Altruistic Societies Most Punitive, Too

So, this is a little outdated. But does anyone else find this fascinating? It seems to suggest that as the genes (and cultural practices) of altruism grew in the human population, that accordant constraints in the form of cultural willingness to be punitive toward unfairness coemerged.

As I’m doing loads of research into suitable social norms and practices for Cosmos, this is just one of those small stories that jumped out at me. How could a community ethically or appropriately balance its norms for generosity with firm consequences for not adhering to or representing those norms?

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I think we should mete out noogies (and/or wedgies) for bad behavior.

Wouldnt tribal societies, lacking a ‘rational’ / transactional economy, have had to rely on more heavy-handed corrections to keep the ‘gift’ circulating, which requires Strong Community and little deviation?

The revolution/disaster in Capitalist economics (and society) is that each individual seeks their own good; the Community is secondary and derivative. But this creates a new form of Freedom: I can now choose among communities on the Free Market. I can find my tribe. The only punishment is failure.

I don’t think it makes sense to punish a lack of generosity, since the whole point of the gift is that it’s freely given. The question is, what moves me to give? How is my giving ‘free’?

Developing intimate meta-perspectives on the social organism, I imagine, could be a way to cultivate altruistic behavior. If we could see and feel how the mana circulates, how it increases and fluxes, wouldn’t we be incented to participate most ecstatically?

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Thanks, I do believe that is right. I went to read the aticle, but it is, as so many, behind the subscription wall. I do not want to subscribe to more and more places, already I have a hard time to unsubscribe and still find so many emails in my inbox…

The giftedness of giving seems to me central, and compulsion of any kind renders it meaningless. When I entered the self publishing ‘community’ I pondered on what I had to offer it and elected to review books unlikely to reach readers without help. BUT only those I could genuinely enthuse about.

I have made a few friends thereby ( after the event) but friendship has now undone my ‘good intentions’. Amazon does not carry reviews if they suspect friendship- even when they have the records of full price purchases!

I mention this only to reflect upon the distortions introduced when free giving is suspected of the back scratching motive in a world where only self interest is understood. In such a world any ‘community’ is corralled and then imprisoned. As a result even my literary friends are reluctant to review what they believe will jeopardize their own progress through the algorithms. Depressing.

Like Adelheid I was reluctant to subscribe to read the whole article so this is an off-the-cuff response.


Shoot! I am sorry about that paywall barrier. I read the article in the print magazine, then felt compelled to share it with this community, so I dug up the link online, but didn’t check that there would be a paywall! Don’t you hate it when information isn’t free?

@Philippa very interesting about Amazon’s rules that inhibit the formation of group rapport and mutual aid in that way. To your first line, however, I do think it is appropriate for a culture to assign some manner of “curtailment” for behaviors it finds to be countervalent to maintaining the social conditions that it desires (or that it requires for group survival.) Thus, I don’t think punitive is the same as compulsory. If the circulation of the gift is necessary for us all to thrive, then not responding or reacting whatsoever when someone terminates the circulation of the gift (retaining possession) would, in effect, doom the circulation… would it not?

On a separate note, but to your point about what “compulsory” gifting might look like: I found myself in a conversation last night discussing a persistent personality quality (or, defect?) of my good friend’s mother, who gives unasked-for gifts… and then later requires the pay back of those gifts, to the penny. She has done this to all sorts of people, with all sorts of items… A set of glasses and disposable cameras for her daughter’s wedding, wherein she told the other set of parents “You can pay me back whenever you get the chance.” A case of V8 juice, charged exactingly to the penny, of a family member who volunteered to help her move houses and had been doing so for ~10 hours at that point. A chicken–yes, a whole chicken–who, when refused as a gift due to the unasked-nature and it being in the middle of a snowstorm, called the presumed recipient the next morning and demanded that she drive her back to the store to return the chicken. There’s other–and even more horrible–stories of this woman, exactly of this ilk.

What I cannot at all fathom is what makes this woman hallucinate that she is, whatsoever, giving a gift. There is simply no gift to any of these stories–in every instance, she expects to be compensated for it later, yet it is her twisted way of trying to show “thoughtfulness” or “generosity.” Naturally, this woman has alienated most everyone in her life from her. I’d like to write a story about it one day perhaps, The Woman Who Never Gave a Gift. Has anyone else out there encountered other bizarre orientations to the notion of generosity–or of punishing for not showing appropriate generosity?


I concede Caroline that in a community wherein the conventions of giving/sharing are the very fabric of interaction then refraining from contributing is as offensive as ‘stealing’, and rightfully censored. What I inadequately meant to express was the difficulty in a prevailing culture of self-seeking, and competition the attempt to create an enclave in which ‘giving’ is mandatory undermines the gift.

My example re Amazon was simply to illustrate this. Amazon is blinkered by its own competitive basis, in which now authors are paid differentially according to how many Fb or Twitter followers they have! The more you have, the more per page you receive. I find this iniquitous.

In that climate it is hardly surprising that to eradicate dubious reviews ( and there are many) Amazon assumes that any reviewer that awards too many 5* reviews is obviously bent or rewarded. So they crack the nut with the sledgehammer and refuse the review, despite the record that a book was bought at full price and sometimes months before. If I award 5* it is because I don’t have time to thoughtfully read let alone lengthily review anything I do not find outstanding! They then seek justification and find that yes I have been befriended by the writer who was deeply grateful to find a reader who really ‘got’ their writing. Net result: No more reviews for unusual deserving works.

What the relevance this might have for Metapsychosis is worth considering. Is it even possible to preserve freedom of voluntary co-operation when the prevailing winds to it are hostile? When it might withdraw into an entrenched defensive position? Become a little precious? Coalesce around a normative ethic that stifles? Simply because it will, of necessity, have to preserve itself?

On anther tack: Your gift giving woman would make for a marvellous novella! It could become almost one of Gothic revenge. All her grateful recipients could reciprocate on a single day presenting extravagant food on its sell by date! I could have some fun with the ideas. A cruise on the QE 2 that only covers one way? A referral to a refugee centre that calls to express appreciation for her generous offer to house a family of migrants- with the family in tow? Possibilities are limitless!