• Pathological Altruism

Pathological Altruism

Pathological altruism exists on many levels; from interactions between individuals in the course of interpersonal relationships, how groups/tribes operate, to the manipulations of demographics by the state apparatuses and political systems that rule the world.

Pathological Altruism is behaviour in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable.

Altruism in itself is a noble consideration, but often how it is implemented can lead to pathology; within our personal lives, within social groups, within communities; on a national, or international scale. When left unscrutinised, the motivations of perceived altruism appear to be selfless, but what is perceived is not always the entirety of the situation in play.

In the world of human endeavour, there are always hidden motivations.

It seems clear when one considers the setting, or cultural milieu, in which such behaviours seem more likely occur, and the exclusionary nature some experience as a result of the expression of presumed altruism. For example: how it has been expressed on a rather grand scale over the past number of decades across Western Europe; in the context of the allowance of mass migration from the third world, and the doling out of benefits to those arriving like they are being served in some sort of societal soup-kitchen. While homelessness among native populations is on the rise (1), as is the cost of housing.

Displays of altruism in a public context are defined by an outwardly-projected sense of concern, or an ostensible will to help the less fortunate. Another way to consider the same public posturing is through the lens of the concept of virtue-signalling(2).

Virtue-signalling is a way of feigning sympathy/charity, with the intention that the person expressing these seemingly venerable traits gets painted as some sort of selfless saint; like a Mother Theresa, or Mahatma Ghandi. But, from the outward expressions of apparent virtue, there peers out from within an undeniable reality that there is something to be gained by those who choose to adorn themselves with the mantle of hero or helper.

In the case of the mass-migration: governments borrow from banks using citizens as collateral, and the more people a nation has, the more supposed economic potential, or borrowing power, they then wield. In each instance, there is a benefit, or at least a potential or presumed benefit, gained by those acting as though they are being selfless.

“In almost every act of our lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons […] who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.” Edward Bernays(3)

It seems to me to be a perfect PR strategy for the ordinary individual, for the politician, and the government agent or agency to further their aims. Creating a perceived willingness to be charitable inevitable helps beautify one’s public image. If one has the public image of a benevolent philanthropist, it can certainly assist those who wish to trick others into thinking that they are more selfless or caring than they actually are. As a result deceivers have more freedom with which to pursue their ulterior motives, and are thus accommodated and enshrouded by a veil of feigned selflessness.

When we consider other behavioural phenomena, such as ‘The Bystander Effect’,(4) and the contexts in which this behaviour has been observed, the concept of pathological altruism seems to shift more clearly into focus, and become easier to accept as a fact of life.

The Bystander Effect references the diffusion of responsibility which occurs when a number of people perceive something bad happening to another, or others, and yet: they do nothing to intervene, or assist those in need of help.

The term was popularised by Bibb Latané and John Darley following the infamous 1964 case of the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese by the deranged Winston Moseley in a densely populated borough of New York city. This particularly horrific crime has been a popular case study which has attracted a much attention, analysis, and discussion over the years since. One of the reasons being due to the number of witnesses of the crime who did nothing to help; and did not even elect to call the police as they watched this grizzly spectacle unfold, safely nestled between the curtains they peered out from behind, secure indoors in their respective dwelling-places as they were.

The excuse given by witnesses of the crime as to why they did not do anything to help, not even lifting a phone to dial 9-1-1, was that – they claimed – they thought someone else would surely have done something to help; and so they felt that they themselves did not need to. I, personally, think this is a load of hogwash, and even wrote an entire paper about it while in college (the topic being the disposition toward selfishness in the human animal). I postulate that: it was not that people thought others had already helped, or were about to, so they did not need to do anything to save Kitty Genovese – which, let’s face it, is a pretty weak excuse for not reporting a rape and murder you are witnessing, or have witnessed. But, instead: that they had nothing to gain from helping; they did not want to get involved for the sake of their own convenience, doing so would complicate their lives, and would confer no benefit to the person in question.

This case, and the behaviour it highlights, shows the disturbing level of apathy at the heart of the human species. To watch someone be raped, stabbed repeatedly, and slowly murdered – the incident took place over a period of thirty-five minutes or more – from the comfort of your own living-room or bedroom, and to do nothing in response to assist the victim in any way is… (I can find no words other than) sadistic, or in the very least: apathetic. The will to watch someone suffer and die, without any associated will to help them can be considered as nothing more.

How anyone with a shred of empathy or genuine belief in the sanctity of life could behave in this way is literally not possible. Unless, to at least a portion of the population: empathy is tool for social animals to use to their own benefit in order to make themselves look good over the course of being involved in events that present opportunities to show honourable qualities such as empathy and compassion; and, at the same time do not present any danger; such as having to confront a dangerous criminal; or having to spend a lot of time dealing with police, and taking on the responsibilities and duties of becoming an official witness for the sake of prosecuting those responsible of wrongdoing.

