While it could be, altruism isn't generally given "freely". Something either internally or externally rewards us.
Internally-Moviated Altruism ∞
Internally it could be:
- An imaginary friend with positive reinforcement. Do this and go to heaven, get virgins (hopefully female and attractive?), a pile of rice, reincarnation, etc.
- An imaginary friend with negative reinforcement. Do this or go to hell, or self-loathing/guilt etc.
- I suppose cultural or nationalistic pride fits somewhere in here.
- Ancestry or family- reinforcement. "Just like your father"
Artistic pride. The use of one's skill "in a vacuum" only affects the artist. But when art is visible the artist imagines their art has value beyond themselves. This is a sort of selfless altruism.
An internal reward is something which the altruist imagines. It's something which rewards an action and reinforces the perceived goodness for future altruistic acts.
Externally-Motivated Altruism ∞
Externally it's either a direct beneficiary or audience.
- Entertainment's success can be easily seen by the entertainer. Making others happy also makes oneself happy. Mirror neurons, hormones and such.
Education is also entertainment at one level, but on another level in the short term it's benefits are imagined (internal). A mentee may directly reinforce their mentor's altruism with thanks, but otherwise it's up to the mentor to imagine the benefits and internally reinforce their altruism. These "imaginary" benefits are often much more inevitable and tangible than other internal rewards, so the internal reinforcement is pretty rational.
Altruism and Visibility ∞
Altruism is easier to grant when the recipient and its effects are visible.
Altruism isn't reinforced as much when their effects are less-visible or entirely invisible.
Painting a picture and hanging it in one's house will only find an occasional audience. But hanging it in city hall will find a much larger and constantly growing audience.
Some artists may find themselves motivated by their art's impact on their friends, or perhaps direct feedback from their audience. Some artists may internally motivate themselves if they imagine a large audience.
Free Software Altruism ∞
There are many reasons why a programmer creates their software in the first place. Perhaps they have a problem to solve and they are unable to find or use - or they dislike - someone else's software. Perhaps they are doing a "code kata" and programming just for practice or for the fun of it. Yes that does happen.
But what motivates a programmer to share their program freely? By "freely" as with Free Software, I mean that it is free of cost (gratis) and freedoms are explicitly granted to the user (libre).
The programmer may internally imagine an audience, or they may check download logs and be motivated by that number. Perhaps a community is born with a mailing list, forum or other communication points where direct contact is made with the users. Perhaps other developers join the project, adding a different kind of reinforcement.
"Artistic pride" is definitely a major motivator for programmers.
For Free software, the "free-libre" freedoms are a significant motivator.
Altruism in File Sharing ∞
Hosting a file on a website doesn't have direct audience contact, so any reinforcement is internal. If the website has audience participation as with a forum or the like, then this definitely changes.
Direct file sharing through something like a storage medium (CD, DVD, etc) or an instant messager program has direct reinforcement. One person giving the file to another has direct contact with the audience.
BitTorrent is one of the major file sharing "methods". It's not a program as such, it's just the underlying "language" spoken by whatever software a person uses to send and receive files. BitTorrent spreads the responsibility of uploading around to all of the downloaders. So while the file is initially uploaded by the original user, as other users download they also begin uploading.
Each user is aware of the other users and their participation, but there isn't actual contact. Altruism can be very difficult without that contact, and many files fail to be seeded at length because of this.
But BitTorrent may have a community behind it, with users thanking or requesting continual participation. Also, a person doesn't need to manually participate to be altruistic -- they could simply leave the software running.
OpenNap and some other file sharing methods allows user-to-user browsing and chatting. Seeing another's collection of files and especially chatting with them helps to make the interaction more "real". Thanks, complements, suggestions and trading all reinforce.
Altruism in Blogging ∞
Where did our unfathomable explosion of writing come from? (Including this article!)
Something motivates a person to write their first article. Often it is because one has an expert opinion or a unique perspective. But whatever it may be, once that initial step has been taken, they becomes compelled to share opinions on "everyday things". Why?
Parkinson's Law of triviality:
A nuclear reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks he or she does), so building one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed. While discussing the bikeshed, debate emerges over whether the best choice of roofing is aluminium, asbestos, or galvanized iron, rather than whether the shed is a good idea or not.
Because a blogger feels qualified to have opinions on everyday things, and they feel that they are in front of an audience, they become compelled to share their opinion. It's as though they imagine all the opinions of their audience and that's what pushes them to opine.
Recycling and other "Green" Altruism ∞
We all have our very own tiny sphere of awareness as defined by our immediate surroundings and the resources we use. Ignorance blinds us from seeing anything outside of our own experience and education. Even when made aware of - or reminded of - "important things", we're complacent. There is a sort of "it's not my problem" semi-bicycle-shed detachment or even aloofness.
Some people are internally motivated. Perhaps they are smart enough to think long-term and care for their family, their descendants and those of others. But it's when our tiny sphere has an audience we really perk up and begin to care.
Our basic detachment from the lives of others tends to remove this watch-and-be-watched motivation. Even if we weren't being "Big Brother" to one another, I think that a "closer" community would naturally reinforce altruism. Notice how altruistic many families are with one another.
Altruism in Economics ∞
Just a note on this, to get it out of my head. Economic altruism is largely like green altruism, but we are vastly more distant to the economic consequences our actions have. We have many reminders of "being green", but few have the economics education to understand that realm.
Spending is good for the economy. Saving is bad. When the economy (whatever that is) is in a rut (whatever that is) everyone begins to "tighten their belts" and save. That mass-savings is the driving force for a recession.