Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reflections: The Origins of Virtue

It seems like a long time since I started reading this book. It’s been sitting around me for months together, getting shunned every now and then for another interesting and far more gripping book. And now that I have finally finished it, it feels like I have taken forever to write about it. It’s got to do with two reasons. Ever since I started my other blog on cooking, the novelty of it has been quite compelling. I am fueled to write posts there. Besides, writing out a recipe is far far simpler and easier than all the work required to think and assimilate my thoughts to churn out a post here. Secondly, I started reading this book fully aware that I may not learn anything significantly new. Yet, when it comes to morality, society, and the definitions of virtue, I am willing to read as many repetitive (and non-repetitive) books as possible, in the hopes that I may stumble upon some, novel, interesting trains of thought that would help me internalize and understand these concepts much better.

The basic questions addressed in the book are - When and why did virtues like cooperation and altruism emerge among us?, Are these virtues wired-instincts, or are they nurtured traits?, What is the fine-line between cooperation and competition, between altruism and self-interest? How do virtues serve the interests of the individual, as much as they help our species to survive? So, is man inherently good or bad?

The short answer for why morality, altruism, and cooperation are exalted as virtues is because we need to adopt and embrace these traits for ensuring our survival, and the survival of our genes, and our species. Mankind has achieved so much and has progressed to such heights because our species knows how to cooperate, reciprocate, trade, and divide labor among specialized people. The point is, each virtue serves a selfish purpose - to us and to our species. Reciprocation is our incentive. If there were no reciprocation, we limit the altruistic deeds we do for others. In our scriptures it is called Karma - you receive what you give. So be good, and reap the benefits. We form friendships, enter into marriage, are cordial and helpful to neighbors, family and other smaller circles of our community, in order to reap the benefits of reciprocation and division of labor. We have the ingrained need to be an accepted part of a community, because when hardships strike, we have people to fall back on and help us. But in order to expect such help, we need to offer help as well. And so on... the gregarious, well-connected, socially active person is the most effective survivor. And consider this paradox - when you gift someone, you subconsciously expect something in return at some point. Then, is the person who refuses to accept any gift from friends or family, the most selfish person? For he realizes the debt he incurs by accepting the gift, and hence refuses to accept such burden of reciprocation?

It leads to another paradox. Despite the accepted rationality of practicing virtuous behavior, human-beings are still territorial, and fiercely compete with one another. Why so? It is natural selection’s way of ensuring the fittest, and only the most competent survive. At a micro-level, our genes are selfish. They cause us to fight for them, stand up for them - to ensure their propagation over other kinds of genes. This is one explanation for racial and territorial conflicts. But one can’t afford to be too aggressive to too many people, and too very often. We have the seen the fall of capitalistic giants who have been so caught up with greed and aggression.

We flounder while trying to establish a balance between competition and cooperation. Is tit-for-tat always a good strategy? We need to know when to forgive and when not to. It’s imperative that we don’t get pushed and trampled upon in our effusive need to always do good to others and never expect anything in return. For when we resort to the latter “selfless” mode, we as individuals perish, although we may help to sustain the growth of our species. Basically, it is not “rational” when one chooses to neglect the self.

For most people, selfishness is a negative trait. With that conditioning, sometimes we make decisions that are detrimental to the self. When my good friend told me that I had to do things for “self-preservation”, the whole term was new to me. When we have been taught to ignore the self, to not expect anything in return for our moral duties, it is a radical perspective to pause and consider that everything that has been established, including religion and morality, are essentially to serve a “selfish” purpose - be it from the standpoint of the community or the individual. Survival, is basically selfish. There is no escaping from it. If you have just one serving of food, and you see a hungry, wailing child of a strangers’, and a hungry child of yours, you will invariably choose to give the food to your child. Nature has wired our instincts to first help our blood and genes. If resources are in surplus, then we have the luxury of sharing a small piece of ours with others’, even without expecting anything in return right-away. We have emotions such as guilt, to make us help other non-related members of our species every now and then, because without our community, we are nothing.

But my objective is this - at some point, if I have a child, I want to be able to teach him/her when to be selfish, and when not to be. I want to help him/her understand that self-preservation is as much important as compassion and empathy for others - that one needs to  know when to draw the line and say - “no, I won’t be nice to you”. And I want to make him/her realize when to forgive and when not to forgive.