Another example of the bystander effect I feel could do with mentioning is one that I witnessed again last week: the all-too-common case of when someone has collapsed on a busy city street, and people just continue on past without so much as a second look at their fallen fellow human. Scratch that… It seems as though sometimes people intentionally refrain from giving a second, or even first proper look of appraisal (even though they know what is there) out of – what I gather to be – fear of being seen noticing, but not doing anything. But, they do see, and they choose to do nothing to help. Why is it that these people do nothing?

I viewed the scene from a passing car, so I was not in a position to; but maybe I am making excuses myself in saying so. I could have done something, but perhaps convinced myself that the person on the ground was a drunk, or heroin addict, that I was not in a position to help, or any other number of passing excuse-thoughts and excuse-feelings. Was it out of fear of not wanting to become all entangled in this other person’s problems? Was it that I had nothing to benefit from helping, and it would have interfered with my day, so I did nothing? It was probably a number of things. But, to be fair, I was in a moving car, and was watching dozens of people walk right on by, who did even less than I (choosing to intentionally look away, as I watched contemplatively). This is the essence of the bystander effect.

If people are at heart so virtuous and kind-hearted: how can this be the ways things often are? My hypothesis is that this is not a situation that there is apparent benefit to be attained by getting involved in, and that it is a situation which will require expending great effort, and more than a little time to deal with effectively. So, many people being the self-serving creatures that they are, do not care to assist.

Seeing such things bother me, but it is at least more genuine – at least from my point of view – to ignore someone that needs help, than it is to pretend to be helping, caring, and compassionate, without actually doing anything other than speaking publicly in ways that put your otherwise non-existent virtue on display. What bothers me so much about the virtue-signalling representative of behaviour I believe to be pathological altruism is that: it often seems to put the ‘altruistic’ individual in a position to benefit; and when there is no benefit, or implied difficulty is present: there is no altruism.

An example perpetuated in the mainstream media recently was the case of Elin Ersson, who grounded a plane with hundreds of passengers to prevent an Afghani man from being deported. This story was spread as if this woman were a hero, but the facts of the matter make it clear that this was simply an example pathological altruism. The man was being deported after viciously assaulting his wife (5) in front of his children; even beating her head off of the ground while shouting abuse at her. And, on top of that: he actually wanted to be deported!

To be frank, I think naive people such as this should have absolutely no bearing on world politics. They do not understand, and yet they emotionally manipulate others into making bad decisions. This is unfortunately how the political arena is developing: ill-informed people acting on emotions, completely removed from the substance of the facts of the matters at hand.

It is curious how someone can be hailed as a hero for acting upon a situation without any real knowledge of the particulars of the case, essentially corrupting the course of justice. But, we live in an age of media bias that is bordering on the surreal, and this was a perfect PR piece for the Globalist agenda. If this was such a selfless act, why did she feel the need to livestream the event? Did she care that this bothered other people? Did she care that this man was a violent criminal? Did she have any idea that he actually wanted to go back to Afghanistan?

It is as if the very notion of ‘charity’ has been hijacked by unscrupulous seekers of status by means of what essentially amounts to a PR campaign which makes it seem (to some, at least) as though they are caring, considerate, empathetic individuals. Motivations are not always clear, so it is important to attempt to understand the context, subtext, and implications of any seemingly selfless act, because in this day and age perception management is a complex and well-studied avenue of endeavour. What seems like a good deed may end up being shameless self-promotion, or serving the purpose of obscuring or furthering a hidden agenda.

Pathological altruism is when an individual – or a group – chooses to do something which appears compassionate, or moral – but, ends up eventually causing more harm than good. Such behaviours are often put on display for the sake of making a public show of one’s virtues – through some sort of act which makes clear to the audience their concerns for the human rights of a certain individual, a number of individuals, a certain group, or number of groups: while neglecting to consider the effects upon other individuals/groups in the process — to the extent that it causes harm or disorder.

Pathological altruism can be interpersonal, inter-tribal, or inter-demographic. In the instance of intermingling tribes/demographics: it can lead to, for instance, a more culturally/technologically advanced tribe or demographic being reduced in perceived – or, dare I say: allowed – importance or value, and thus damaged, by an over-the-top show of selflessness from elements within that tribe/demographic; to do things in order to ‘help’ people from out-groups. Apparently selfless, but very often self-aggrandising in the most empty show of moral posturing imaginable, which undermines the very fabric of the society they are supposed to be a part of.

The reality of discerning genuine altruism from pathological altruism lies right here: are there ulterior motives potentially at play? Is someone making a moral show of themselves, or are they actually genuinely trying to help in a way they would do in private, at their own expense?

Cui bono?

1. https://www.focusireland.ie/resource-hub/latest-figures-homelessness-ireland/

2. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Virtue%20Signalling

3. Edward Bernays (Nephew of Sigmund Freud), Propaganda p.37/38

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21534650

5. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6013237/Migrant-deportation-stopped-student-protest-jail-assault.html

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5 Comments

  • comment-avatar
    Jochen Krattenmacher ()

    “Seeing such things bothers me, but it is at least more genuine – at least from my point of view – to ignore someone that needs help, than it is to pretend to be helping, caring, and compassionate, without actually doing anything other than speaking publicly in ways that put your otherwise non-existent virtue on display.”

