Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Generosity is natural for kind-hearted people - health - 21 December 2009 - New Scientist

A couple of years ago I read that people who demonstrated altruistic behaviour had an area of the brain that was physically different from those who were more selfish. It struck a chord and in a way I wanted to believe that this was true. It would go some way to explain the difficulties I have experienced in the past debating social policy with those motivated by dread, envy, fear, greed and hatred, rather than altruism, benevolence and charity.

The ethos of "public services" in the UK has for the last 20 years been under pressure and lost ground to unregulated greed as these 2 distinct world views have "arm wrestled" for public support.

In the light of the financial crash and wasteful public investment in Bliar and Brown's "Third Way" strategy of foisting a choice agenda on all - whether they want it or not -, perhaps the "Prosocials" will be able to better understand the inability of the "Individualists" to even see how their own self interest is best served by reducing inequality if they read this article in New Scientist where these 2 terms are defined alongside recent neurophysiology and neuropsychology findings:

Generosity is natural for kind-hearted people - 21 December 2009 - New Scientist

If the amygdala - where the difference in brain activity is apparent - can be affected by nurture as well as genetics ( as future research will attempt to discover) then "we" face a moral dilemma in terms of whether or not we would want to encourage prosocial behaviour. Think about it for a minute. It would be difficult to frame a question about this that was completely open. I suspect that I would fall into the prosocial group and therefore think it would be "right" to try to adopt policies that encouraged altruism. However the theories of selfish genes and an evolutionary mind (one that is predisposed to survival in hunter gatherer societies) does make me aware that a conscious choice to "buck the trend" might not necessarily be a sensible way forward. Individualists will argue that it is selfish, competitive behaviour that has improved the lot of many generations. Prosocials will no doubt point to past and present exploitation by the lucky strong over the less fortunate but often more numerous weak.

If future research ever allows us to measure the distribution of "prosocials" and "individualists" by geography, occupations, income etc it would certainly "concentrate minds" as this inevitable debate rolls on in the decades ahead.

The Importance of Economic Equality

It has taken a good 6 months for the important book "The Spirit Level : How More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better" to be published in the USA, which on most indicators comes out as the least equal society ( - even more so than the UK!)

The proof is based on 2 sets of indicators one of which is a series of comparisons among the individual States of the USA.

It will be interesting to observe how the the "American Dream" performs when confronted with evidence of The Importance of Economic Equality.

This link will take you to an article published on-line by Time (and CNN) where the 2 authors address a number of questions. This has allowed them to update their evidence with the fact that " more-equal societies are more innovative in terms of patents granted per capita This is probably because they develop more human capital. Kids do better in school, and social mobility is higher"