Motivations of Altruism: How Much Do They Matter?

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Motivations of Altruism: How Much Do They Matter? Empty Motivations of Altruism: How Much Do They Matter?

Post by reboundstudent on Fri Jan 02, 2015 6:22 pm

About to out myself here: I am a big Taylor Swift song. Not strictly her music (love a few songs to death, can take or leave the rest), but also just as an icon. What can I say? I dig her "I'm kind of an awkward every girl, but check out how awesome and glamorous I am", I dig her cats, I dig her slowly-evolving way of discussing feminism, but what I dig most of all is how she reacts with fans, at least on social media. She has a long history of interacting on a personal level through platforms like Instagram. She seems to really dig her fans.

Swift posting a recent video in which she sent out packages to her fans with cards and gifts. Her fans, understandably, reacted with tears, happiness and gratitude. It's pretty standard lovely sentimentality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3yyF31jbKo

In a lot of places where the video is posted, I've seen people debating about whether Swift "really" did this. It's been a question that people frequently ask of Swift pretty consistently; is she really this nice? Is this just a PR/marketing campaign? Did she actually pick out and wrap and send those gifts, or was it some poor, over-worked PA?

That line of questioning really bothers me, because at the end of the day-does it matter? Swift's actions, whether motivated from genuine kindness and love of her fans or thought up by a marketing firm, still resulted in something that brought genuine happiness to people. Whether the gifts are from Swift herself, they're at least from Swift the icon; someone who loves cats and follows fans back on Instagram and crashes random baby showers.

When I was 13, I wrote a letter to Prince Harry of England. A few months later, I got an answer back. It wasn't from him; it was from some assistant at Buckingham who just had him sign the bottom. And yet I still got some joy from it. I still get joy from the signed picture I have of the Rifftrax guys. I was just a countless face in a crowd to them while they did their jobs, and yet it still means a lot to me.

At the end of the day, how much do the motivations of someone matter if the end result is one of kindness, generosity, and joy? Is charity only valuable if it's completely selfless? Can charity ever be completely selfless-isn't there always the accusation that you donate to charity because then you feel like a better person?

I think what gets under my skin in particular is that "authentic kindness" seems to be something we scrutinize particularly in women. We know, we know as an absolute fact, that more than a few wealthy Americans spend enough money on hookers and drugs to feed a middle-class family of four for a year and donate only out of political necessity or tax write-offs, and yet we applaud their contributions to charity. Heck, just to compare apples-to-apples here, there is no way the boys of 1Direction are as much the squeaky-clean, un-spoiled sweethearts as they appear, and yet people more or less accept that.

When and why do we draw distinctions around "this kindness is authentic and thus valuable, but this kindness might be motivated by selfish reasons and thus is not?"
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Post by Caffeinated on Fri Jan 02, 2015 6:51 pm

Interesting question. In my opinion, the motivations behind a kind act hardly matter at all. Doing something kind adds to the net happiness in the world and is therefore of intrinsic value. It's sort of the same way that having good intentions doesn't excuse a person for an action that harms someone. The good done (or the harm done in the opposite example) stands as its own thing, observable by the outside world. The private thoughts and feelings of the person doing the action remain unknowable to the outside world.
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Post by LadyLuck on Fri Jan 02, 2015 7:13 pm

Mostly agree with above commenter but had one other more specific thought:

more than a few wealthy Americans spend enough money on hookers and drugs to feed a middle-class family of four for a year and donate only out of political necessity or tax write-offs

In all honesty, if someone only was nice when they were required or incentivized to be, but otherwise didn't do anything harmful/hurtful, I don't think I'd really mind. Problem is that's usually not how it plays out - people who consistently try to do the bare minimum at anything will generally come up short, and being considerate of others is no exception. So a person who's constantly trying to minimize how nice they have to be will frequently undershoot the minimum and just straight up be an asshole. And I think that's what really matters to people. We don't expect others to be all nice and all roses all the time, but we'd like people to do the work it takes to be sure they aren't hurting anyone. Everything else after that is a bonus.

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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Fri Jan 02, 2015 7:26 pm

I'd say the reason behind the gesture don't matter unless they come with an expectation, with strings attached. Every kid knows to take out the trash before asking the parents for money.

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Post by Guest on Fri Jan 02, 2015 7:51 pm

reboundstudent wrote:When and why do we draw distinctions around "this kindness is authentic and thus valuable, but this kindness might be motivated by selfish reasons and thus is not?"

That's a very good question to be honest... I think we ask that question and draw those distinctions because we're accustomed to thinking "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." We're accustomed to watching our backs and looking out for one another in case somebody's trying to exploit others under the guise of 'kindness' or 'generosity', things like that. I think as a whole maybe people in general have become rather cynical? I can be very cynical, but that has more to do with trying to be a realist.

However, I'm sure there are times when, yeah, there are some genuinely kind people and companies that enjoy giving back (and if they can write it off, that's a bonus) to their fans/customers and yeah they're super cool people/companies aside from being big names.

Ultimately, I don't really know. Although I think you answered your own question within your question. Smile

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Post by Guest on Sat Jan 03, 2015 10:58 am

reboundstudent wrote:
In a lot of places where the video is posted, I've seen people debating about whether Swift "really" did this. It's been a question that people frequently ask of Swift pretty consistently; is she really this nice? Is this just a PR/marketing campaign? Did she actually pick out and wrap and send those gifts, or was it some poor, over-worked PA?

That line of questioning really bothers me, because at the end of the day-does it matter? Swift's actions, whether motivated from genuine kindness and love of her fans or thought up by a marketing firm, still resulted in something that brought genuine happiness to people. Whether the gifts are from Swift herself, they're at least from Swift the icon; someone who loves cats and follows fans back on Instagram and crashes random baby showers.

The skepticism you're talking about only exists because a production of her goodwill was made for all to see. It comes across as disingenuous and sleazy to a degree, and it's not unlike PR campaigns used to boost popularity polls for politicians and other high profile individuals/organizations. The phrase, "Do not let your left hand know what you're right hand is doing" comes to mind.

Wouldn't the recipients of her gifts be bummed out if they knew that this was all a PR stunt? Wouldn't their 'joy' be diminished if they ever knew that it really wasn't The Taylor Swift who'd thought of them but instead it was, as you put it, 'Taylor the Icon', a carefully curated and airbrushed caricature used to appeal to the masses?

At the end of the day, how much do the motivations of someone matter if the end result is one of kindness, generosity, and joy? Is charity only valuable if it's completely selfless? Can charity ever be completely selfless-isn't there always the accusation that you donate to charity because then you feel like a better person?

Personally, I don't think that most (all?) acts of charity are "completely selfless" in the complete sense of the words. Because, you inevitably walk away feeling mellow for having done something for someone else. And that's OK. It becomes a problem when you don't keep your ego in check.

We know, we know as an absolute fact, that more than a few wealthy Americans spend enough money on hookers and drugs to feed a middle-class family of four for a year and donate only out of political necessity or tax write-offs, and yet we applaud their contributions to charity.

Because when they step outside their apathy, they're capable of forking out a greater amount of money in one go than what most of us are capable of giving?

Heck, just to compare apples-to-apples here, there is no way the boys of 1Direction are as much the squeaky-clean, un-spoiled sweethearts as they appear, and yet people more or less accept that.

Right, because we have an irrational desire to romanticize our idols to unhealthy extremes.

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