Our scriptures speak a slightly different language that seems to urge the individual to always help the betterment of the species, while completely ignoring the self. I need more time and wisdom to understand why that is so. Maybe the bigger perspective of propagating our species is much more important than preserving the needs of the individual. But if every individual loses their need or drive to do something for themselves, and have no pressing instinct to preserve the self, won’t the progress of the species grind to a halt as well? How, you ask? Here is Matt Ridley’s talk on his recent book, which touches upon my question.

Digested Thoughts: A thought-provoking book on the rationality and practicality of morality and virtues. There are many more interesting thoughts, such as on the benefits of privatization of property, and the necessity for governments to govern and control our societies. 


Meens said...

Neeraja, I have so much to write on this and so less time to actually do so. In selfishness/selflessness, my take is almost always utilitarian.

The line "Survival, is basically selfish" made me laugh :-)

Nice post :-) Will come back, read again and respond more, when I can...

SecondSight said...

Nice review! I'm piqued by one of your last points- where do the scriptures say that we must always be un-selfish and sacrifice the individual for the greater good? :)

Neeraja said...

I don't know "where exactly" the scriptures say so, but renouncing the "I" and the "ego"/self are part of almost every shloka. And the Gita says that one must do their duties without expecting anything in return. Almost every spiritual discourse advices one to think outside of oneself, so maybe I am extrapolating too much.

Meens said...

My humble opinions....these are not rigid. I am open to all kinds of thoughts, even the most selfish thoughts are completely acceptable to me :-)

Renouncing is fine, if you know how to survive after renouncing. Renouncing is fine, if you truly are grown enough to find happiness from renunciation. On a side note, it is in fact a fortune for others who are closely associated with people who are grown enough to renounce what we generally think are requisites for survival.

I don't think even the scriptures would recommend renunciation in a way that could be self-destructive .. the primary intent in scriptures, I feel, is to educate us and equip us so that we will grow to level that we will be happy even when we renounce things that we supposedly need.

Not expecting anything is return for anything is the strongest self-defense one can have against disappointments. Not expecting anything is a great path to self-sufficiency and happiness.

Overall, the sooner we let go of external sources of nourishment of the ego, the more inner strength we gain. Stronger he mind, stronger the body. Stronger the mind and body, the more useful we are to ourselves and to people around...

Neeraja said...

Meens, thanks for sharing. We are all sharing our thoughts and opinions, and everything is humble in its own way ;).

"Not expecting anything is return for anything is the strongest self-defense one can have against disappointments. Not expecting anything is a great path to self-sufficiency and happiness."

I totally agree. But according to theories postulated by scientists such as the author of this book, reciprocity is a wired, natural instinct in us. It is human to want to expect something in return for our efforts... and that seems to be the bedrock of our societal functioning and progress. And that is why I'm conflicted. I understand the "rationality" of both letting go of one's ego, as well as the necessity to hold on to the self and its desires to both move forward as individuals, and as a species. That's why I mention that we are still bad at reaching a balance.

"I don't think even the scriptures would recommend renunciation in a way that could be self-destructive"

Probably... but I'm reminded of how ants function. Ants are one of the most dutiful, altruistic creatures ever. But no one ant considers itself as a single entity - each ant is wired to think of themselves as part of the whole - they are nothing without their colony. Since each ant works together so "selflessly" the entire colony functions as a super-organism - highly effective and successful in propagating their species/genes. In that sense, although the individual ant's genes are selfish, the ant itself is not - it goes to any length to sacrifice its life for the benefit of the surviving genes in the colony... And I think, that's probably what our scriptures hint at. To work selflessly, not having an attachment to the self, and working just for the benefit of the species. But contrary to ants, we are more complex... so if we each have no expectation from our life/actions/job etc., innovation, progress etc. is going to be hard. Such disinterest in anything material or related to life wouldn't help the species as a whole...

I understand renunciation at later stages in life, as part of our 4 ashramas, but not through most of life.

Maybe ideally speaking, doing one's duties, driven by the focused desire for the collective advancement of the species would lead to some sort of Utopia and that's what religion strives us to reach?

