Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Human Nature is Depressing

... at least, if this is accurate:
Parks and Stone found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they "raise the bar" for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad.

It doesn't matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone's unselfish behavior, Parks said. "What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad," he said.

5 comments:

  1. That doesn't gainsay that we award medals for those who supererogate- go beyond duty.Why shoudl we resent those people when we don't resent those who are stronger and more handsome or prettier?
    es, however,some people do resent others for good qualities.Isn't that really the case here?

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  2. This happens in philosophy departments as well, I've seen bitter hatred of people who superogate in terms of papers published, reviewed or how many citations they received that year.

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  3. This "problem", as I'm sure most of us see it as such, might simply be a mistake of boundaries and expectations. It is closely related, if not directly related, to a recent article I read in The NY Times Opinionator commentary The Stone: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/friendship-in-an-age-of-economics/

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  4. I'm not sure the Science Daily piece (as distinguished from the study it's summarizing, which I haven't read) supports either the claim that unselfish colleagues come to be resented or the claim that they come to be resented despite promoting the overall welfare of the group.

    The only evidence the article gives of the unselfishness of colleagues is that they are "do-gooders," and "first to throw their hat into the ring." But these patterns of behavior are compatible with altruism, selfishness and even spitefulness. (It is an interesting question why we tend to assume (i) that industrious behavior is the same as helping behavior and (ii) that industrious behavior tends to be motivated by altruism.)

    It is also an interesting question why we tend to assume (iii) that altruism is a desirable motive, because the Science Daily post actually suggests - if we accept that the industrious behavior from which it infers the altruism of the "do-gooders" in fact supports that inference - that altruism yields bad consequences. Far from "promoting the overall welfare of the group," it seems equally possible that the do-gooders actually diminish the group's welfare by diminishing its solidarity.

    (The Science Daily piece seems blinded to this possibility because it seems to equate the group's welfare with its productivity (hence the waffle: "It doesn't matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone's unselfish behavior"). The equation seems totally unsupported by anything other than residual particles of puritanism floating about in the zeitgeist.)

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