The questions for this Ridley reading on reciprocal altruism, reputation, and emotion are below. Answer them in 800 words.
1. Suppose you were a member of a community organization that raised money for a children’s hospital. You cared very much about this charitable opportunity and saved five-thousand dollars over the year to contribute. Another member of the organization, one you didn’t care for much, donated only five dollars and you know this from overhearing a conversation of theirs. The treasurer of the organization accidentally left the record of everyone’s donations in the copy room of the meeting hall and several copies were made and passed between members. To your horror, the records mistakenly showed that you contributed only five dollars, your rival contributed five-thousand dollars, and the average contribution was fifty dollars. Your rival has not corrected this in the mind of anyone; in fact at the next meeting, they are gladly shaking hands and accepting congratulations while everyone is squinting and shaking their heads at you. Why is this so upsetting? After all, the five-thousand dollars you contributed is still going to the hospital. Why should it matter who gets credit?
2. We give words of praise to those people who are kind even when they are not kind to us and we give words of criticism to those who are cruel even when they are not cruel to us. But why do we care if we are not involved? Why do we encourage kindness and discourage unkindness, encourage fairness and discourage unfairness, even when we are not ourselves involved?
Answer both questions one and two and any of the optional questions below:
3. If a child asked you why they should play fair, how would you respond? Can you do any better than, "Because I said so"?
4. What is wrong with the claim made by many theists that if we ceased to believe in God, moral anarchy would break loose?
5. If you interviewed a member of a species that was not reciprocating and asked them about fairness, justice, and kindness, how do you think they would respond?
6. What motivates the admonition of Matthew 6:1-4 in the New Testament?
7. What is an example of film or literature in which a person must decide between achievement for themselves and sacrificing themselves for the community? Why do we empathize so easily with such a struggle?
8. As an experiment in social psychology, an experimenter stood in a phone booth, pretending to talk on the phone until someone else stood waiting to use the phone. When the person in the booth left, they left behind a coin in the coin slot. The person who was waiting would then enter and find the coin and have to decide whether or not to chase after the experimenter to return it. It was found that if the experimenter was dressed very well, the rate of coin return increased significantly. It was also found that if the experimenter was a very attractive member of the opposite sex, the rate of coin return increased significantly. Why would these influence the moral decision of returning to someone their coin?
9. Why are anonymous organ donors so impressive?
10. Why do blood donors wear stickers? Why might we feel guilty if we see everyone else but us wear one?
I’d also like to address one point about the evolution of psychological characteristics. We have seen that there are likely species in which each individual attempts to obtain commitments from members of the opposite sex in the form of monogamous relationships. But there also arise motivations to stray from these commitments while still pretending to maintain fidelity, thus driving in others the evolution of psychological abilities to detect such “cheating” on the commitment. We should then expect the evolution of more subtle and advanced methods of cheating and cheating-detection (not dissimilar from predator/prey escalation). One trait which might “give away” one’s cheating tendency is the self-awareness of the tendency itself and the behavioral cues it generates, so one way of removing these suspicious cues would be to actually remove the self-awareness that generates them. In other words, organisms may have evolved self-deception in order to ensure the successful deception of others. It is known that certain neurochemicals are present in individuals during the early months of courtship which are no longer there after a year’s time. These chemicals may induce an individual to claim a commitment which they genuinely intend to keep and their later absence may then allow for a (seemingly hypocritical) indifference to the relationship.
I know this is a brutally unromantic view of love and, again, I’m not advocating the use of these ideas as an excuse for what we may consider morally unacceptable behavior. I raise the idea mostly to rhetorically ask, “Where is the real you in all of this?” Is the individual being honest or dishonest when they claim commitment until death? We like to think that we can break free from the strings of evolution when we choose to, but the possibility of self-deception may make this harder than we believe.