As I said, I need more time and wisdom to understand how these two concepts intersect, or not intersect. I don't have answers to the questions :)... but please do feel free to continue to share your thoughts!

SecondSight said...

Since this is about the scriptures and all that, I will add the disclaimer that this is only my opinion/ understanding ;)- but I think in "renouncing the "I" or ego" the shlokas do not ask us to abandon the self, but to become a greater self. An expansion of (self-)consciousness isn't quite the same as an abandonment of it :).

As for ants, Dictyostelium, bees, and all the other social animals and the rest- I see (at least) two ways of looking at it. If you consider it an organism, each ant is only a part- so saying the ant is unselfish is like saying your pancreas or liver are unselfish. From a genetic standpoint, all the ants are just as selfish as their genes :)

Karthik said...

Yes, I think there needs to be a balance between self preservation and altruism. I only feel our 'default' mode should be unselfish, and we should switch to self-preservation-mode when necessary :-) I don't look for any intellectual reasoning to justify that; it just feels intuitively right to me :-)

Neeraja said...

SecondSight, you know how much I've been butting my head against these concepts all these years, but I still don't have enough clarity to straighten it all out in my mind. Add to the jumble, I have brought in the ambiguity of religion/scriptures/spirituality, whose main caveat is that everything is subject to multiple interpretations. So in my head, self-awareness or broadening one's consciousness means reaching a sate of understanding that you are a part of the whole - "I", "me" "self", "individual", "ego" are supposed to dissolve once one reaches this level of awareness (How Siddhartha feels in the end). Maybe this state of awareness is the same as, or leads to the knowledge of how to actualize the self (Maslow's needs). But something doesn't fit when the concepts of selfishness and reciprocity/reciprocal altruism come into the picture. When you see yourself as not an individual but as an integrated part of the whole, when you cease to expect reciprocation, recognition for the self, how can you still actualize the self? There is some contradiction. I can't verbalize it well, but there is still a gap in my mind...

Karthik, I had the same notion until a few years back :). But I have realized that when dire circumstances come knocking, people demonstrate time and again that their default mode is unfortunately not "unselfish" but selfish. Although this book may sound cynical and radical, it is grounded in irrefutable evidences of how we innately are. It's helpful to come to terms with what our real default modes are, and then try to get to another mode that serves us and others as well :).

Karthik said...

yeah, but don't dire circumstances fall under the 'when necessary' clause ? :-) It just makes me uneasy to imagine attaching a selfish motive to every act of kindness or goodwill. For, it comes down to saying that there is no notion of goodness or nobility - even 'good' people are selfish, just in a different way.

Also, I've noticed that streams of reasoning that apply ideas of evolutionary biology and natural selection to human psychology rarely speak of the handicap principle. I haven't read widely in this area so you might know better. Anyway, I agree that it is stupid to be nice to everyone, and at times it is necessary to be selfish.

Neeraja said...

Karthik, this is a hairy topic :). And as I write to you, I feel like I'm discussing this with myself, for a part of me still struggles to understand it all and does feel uneasy. This is one of the reasons why I never latched onto Ayn Rand.

Yeah, my "dire circumstances" wording was wrong :). I think the concern is - selfishness is viewed as a negative trait. So let me call it "self-orientation". My aim is not to intellectualize per se, but to understand the reason for our basic instincts - such as guilt, conscience, happiness, hurt, love, the need for justice, fairness, morality etc. It might be counter-intuitive to question the fundamentals, but I am weird enough to want to understand things from bottom-up rather than from top-down :).

And to me, the need/existence of these human instincts make sense through the concepts and theories put forward in books like this. Basically, one gets up everyday in the morning and works through the day in order to survive another day - every action we do is "self-oriented". Even if we choose to help someone without getting anything in return from them, we engage in that action because our "self" wants us to, and we want to appease that feeling. Living with guilt throughout the day is unpleasant, and hence we appease it and feel good inside... in that sense, the self is "rewarded" and recognized. Our action is not "selfish" based on the corroded definition of the term, but it is oriented to the self, as much as it is oriented towards others.

