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Altruism

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An interesting convergence of my termite study, a diary entry from my trip to Cuba in 1987 and observation on the current state of affairs in the United States.

Termites, social insects, observed exhibiting altruism, yielding self interest for the betterment of the group.  This behavior is the best for survival of the group long term. Makes me think that the termites will be here after we, humans are gone.

Altruism seems a very difficult lesson for humans.  I was interested years ago in the “experiment” in Cuba, and the concept of the “New Man” that Che Guevara wrote about.  The “New Man” was a reaction to Adam Smith’s idea of a system powered by individuals exercising their self interest, Capitalism.  The “New Man” would work in a altruistic manner, seeking what best supports the group and therefore best for the long run.

In the diary piece from 1987, after my trip to Cuba, I speculated that this was what was presented, what I saw perhaps in Cuba, examples of  the “New Man”. It grew from the revolution there that offered opportunity to many who were denied opportunity historically. It grew there because of an equalization of opportunity.  Income equality after the revolution for the population was greater than it had ever been in Cuba. And that income equality seems to be the important element for engendering altruistic behavior, rather than self interested behavior.  Where is the incentive to act altruistic if others are profiting by acting only in self interest?

Which brings us to our current state in the United States.  Why is corruption so prevalent? It grows from the inequality, and particularly income inequality.  In this environment for those with power the temptation to use that power for self interest is great.  This also explains the “Me Too” movement. “Me Too” uncovers this hidden abuse of power, sexual exploitation by those with power, mostly white men but not exclusively.

I could go farther and say that the inevitable decline of Empire, documented so well in history is the result of a culture that rewards those with power who utilize it for self interest as opposed to altruistic behavior.  The termites have figured this out, but not yet humans.

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