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Monday, August 06, 2007

Altruism - it's all about sexual display, see?

In an unintentionally hilarious article in The Economist, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller is touted as
a man with a theory that, if true, will change the way people think about themselves.
That is, he thinks he can demonstrate that charity is just as "selfish" as self-indulgence. And it's all about sex too, no less.

The major problem with Miller's study (apart from the sheer fatuity that mars all evolutionary psychology) is that he appears to have failed to credit key earlier research. Surely he does not believe that he has "discovered" the ulterior motives that cause many people to volunteer or contribute to fashionable causes. Here's an abstract of the earlier finding:
Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The earlier source didn't think that the display had to relate to sex, of course. If it was display at all, it was not the genuine article.

I will be very surprised if Miller succeeds in changing the way people think about themselves.

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