Perhaps it does strip some nobility from the deed, and I welcome it. A sense of nobility or exaltation makes us feel superior, when in essence it is humbling to realize that the act wasn't as "self-less" :). It personally changes how I view things from my perspective, and it has brought in more humility in me. Think about people who choose to be in "noble" professions - they usually say things like - "I want people to remember me after I am gone, my name should live on, I should feel good at the end of the day... " etc. This need to immortalize oneself/one's genes is ingrained even in altruism. I am not belittling such good deeds, and the goodness of it is absolute and truly wonderful, but the aura of nobility is not always true :).

Not sure what you mean by the handicap principle?

Karthik said...

Neeraja, Thanks for your detailed response. Now, what you say makes sense to me, and to a large degree, I agree with it :-) Yes, the aura of nobility is not always true !

The handicap principle is/was a missing piece in the evolution puzzle. It is used to explain some observations that contradict principles of natural selection. For eg, for a peacock, the huge tail is a burden in many ways, but the message it sends out to a potential mate is "Look, in spite of this huge tail, I am able to survive". It is a kind of twisted counter-logic. You can just google it to find out more if you're interested. I was just wondering if that has been applied to explain some aspects of human behaviour.

Meens said...

Please excuse my essay.

"Reciprocity is a wired, natural instinct in us" - yes, agree that it is a natural human instinct. But not all natural human instincts are always good. And I'll just define this "good" based on the positive
consequence something can create for one and one's community. For a very long time, I was strongly feeling that whatever comes naturally to us, is noble and honorable, whatever it is. Over a period of time, I changed over and started thinking that whatever comes naturally is noble, but the transformation of that natural feeling by means of a sound reasoning with a greater good in mind, becomes nobler.

"Such disinterest in anything material or related to life wouldn't help the species as a whole..." - I am not entirely sure Neeraja. I started thinking about evolution, civilization and then, how materialistic life has become. Go back to the time when material concepts were just not there.... primeval man's life was so simple, his needs so basic that nature could easily cater to them. I feel that man was much happier than we are now. There were challenges to survival that were more eco-system/nature based but I feel even with such supposed progress of today, we still face similar, if not the same, challenges. So, have we really progressed in the true sense with all this material accomplishment? Are we leading the most healthy life we can, for our mind and body? Has the human race progressed so significantly as compared to aeons back? I feel we have not. All this competition, aggression.. in the name of "interest in the species' progress"...is this really what will lead us to achieve the purpose we were created for? I am not sure Neeraja... I am almost beginning to think inner happiness and peace are even more valuable than "progress". If our basic instincts are the cause of this lack of progress in
humans, is this how it was all meant to be? Were we created with this end in mind? I am no expert or a person who was studied vastly on all this and am just thinking as I write, so you are most welcome to
refute anything that I say and educate me.

Meens said...

Very interesting to read about ants. Its great that you read so exhaustively and have such valuable things like this to share. Thanks :-) Can we live like ants, and yet feel a sense of accomplishment that
we humans are wired to want? I believe we can but I also agree with you that it does not come very naturally to us... we can strike a balance between altruism and self-actualization but it involves training/self-training every single human mind, intensively, with full trust in the principles of renunciation of the no-so-great-overall-consequences-causing parts of the "I" :-) (Oh, well, thats what religion tries to do... :-) )
and we are a huge complex population, with different individual thoughts...and that makes it very hard :-) Faced with some extreme catastrophe, may be we all humans will come together and realize we have to stand together or we fall. I feel that we seem to think too much of ourselves.

"I understand renunciation at later stages in life, as part of our 4 ashramas, but not through most of life" - Sure, but when one attains an inner growth, I feel renunciation can start much earlier, and cause so much good to many people around. With renunciation here, I did not exactly mean giving up everything but I meant a feeling where you are fine with or without something. Put together several such small units of people like that causing good to their own people... the general good grows.

"Even if we choose to help someone without getting anything in return from them, we engage in that action because our "self" wants us to, and we want to appease that feeling." - yes, We were created as an
individual with an individual brain, emotions..sixth sense.. so its absolutely natural to want to honor that self. Harmless acts of appeasing the self do not fall under the "selfish" category. In a sense, harmonious and harmless self-orientation can only bring about advancement to the species. Religiously, we were taught that when we do good to others we will attain Moksha. But if we do good to others just because it helps us, ultimately, is that slightly selfish? Hmm.. let me think.. actually I feel, the consequence of such selfishness is only good, so may be even that could be termed self-orientation. If the reason to do good is more for the good of that other person and less for appeasing the self, I feel it is a noble deed :-)

Meens said...

