Grim view of human nature … is mistaken, a persistent and counterproductive myth. … the evidence for mass selfishness is extremely thin. … The surprising truth is that people tend to behave decently in a crisis. To the British, the all-too-familiar example is the cheerful demeanour of Londoners during the Blitz. … New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina … rumours ran wild about the murder and rape of children inside the Louisiana Superdome; but when the national guard showed up, … met instead by a nurse asking for medical supplies. (
My own objections to "do-gooding" tend to be along these lines: - many people try to do good, but don't achieve much because they are incompetent (I don't have a theory for *why* do-gooding is often more incompetent often than other activities, but I think it is true) - many people are insufficiently modest about their own competence and over-intervene in other people's lives as a result
I really don't know when the harm done is greater than the benefit.
Are there other important ways in which do-gooding can do harm?
How might I learn more about them?
It is easy to find the harm from selfishness; it is much harder to identify the harm from do-gooding beyond annoyance and inefficiency.The former may be less common but more negative, while the latter common but be mostly a wash, accomplishing some good at much cost. Unintended is second order, which if it becomes first order, is usually addressed with another policy.
Are you do-gooding against do-gooding, or selfishly anti do-gooding?
Surely it's a matter of different perspectives eg. short term vs medium term vs long term thinking. So not steeling is resisting a selfish urge, but maybe for a selfish medium term reason of not wanting to risk punishment. Maybe giving to charity is done for a selfish reason of wanting to feel good.
Isn't much of your blog about these types of different perspectives - usually finding a selfish underlying perspective? Are you moving away from that view?
Scott Alexander already quoted an example of a species whose members selfishly compete to engage in more pro-social ("do-gooding") behaviors than their nearest competitors, even if that means doing so inefficiently.
Would the old phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" ring a bell?
There are ways, but nothing simple or easy enough to explain in a comment like this.
Can you apply a meta-analysis to your public statements? How might I determine whether or not your (or my own) signalling incentives are correlated with the production of truthful text?
This all depends on how you look at it. I mean in the sense of whether or not people have the distinct conscious thought I’m doing this for myself/others you are of course correct. But I’d point out that there is another very salient usage where selfishness is the problem (same problem different term/level?).
Indeed, I’d argue that it’s extremely selfish to respond to a crisis by acting in those ways which most effectively signal to your fellows how much you care while at some level being aware that you didn’t exercise diligence in ensuring you aren’t making things worse. I mean we’d have no problem calling it selfish if a doctor refused to consult a reference out of pride/ego and that killed a patient so why is it different here?
So yes, the problem is selfishness. It’s just those people who appear to be the most concerned and empathetic who are being selfish by that very act. (And no happening to be correct doesn’t make you unselfish...it’s investing the effort to check that you aren’t just engaging in self-promotion at other people’s expense.)