodorant, Linus Torvalds would not hurl violent abuse at his developers every few days, and we wouldn't get arrested and the NSA wouldn't spy on us!

Really: I want the world to be full of Buddhas and Jesuses. But all we can do is try a little bit to be like them ourselves and it may help change others. But at the moment, there are a few cunt -people in my world. How about yours?

Re:Courtesy (1)

firewrought (36952) | about 7 months ago | (#46271287)

Too late, the captain of the expedition realizes that the natives survived the plague by abandoning their cities and started to live simply and with humility. He and his men, save the one, are going to die because they were not willing to display courtesy.

This doesn't make any sense, and for contrast, I'd like to offer the example of despot Bernabò Visconti. When the Black Death was sweeping Italy, he put Milan under strict quarantine, notably having city authorities wall-up any house where plague appeared (leaving both sick and well occupants to starve, presumably). As a result, the plague pretty much skipped Milan [wikipedia.org] as well as Visconti himself.

Possible, but the danger is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270329)

... many people don't operate that way. To be naive of this fact will have serious consequences.

1 thing that might actually help (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270343)

suppose that every school child in America, from 5th grade thru High School, had to take a course in human psychology *every* year.
If even a small number of people learned to be a little more tolerant from this, the effects would be huge

Game Theory (2)

ideonexus (1257332) | about 7 months ago | (#46270431)

In his book "The Selfish Gene" Richard Dawkins uses the Prisoner's Dilemma to construct a quasi-mathematical proof that judicious altruism beats greed as an evolutionary strategy [ideonexus.com] . Also, Hamilton's Rule [wikipedia.org] provides quantification to why altruism makes sense for the species.

Re:Game Theory (1)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about 7 months ago | (#46270521)

I was hoping someone would point this out. Thanks for links..

Author Steven Wright took this idea and gave it a historical perspective in his book Non-Zero... where the title means that Non-Zero transactions (ie both parties win) have more evolutionary value than Zero transaction (ie predator/prey).

Humility (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270445)

I do work in a couple Twelve Step programs and, as a result, I am a "nice" person... well, I do what I can to be a nice person as I understand it. Why? It's very simple. If I allow my ego and innate arrogance and selfishness kick in, not only will I piss people off, I will eventually find myself falling off the wagon and get myself in a shit-load of trouble again. My sponsor and I are both in agreement: we know no one who does not need a Twelve Step program.

In my mind, being nice to others as a matter of course is the only way to live a life.

Re:Humility (2)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about 7 months ago | (#46270515)

" we know no one who does not need a Twelve Step program"

So much for humility and keeping the focus on yourself. For future reference, you can't judge the whole of humanity with a sweeping judgement and then claim to be humble. You evidently think you are qualified to assess every human you meet and decide what they "need".

Re:Humility (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46270743)

Being a bit harsh, aren't you? For the record, I'm no great fan of the 12 step program as it currently exists, but there are worse things for the human race to endure than a little self-reflection.

Re:Humility (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about 7 months ago | (#46270827)

No. I'm not. Indeed, I'm not being harsh at all, unless the truth is harsh:

OP: Look how humble I am! I've never met anyone who couldn't benifit by being more like me!

Seriously?

Re:Humility (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46270887)

Well shit, if you're going to paraphrase GP and expect all of us to regard your interpretation as automatically correct, then sure!

Re:Humility (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about 7 months ago | (#46271297)

Well shit, if you can't figure out that claiming to know what is best for everyone you have ever met is the opposite of humility then, sure! I can see how you'd have missed it.

Re:Humility (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46272005)

Verily, 'tis a fucking log stuck in thine eye.

incentive? (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 7 months ago | (#46270449)

As a better educated society (mainly in economic efficiency theory and morality) we can change our thinking about how we relate to one another.

why would those in power want to let that happen?

just sayin'

Nice guy thinks he is going to finish first, but t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270461)

..some big Neanderthal come by, beats him up, and steals his book on how to be nice to each other.

"..nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.." - Douglas Adams

Re:Nice guy thinks he is going to finish first, bu (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 7 months ago | (#46270775)

What if the nice guy IS the neanderthal? What if the neanderthal understood perfectly well he could take anything by force but chose not to?

Just asking...for a friend.

Re:Nice guy thinks he is going to finish first, bu (1)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#46270977)

Then the Cro-Magnons win.

So what's his name again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270463)

Stephen, Stefan? What kind of book review is that?