About Ayn Rand, even I felt exactly what you said. I loved her powerful writing and her great skill with beautiful constructs of reason. But philosophically, I do not relate too well to her disbelief in
nobility and her absolute definitions of everything, and that lack of open-mindedness.

Sorry again, there's no structure in whatever I have written nor am I arriving at any conclusion. I am just a beginner trying to understand and think about all this :-) There's so much to learn as we continue to live our lives... May be I do not know ANYTHING right now and I might totally change in the next few years and say something else.... I really don't know.

And I had to split this in three comment submissions, coz it said I am exceeding the char limit :-D

Neeraja said...

Karthik, yeah I remember reading about it before, but didn't remember the name of the paradox. So, this gets us into wheels within wheels :). Before I carry on, let me stress that I don't look upon natural selection as the final authority/theory that explains everything about us. I don't like "scientists" associating, pigeon-holing every phenomenon into this mold - it is against Science to do so.

Regarding the handicap paradox, Matt Ridley and other scientists have an interesting concept/theory called Sexual Antagonism. Pasting from another post of mine - "it appears that the X chromosome that statistically outnumbers the Y chromosome, attempts to destroy the Y chromosome through mutations that might generate a protein sequence, which would destroy the Y chromosome! (gross oversimplification on my part in explaining this, but bear with me). It's like a hacker having found the password to an enemy's account, creating a virus to destroy the account! But some mutations of the Y chromosome escapes the destroy sequence and hence the male species gets saved. This hypothesis is alluded as a sweep in evolution every once in a million years, wherein through a new mutation of the Y chromosome, a slightly different variation of the species comes into existence! Peacocks apparently didn't have such exquisite plumes a few hundred generations back. Females seem to be progressively resisting the "seduction" of the males, due to which the male peacock needs to produce more and more beautiful and convincing techniques to attract the female, thereby growing more beautiful plumes. If this resistance to males keeps increasing, there maybe a point when the species would obliterate themselves." This is a possible explanation for why men and women of today do crazy things. Ridley mentions other examples of animals that have upped their mating rituals/strategies to risky levels, but I don't remember.

I was quite intrigued by this concept and have wanted to read more, but haven't done so yet!

Also, scientists also accept that some instincts no longer serve their original "purpose" - eg. with female empowerment, there are very few women who want to start a family in their 20s, although their healthy child bearing/rearing instincts are at the peak in the 20s. Ambitions such as education or career are irrelevant within the present framework of our instincts and biology. Natural selection surely didn't anticipate single mothers, gay couples, couples having a huge age difference with their kids, nuclear families, fragmented living, wherein we don't even know our neighbors (forget about community), etc. Some of our instincts are hence irrelevant, and are probably handicapping us in today's world. Robert Wright explains this much better in - The Moral Animal.

Sorry, I have overwhelmed myself and you with sooo many theories! In the end, we still are far away from discerning truth from speculation :). I am open to learning/reading as many scientific theories as I can to put together a model in my head - but maybe i won't and it will remain a mystery :)

Meens - thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful and detailed comment! Will come back and reply later :)

Neeraja said...

"But not all natural human instincts are always good. And I'll just define this "good" based on the positive
consequence something can create for one and one's community"

True, but I meant reciprocity was a useful, necessary instinct in helping our society grow. Yeah, by ideal definitions, our state of "civilization" is nothing to boast about, but we have advanced to live longer, have increased our mortality, have more medical attention, have made our lives more comfortable and secure, and have come a long way from the primitive, barbaric times to understand ourselves and the universe a little bit better etc. And the fact that we have evolved to be at the top of the food chain, combating so many predators and threats, is saying something. I don't advocate arrogance, but we have certainly progressed in leaps and bounds in a few vital dimensions - not in all dimensions, and we need to work on them.

