Dave's Mental Meanderings
2003-02-03 06:40:03 (UTC)

Reciprocal Altruism

from my journal
24 January 2003

"That girls are raped and two boys knife a third
Were axioms to him, who never had heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept."

It seems to me that even well-to-do people, and young people
in particular, seem to think that ours is a world in which
reciprocal altruism has no place. Even in the most trivial
matters, people are laughed at who offer another person a
simple friendly gesture. Many, if not post people, at
times myself included, have the urge to inflict minor harm
or inconvenience, as if to get revenge for being the victim
of such inconvenience, but usually to people with whom the
perpetrator has had no prior dealings. For example, people
will speed up to prevent someone from passing them on the
highway, usually without the initial intention of driving
that fast. If reciprocal altruism ever was a part of
standard social conduct in the United States, which many
elderly people say was indeed the case, then what happened
to it? And what happened in the last 50 years to make
otherwise good people like myself (and I use the
term "good" to convey the attitude of a person who
generally avoids wishing harm on others and who is
reasonably altruistic to some extent) have arbitrary
desires to irritate other people who have caused them not
so much as a slight inconvenience, let alone to act on
those desires on a fairly regular basis? Surely the cause
is purely societal. I'd hate to see this country in 50