Reproduction ? (1)

redelm (54142) | about 7 months ago | (#46270713)

"survival" of the fittest is mostly a euphemism for reproduction. Numbers matter, but so does quality for it influences grandchildren and beyond.

So, are the scarce-gametes (women) attracted to nice guys? I don't see any evidence amongst all the feel-good unsupported normative prescriptions. I strongly suspect women are looking for men practicing optimum predatation. Although I doubt they are aware of this "goldilocks".

Re:Reproduction ? (1)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#46271021)

My own observation is that the nice guys end up with the more stable relationships, which tend to produce fewer but higher-achieving offspring. Speaking as someone who just celebrated our silver anniversary.

Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270741)

...YOU go first.

Leningrad survivors agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46270759)

The survivors of the 900 day blockade of Leningrad agree that those who helped other people were more likely to survive than those who were self-focused.

Actually, I think anthropologists generally believe that the reason we thrived more than other primates is that humans are willing to help each other and work collectively.

An overlooked gem (1)

HangingChad (677530) | about 7 months ago | (#46270789)

and the amazingly effective Tit-for-Tat strategy...

In politics we have one party that spews whatever unscientific nonsense bubbles up to the surface of their collective consciousness on a particular day. The other party tries to the be adults in the room and, if we've learned one thing over the last 30 years, that doesn't work.

It's counter-intuitive but the way to deal with irrational people is to match crazy with crazy, with forgiveness. So, if they want to stop the crazy and work on something sane, you're also willing to do that. But also willing to match crazy statement with crazy statement.

Re:An overlooked gem (1)

mi (197448) | about 7 months ago | (#46270885)

The other party tries to the be adults in the room

Both of America's major parties would say this about themselves — and the other guys.

But also willing to match crazy statement with crazy statement.

But if you happen to represent the party in power currently, then it must be the "crazy" stage right now — and for the last 6 years at least. America has rapidly slipped in both — economic freedom [rt.com] and in press freedom [rsf.org] during the period. The Party — and the President — calling themselves "Liberal" presided over the liberties slipping away. Crazy indeed.

Re:An overlooked gem (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 7 months ago | (#46271503)

The index of economic freedom is a ridiculous partisan effort from a well known extremely radical organization.

Complete bullshit really.

http://www.heritage.org/index/... [heritage.org]

Press freedom in the US has been under pressure for a long time, and rankings from JWB are notoriously volatile. For example the US had a large INCREASE in press freedom rankings last year, going from 47th to 33rd. It's preposterous to draw a partisan political conclusion from results that depend primarily on a couple of cases in from of the judiciary.

Re:An overlooked gem (1)

mi (197448) | about 7 months ago | (#46271991)

Complete bullshit really

Oh, well, that's a reassuring statement. Everything is fine then, right? I shall not worry my pretty little head about a thing...

Haters? (1)

mi (197448) | about 7 months ago | (#46270829)

and haters everywhere

When I hear the word "haterz", I call my air force. (Same reaction to the word "community", BTW -- I don't know, why.)

In summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46271105)

In summary:

  • Acting altruistic or selfish is simply a matter of what time-scale one chooses.
  • Being selfish simply means one is living with excess comfort and security.

We see all around the world, people behaving badly to people they don't know, or having less economic power than themselves. So do rich and poor choose the same time-scale? Rich people have a lot more to lose, so it would be practical for them to always think ahead (Movie 'In time'). But we see rich people using their economic power to be selfish just like poor people. The current thinking says extreme selfishness is a prerequisite for being rich.

No-one, which goes double for rich people, wants their hard work to be consumed by a stranger and his children: Selfishness is built-in to people. It's why pure marxism (IE communism) doesn't work. There is an obvious limit to altruism.

A lot of these arguments are aimed at society as a whole. It's easy to smash a shop window and steal stuff. Yet in many places around the world this doesn't happen. The inhabitants of that society follow rules that obviously keep their society predictable. Does such behaviour qualify as selfishness or altruism?

We call someone a hero, precisely because he did the opposite of his selfish impulses. Heroes tend to benefit society yet very few people choose to be a hero.

Oblig. (1)

PPH (736903) | about 7 months ago | (#46271825)

Dogbert [dilbert.com]

Ok I get it... (1)

3seas (184403) | about 7 months ago | (#46272015)

I can lie, cheat and steal but I'll be nice about it...

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