    I fear due to this concern of yours (I will just believe you that you are being honest here), you will be less likely to see real virtue for what it really is: real virtue. You will try to deconstruct the motives of “apparently” virtuous acts, and where you fail to find any hidden motives, you will suspect that you simply didn’t look close enough.

    You can be nice to people and at the same time nice to yourself. Also, you naturally only know about the good deeds of people about which they tweeted or made a show of. You, by the very nature of it, do not know how many good deeds the same people did “off-the-books”, and to assume the worst I find a little too pessimistic.

    I prefer people who at least are trying to better the world. People who look away are not being genuine at all, because there is no truth to be genuine about. Either you try to be good, and therefore you have a chance to actually be good, or you do not try, and therefore you won’t have the chance. But to assert that, from the beginning, you didn’t have a chance at all, is self-deceivement at its best. The fact that you drove by, even though you knew about the bystander effect very well, makes you effectively more “guilty” than less-educated people, and I find it surprising that you seem to be trying to justify your behavior. It’s okay, you didn’t care enough, I probably wouldn’t have either, but you might want to reconsider your role in that situation.

    I found your assay very interesting and well-written, but I fear that it has potential to be used as a propaganda piece against people who really are trying to help other people. Whether they want to do that because they are ultimately selfish or not, I do not care, but fact is, the world needs such people, and you might be doing them a disservice here.

    • comment-avatar
      C.B. Ahern ()

      Thank you for contributing.

      I am, at heart, a fairly pessimistic individual. It is just how life has formed me to think; at least for the time-being. I think you are taking the theme and content of this essay, and from there inferring that I do not believe genuine altruism exists — which is not the case. But, even genuine altruistic motivations do not rule out the possibility of pathology. I have seen a lot of faux altruistic behaviour, both in my personal life, and as a part of the world at large, so the purpose of this piece was to highlight the disingenuous nature at the heart a lot of what I have dubbed ‘perceived altruism’. I appreciate the points of view you are putting forth, but you seem to be jumping to conclusions about how I think generally from the specific points made for the purpose of this piece of prose. I watch the world carefully, so I have a greater understanding of human beings than simply by extracting my point of view from “good deeds of people about which they tweeted or made a show of”. There are levels of subtlety, and things are more complicated than I can do justice explaining in words. I know this well.

      I do apprehend, understand, and appreciate that people do good deeds for the sake of helping others. I did not make the argument in this essay that I believed this was not the case; and certainly did not intend to. There are good people out there trying to do good in the world, but most perceived goodness I see is not divorced from self-interest. I try my best to be my best every day. Some days are easier than others for succeeding in achieving that, as I am sure you know. I am a big proponent of Aristotelean virtue ethics, and think that too many people lack a genuine will to be virtuous.

      The more I read your comment, the more I see presumption about my beliefs/thoughts/feelings that is simply invalid. The example I gave of not helping the fallen person on the city street: I was not driving, nor in control of the situation, so I watched from an insulated bubble of appraisal. My friend who was driving would not have stopped, and I would have been wasting my breath saying “Hey! I know you have somewhere to be, and are doing me a favour giving me a lift, but let’s find somewhere to park in the middle of the city on a busy Saturday to help that man up!”

      I am glad you enjoyed the essay and found it well-written, but it came from my own thoughts and feelings about the topic at hand at the time of writing it. I find it rather amusing you think it could be used as a ‘propaganda piece’ (how so?), seeing as the reason I wrote it was to dispel the belief that so many people have in the self-aggrandising shows of pretend compassion that seem more and more prevalent in this day and age. It was literally written as a means of encouraging critical thinking, teasing apart, and to lead readers to try to understand on a deeper level, a style of mental manipulation (which I find incredibly insidious) that is used nowadays with great regularity.

      That is all.

  • comment-avatar
    Barry Fitzroy ()

    Any altruism is better than mercantilism

  • comment-avatar
    Niamh Middleton ()

    In Darwinian terms more benefits accrue to someone who can project the image of a social cooperator than someone who really is one. What you call pathological altruism (good term) actually increases individual fitness. True altruists can very quickly be annihilated and are not to be found inside fashionable ‘in’ groups

  • comment-avatar
    C.B. Ahern ()

    That’s an interesting point, and I feel quite valid. That is one glaring character flaw in the collective psyche of modern day humankind, as discussed in my blog post ‘Deceit’: people’s willingness to dissimulate. If the way to increase one’s ‘individual fitness’ (as you put it) is by being a weasel, that is… problematic. We need to aim for the next step in evolutionary progress, and not devolve intellectually into a headspace where we allow ourselves the be tricky little rodents of individuals. Pardon the metaphor.