This article from the BBC made me feel so relieved at my loathing of altruists that I can finally say what most of us have been thinking: Selfless people are the absolute worst.
These walking saints are annoying, sanctimonious, deeply unlikeable pricks. You might think I’m a misanthrope, but feeling this way is normal (even if we don’t usually admit it) and it could even be hard-wired into us through evolution.
Animosity toward people who are altruistic (or “do-gooder derogation” as the psychologists call it) is easily observed, spans cultures, emerges in childhood, and, yes, may be deeply in human evolution. In fact, we are so against altruism, we hate it nearly as much as selfishness: Numerous studies of a game designed to test people’s reactions to public giving indicate players will equally give the boot to others who give too little…or too much.
Why we hate do-gooders
Evolutionary psychology’s take on our motivation for hating the altruistic goes something like this: While generosity among, say, cavemen, would have led to greater group cohesion, it also often led to the generous person achieving a higher status in the group. Because our ancestors apparently saw life as a zero-sum game (evolutionary psychologists make a lot of assumptions), we didn’t like seeing someone trying to move up in the status, because it meant we were moving down. This could explain the inherent distrust and distaste we often feel toward people who seem to be purely selfless.
The important word in that sentence is “seem.” We tend to dislike generous people when they remind us they’re being generous, even if it’s subtle. When we see people who are obviously seeking some kind of reward for their selflessness, we tend to hate them—and if we don’t know why someone is being selfless, we’re suspicious of them at best.
White knights and brown-nosers
Inside the deeply sexist world of online cretins,“white knight” is an insult hurled at men who defend women online. Posters don’t necessarily think there’s something wrong with saying “don’t sexually harass that women” in itself. The problem, as they tell it, lies in the suspect motivations of the “white knight.” It is thought (rightly or wrongly) that their actual goal is to ingratiate themselves to the woman they’re defending (possibly leading to sex), or to be seen as some kind of savior. Either way, the problem is their impure motivation. (See also: “Simp.”) Someone posting “don’t sexually harass her; she’s my sister” is not likely to be called a white knight, as their motivation is not sullied by hoped-for status or personal gain.
It’s similar to school kids who loathe the class brown-noser: Offering to help the teacher isn’t bad in itself, but trying to curry favor through sucking up to a teacher is deeply suspicious and abhorrent behavior to the rest of the kids, especially if the brown-noser doesn’t try to hide it.
We tend to regard the motivations for an action to be at least as important as the action itself, especially when it comes to doing something seemingly selfless, and judge people accordingly, often jumping to the worst conclusion possible—even when we have no real knowledge of what’s behind the action.
Self-knowledge and charity
According to research on online charity fundraising conducted by Nichola Raihani, a professor in evolution and behavior at University College London, there are two kinds of people likely to give anonymously: The lowest givers and the highest. This would seem to indicate that many altruistic people are aware of the animosity their gifts can engender in others.
Which brings us to another level of hatred of showy-givers: We think they should know better. Social interaction is complicated and subtle, and someone blithely ignoring how we feel about how much they say they care about other people can seem, paradoxically, to indicate they don’t actually care about others at all. They sure don’t care about how we feel, right?
How does all this affect you?
If you have no motivation to help others beyond “making the world a better place” (or whatever you bleeding-hearts are aiming for), good for you! But remember; Giving is its own reward, so keep your charity quiet. Don’t announce that you’re reading to orphans on your lunch break. Just do it. Don’t call your dog a “rescue dog” unless someone asks where it came from. (Even then, just say “the dog pound.” It’s much less pretentious). Also: Don’t walk around with a little half-smile on your face, projecting an air of superiority. We see through that shit.
If you do have an ulterior motive for your generosity, good for you too. I’m not judging. Being seen as generous and kind can have real world advantages, but you have to be smart about how you’re perceived. Remember: It’s the motivation that people believe you have for your giving that matters. (When Jeff Bezos gives away a billion dollars, our first guess is that he is doing it for tax reasons, which is hard to admire.) Researchers have found that non-generous people don’t begrudge someone receiving a reward for doing a good deed, but they begrudge the hell out of people who seem to be trying for that same reward. So be stealthy, and let others sing your praises.
As for the rest of us, we should focus on the positive effects of someone’s generosity, give the giver the benefit of the doubt, and not assume they have questionable motives for giving. This might be hard for you, but it’s easy for me. You see, when you’re as selfless a person as I am, you instinctually feel empathy for others. It’s like that time I adopted a rescue cat. I just couldn’t stand to see an innocent creature suffering—some of us feel things very deeply— and even though I can’t afford the cat food (my volunteer work with blind refugees from Nevada takes up the time I used to spend working at Best Buy), anyway, did I tell you about the foundations I set up? Just a little side project to… [Editor’s note: Shut up, Steve.]