Altruism VS The Selfish Gene

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Would you give a penny to the needy? How about a kidney? A heart?

The thought of spring break brings up images of partying in warm weather, drunken one-night stands, and the raging hangovers that follow; yet for Rachel Garneau, a junior at Notre-Dame, it represented an pseudo-holiday opportunity for giving, and give she did. This twenty year old gave up a kidney for a complete stranger. There was an air of psychosis to her as she walked right into the University Of Chicago’s Bernard Mitchell Hospital, calm as ever; her demeanor quite indifferent, her nonchalance quite unnerving. Funny how we find this act of complete altruism ‘weird’; because it is weird, all that we know from evolution, Darwinism, basic human tendencies, and even the insightful field of behavioral economics contradicts what Rachel Garneau chose to do at 5:45 a.m. on a Tuesday: she gave till it hurt, and then some more.

Economics, a field based on profit and gain, when taken into context of human choices and decisions, leads to a deeper understanding of the motivation behind our actions. The fundamental theory behind welfare Economics is: “Assume all individuals are selfish price takers. Then a competitive equilibrium is Pareto optimal (Feldman 1987, IV, 890)”. The amalgamation of the life’s work of Adam Smith was proving that humans are selfish and that we will, when it comes down to it, succeed for our own profit. So how would he explain a concept so selfless as altruism? How would he go about making sense of Rachel Garneau’s actions?

Surprisingly, it is a culmination of pure science and theories of economics that helps us unravels the mysteries of this very ‘God-like’ selflessness. Research in modern cognitive neuroscience has led to a new theory on altru...

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...sness, Rachel Garneau fostered a chain reaction of kidney donation. A family member who was planning on donating but who wasn’t a match donated their kidney to someone else, and this chain saved countless lives. The end justifying the means is not really valid here, since the ‘means’ itself is self-evidence; we should see justification in the act itself. We are intrinsically programmed to do good, and maybe the reason we do that is because it brings us happiness, maybe we are, as Richard Dawkins puts it, a species consisting of “A Selfish Gene”; but we are human, and if I had to choose between a person bringing no good into this world, and a person fostering a cycle of good both to the subject and to themselves, I would never even consider that to be a choice worth weighing. Give that penny, that kidney, or simply show them love. Give them a ‘piece of your heart’.

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