"I am almost beginning to think inner happiness and peace are even more valuable than "progress". "

As I keep mentioning, empathy, inner-peace, etc. can come only if our basic needs are met - food, shelter, clothing, a place in community. And imagine how hard it was for the primitive man to get these things - his day to day existence revolved around hunting and bringing home food, and making sure his family doesn't get killed. I am not sure he had the time or the space in his mind to think of or even comprehend inner-peace. In comparison, today we have the access to choose how much material comfort we need, and what we need, or don't need. In that sense, we have come a long way to make these choices for ourselves. Yes, we still have to fight for similar things - bringing home money translates to food, shelter, etc. etc. But at least some of us have the choice to not madden ourselves in the pursuit and live a peaceful life with just the necessities. Not sure if I am making sense to you :)... But progress helps ease survival in a materialistic sense. If we always lived hand-to-mouth, we don't have the luxury to think of helping others, or think outside of feeding, fending and surviving in a very primal sense. And this is where it makes sense that nature has wired it in us to first think of us and our family and their well-being before giving a morsel of food to another family. But today things are different, thanks to those very same instincts which brought us here.

Neeraja said...

"All this competition, aggression.. in the name of "interest in the species' progress"...is this really what will lead us to achieve the purpose we were created for?"
History shows that these did indeed get us here, unfortunately. Since the cavemen, it is because of the aggression and fierce ambition to survive, innovate etc. we could get to this point. I understand your angst, for we have reached a stage wherein, as you say, we have more evolved minds/sixth sense to tone down and reach a balance. And we certainly need to work on them.

But let me make a crucial distinction in this discussion - there are two threads here - one is, how is man innately designed/wired to be? And the second is, understanding these innate instincts, what traits should be toned down, what traits need to be abandoned for they are no longer irrelevant, and what traits cannot be shed? And your thoughts seem to be on the latter - how man ought to be. But this depends on how he innately is, and what room is left for him to grow into what he ought to be. And my thought is, something like reciprocity is too ingrained, and too fundamental a part of us to let go and survive and progress. I may be wrong for sure :)

I feel this notion of Utopia and ideal mankind is great, but very difficult to practically achieve, for as you said, there are a billion different kinds of us - and things like inner-peace, spirituality, cannot be enforced onto everyone. It's a personal experience. At least in this present state of our evolution/progress, I feel only a fraction of individuals can achieve this ideal state of harmony, but there will always be a majority of mankind that will look towards selfish gains for themselves and the species. In that rush, the fraction is likely to get trampled.

"Religiously, we were taught that when we do good to others we will attain Moksha. But if we do good to others just because it helps us, ultimately, is that slightly selfish? "
Yes, my theory is that it is this instilled thought/fear/devotion towards Karma that makes us go to any lengths of altruism, because somewhere within us, we have the feeling that justice will be served, we are accruing credits, and our dues will be paid. This thought that something good will come to us, the individual, is what keeps us going. I am not saying the consequence of such notion is bad/selfish, but the intent is not that "noble" always, for we do expect something, in some form, in return.Imagine if the scriptures said, Do good, and your community/species lives on. How many will subscribe to it?

Oh I am not well-read or anything... everything just boils down to opinions, views and thoughts :). I am open-minded to see how I change, but I want to keep exposing myself to as many different thoughts as possible to keep widening my horizon of understanding :).

I like your thought -" If the reason to do good is more for the good of that other person and less for appeasing the self, I feel it is a noble deed" :)

Karthik said...

Neeraja, thanks for sharing those theories. Fascinating to read about them !:-) All the best in your quest to put together a model in your head!

I believe in much simpler theories, though some may term them simplistic:-) I too do agree that reciprocity is a perhaps a hardwired trait. But I still think it is difficult but possible to strive for high ideals, and balance it with self-orientation, though that's no reason to feel superior or complacent in any way, like you earlier pointed out. Maybe I am just hardwired to be idealistic :-)

Neeraja said...

Karthik, I agree with your simple, yet very profound and difficult ideal :). It's a good, satisfying, and rewarding goal for the individual :).

SecondSight said...

Such an intense discussion, makes me think you need to start a discussion board rather than a blog, or perhaps a separate section of your blog for such insightful comments :).

I do wonder though, if there is actually anything like a truly unselfish deed? Even when we act 'more' for another than for ourselves, there is still a measure of self-satisfaction at having acted nobly. How does one weigh 2 altruistic acts to decide which is "better"?

Neeraja said...

SecondSight, I am just going around in circles than facilitating anything ;).

