They say that no good deed goes unpunished and unfortunately this is very true, there is always some bastard who is out there looking to take advantage of you. Regardless of what you have done for them in the past or the good deed you have committed. It totally sucks big fat hairy ones, but that is an inherent part of the human condition, we are inherently selfish and manipulative. Religion is a prime example of this, but this is not a religion post, but it’s a great example of a moral code being twisted to try to control the masses through fear. Organised religion, I’m certain, is not how God (if he exists, up to you) is used for the purpose he intended. So many horrific crimes of hate and intolerance have been committed in the name of religion, to justify inhuman acts of man that it’s an absolute atrocity. It still continues as I type. But lets save that ball of fun for another day.
I started thinking about good deeds last night. Now this is not a new though and I’m sure a lot of people have pondered it in the past, but I couldn’t shake it. Some will say it’s a pessimistic view but I think it’s a realist’s view. There is NO such thing as a selfless act. Not at all. Not now, not ever. Every act committed by a person, gives them something of value back in return, be it intrinsically or physically. If it didn’t then we wouldn’t commit said act. It’s that simple, we all give to gain in some capacity. Now I know dear reader you are sitting there thinking I really am the most miserable, pessimistic and awesome person you have ever come across. But the truth of the matter, it I’m also likely the most honest too and I believe with 100% conviction, there really is no such thing as a selfless act. The self always plays a part and gets a reward for the act. Because like I said, if we got nothing from it, we wouldn’t do it. We are really ego driven creatures, Freud at least had something half right. Well kinda. But again a post for another day.
Lest start with a basic principle of human behaviour, Skinner said that all behaviour serves a purpose. He was spot on this fact is undisputed in the scientific and behavioural community. If there was no purpose, then there would be no behaviour, no motivation for behaviour and the behaviour would not occur. Why? Because it NEVER occurs to us to do something that is purposeless, because as a species, we are motivated by purpose on a biological and physiological basis. Fact.
So then lets look a little broader, since we can all agree that all behaviour serves a purpose. If you’re struggling at this point, it’s best you leave now, because this isn’t a hard or debatable fact and this journey really is going to be far too much for you. I would think if you are innocent enough to think selfless acts occur, it might actually be best to leave now too. Because once you walk this path you’re view on life and humanity will be tainted forever, along with your belief in unicorns, fairies and that Smurf’s really existing. Or you can challenge yourself to step out of naivety and handle the consequences. While your view on life will be more jaded, it will also be much less frustrating.
So all behaviour serves a purpose, meaning we get something from it, either tangible or intrinsically as a direct or indirect consequence of our actions. This is what keeps behavioural patterns and chains firmly in place, they are the reinforcing or reward factor. If we got nothing reinforcing, or reward, no matter how screwed up it is, we wouldn’t continue with the behaviour. This is also another proven behavioural principal, think Pavlov and classical conditioning for a rudimental example on the most basic level. They were trained that producing a certain behaviour, produced a reward, a physical response to a positive indicator. Thus the physiological response became automatic, in expectation of the reward/reinforcer. It’s petty basic, not rocket science.
Now obviously people are a little more complicated than animals, because we have greater mental faculties, well at least that is the expectation. Let’s not get too hasty and think this applies to all people, some really are dumber than my Border Collies. A great example of reward for behaviour, no matter how abhorrent are criminals with impulse control issues. They know the consequences of their actions, they just don’t care because the reward is too great, intrinsic value for them. For most of us there would be no reward in this behaviour, so we don’t do it. We actually are deterred from it due to the negative consequences. But still not engaging in the behaviour serves us a personal purpose, the avoidance of a negative outcome. Following? It’s a bit of a psychological trip I know, but try to stick with me.
So we have people out there who do good deeds all the time. I hear you screaming at me that they are doing good things and I don’t dispute that. There are people who donate to charity, who fight wars for a cause, who go into disease-ridden countries to help save others. All wonderful and beautiful acts of kindness but they are always selfishly motivated, at least to a degree. It differs from person to person. But none of that is an example of an unselfish act. I challenge you to find one and send it to me and we can discuss it, but I promise you, you won’t be able to find one after this explanation.
Most people who visibly “give” do so in order to gain from the appearance of being charitable. Angelina Jolie is a great example of this. You really don’t think she does these things out of the goodness of her stone cold heart do you? Of course not, she is the worst type of charitable opportunist, because she uses it to up public profile and make money. Welcome back to my celebrity-pissing contest and what is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now you might argue that this is just a positive side effect, a coincidence, which comes from the behaviour, not the motivator. Which I doubt, but let’s think for a second it may be true. How do you think she feels about HERSELF when she does charitable acts? Do you think she thinks nothing of it, or on some level she is thinking that she is a good person and patting herself on the back for charitable act? Yes she is, its part of the human condition and the ego. Ergo, the act is now no longer selfless, because she has gotten something from it, intrinsically. She has a more positive view of herself. Does it diminish the actual goodness of the deed? Of course not in most cases, unless like I suspect with her she actually does it for attention and to make more money. Then it’s despicable, regardless of the good she does. To tangibly gain as a direct motivator from charity is disgusting.
Now lets look at the more subtle philanthropists. They fly under the radar, they don’t look for public recognition, they shy away from it. They really do want to help for reasons that are less selfishly motivated. Well unless it’s for tax purposes, then we go back to the asshole territory that is Angelina Jolie. So for all of those out there who claim tax deductions on charitable gifts, you fall in this category. Because you have used the act to get a tax break and save some money, regardless of the good you have done and the consequences of your action, under it there is a real monetary gain, so not selfless at all. If you don’t claim for tax purposes, then kudos to you and I’d say there are little to no one who doesn’t claim charitable donations on their tax. Let’s face it a lot of big businesses would be far less charitable, if it didn’t come with the tax incentive. Some even use it as a way of tax avoidance or to lower their tax bills. So overall, it’s a cunt act, dressed up to look really good and likely publicized the shit out of, so you gain from public goodwill and people wanting to support your charitable company. So you’re making more fucking money off it than you are giving. Nice. See the deed might be good; it might save lives but your selfish gain, deliberate selfish gain, disgusting. Your motivation wasn’t to change someone’s life for the better, but to financially gain. Your depth of caring for the cause directly correlates to your personal gain.
But back to the silent type, who don’t gain in a tangible way. They gain in an intangible way, intrinsically. It might be public opinion, the opinion of peers of just personal opinion of self. Let’s face it you feel GOOD to help someone else out right? Right then and there it becomes an act that is not selfless, because you have gained from it. Simply by feeling good. You wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make you feel good to help would you? You wouldn’t go and fight diseases in other countries if helping the less fortunate didn’t make you feel good or play on your social conscience? Even Mother Theresa was not selfless, yes she was a saint and likely as close to a selfless person you will ever find, doing gods work because it was her mission in life. But she felt good about it and was winning gods good graces as she went, at least in her mind by fulfilling what she perceived her life’s purpose was as dictated by him. So while she gave up more than most of us would ever dream of, in the end she was also gaining intrinsically. This does NOT diminish her good deeds, she WAS a saint in the true meaning of the word, but she was also human and suffered from the human condition like the rest of us. On some level, to some degree, we are all inherently selfish and motivated by ego. Just some far more than others. The lesson here is humans have a fatal flaw and that’s selfishness, it motivates us all. Even Mother Theresa said it herself.
So there you have it in a nutshell, regardless of the scale, there is no such thing as a selfless act.