Yeah, I thought of it too - one of the gray areas of Utilitarianism. It's hard to put a value on those acts and decide which is better. But think of this silly example - you really want a certain job. But there is an equally good candidate who needs the job for more dire reasons - to get money to save his ailing dad. Whereas you could do without the job for now (although your "self" craves for it). But you choose to give up the job for the other person. You can argue that the self-satisfaction/feelings of nobility would still be high - but if it were me, my disappointment will neutralize the self-satisfaction, making the other act better :)

But I see where you are coming from, and I have made the same points in previous comments on this thread.

Meens said...

Thank you so much Neeraja, your wonderful response reminded me of the achievements of the human race. I agree, definitely that we have come a long way. And I agree when you say that my points are all about "how man ought to be". I agree that the basic needs should be met to start thinking about inner peace etc. But I feel we met that basic need, as a surviving race, long back. Now, people who are better off are refusing to accept that, and their "needs" are only keeping on increasing dynamically. I feel, these people are at a stage where, unless they make some progress intellectually towards some maturity, the less fortunate people can never be uplifted. Intellectual growth is very important... and its the only thing that can help in levelling these inequalities... It is necessary for the race itself, to actually progress from here.

"In that rush, the fraction is likely to get trampled" - Thats a sad truth. I wish, some day on earth, theres is power which is not coupled with arrogance, greed or exploitation but coupled only with virtues and goodness. I wish there is money, lots of money, not coupled with prodigality but coupled with good heart and solemn responsibility... All these are dreams, Neeraja.

About reciprocity:
I agree that reciprocity is a useful instinct, in these ways - When someone does something for you, you feel like giving it back to them. When someone returns a favor you once did to them, you feel good about it, and you feel good about yourself and it build sthat relationship. When you love someone and they love you back, you're happy. But on top of this, I wanted to say - Lets reciprocate all that we receive. But lets not do something and always look for reciprocation or return of it.
"And my thought is, something like reciprocity is too ingrained, and too fundamental a part of us to let go" - Yes neeraja, I agree with you. But let that not hinder one from making the effort not to expect or from forgiving someone else for not giving them what they felt they deserved. Lets strive to be nobler, even if our hardwired instinct is to expect things back. Its okay if we fail in that effort but I feel we can at least make the effort to be nobler.... may be I am totally wrong Neeraja, I dont know.
And please dont think just because I'm talking all this, I am someone who totally doesn't expect anything back or is utterly noble etc. I also fight my battles to get my share of what I feel I deserve, to survive. So I'm not talking about me here, literally, but like what you said, I am talking about how great we all can potentially be.
".....the intent is not that "noble" always, for we do expect something, in some form, in return" - yeah, I do good, I don’t expect anything back from the person that I did good to. I just hope I will reach God, because of all the good things that I did, and that’s the thing I expect in return. This is the most noble I can be. I don't think I am capable of any more nobility or even defining anything that’s more noble :) There stalls all my "intellectual" babbling, and I just don’t know anything more :)

Neeraja said...

Thanks Meens, for taking the time to get back to this discussion :). I really appreciate it.

"Intellectual growth is very important... and its the only thing that can help in levelling these inequalities... It is necessary for the race itself, to actually progress from here."

I totally agree - no arguments :).

I feel your idealism, and can completely relate to it :). There is no harm in striving to achieve such ideals. But I hope such ideals benefit the individual as much as it is sure to benefit the society :). Even if they don't benefit the individual in terms of material gains in life, I hope it leaves the individual with much inner-peace :). And I agree, the peace is far more worthy.

Meens said...

Neeraja, if I didn't say it enough, I agree and support every point that you have told about self-interest. These should be the guidelines for the selfless, likely-to-be-trampled people. Whereas for the already-self-interested people, my points about striving to be nobler will probably apply. And unless the latter set of people makes the effort to be nobler, there is no point is the former set becoming nobler. Don't know but may be the world will always be a combination of all these varying shades of individuals... It would nice to know how the human race would be a few thousand years from now.. I'm curious :)

Thanks once again for such an enlightening and engaging discussion.

Neeraja said...

Thanks one again Meens, for contributing to this discussion. Yeah, I am always curious to know how our society shapes in the future :).