As part of an ideas series for 2010 at The Tyee, I wrote a piece on vertical agitation -- the idea that to make a real difference, you need to go straight to the top. Here are the first two paragraphs:
People who buy green products can apparently more easily justify subsequent greed, lying and stealing. A study, released earlier this year by researchers from the University of Toronto, showed that participants who were exposed to green products in a computer-simulated grocery store acted more generously in experiments that followed, but that participants who actually purchased green products over conventional ones then behaved more selfishly.
This study supports the notion that we each have, in general, a finite amount of altruistic behavior. Doing or buying one good thing means not doing another good thing later on. To me, it also says that our altruistic acts must be directed in the best way possible -- which is why my big idea for 2010 is vertical agitation.
Read the full piece here.
I looked at that article and it's mostly fine.
Except I have a problem with restricting people's movement.
The answer is not to restrict everybody to their own locales. The answer is to green the fuck out of cars and planes.
So, if each particular act of altruism is a debit from one's personal altruism "budget", do different people have markedly different altruism budgets, and if so are the actions that people can take to increase their own or others' total altruism budgets?
Good question about the budget. It seems that people do indeed have markedly different levels of cooperation, as demonstrated with various games and experiments on cooperation. Altruism in its truest form (anonymous and unconditional) is very rare but there are definitely ways to increase cooperation, such as adding the 'injunctive norm', which is what the University of Chicago experiment showed: a sign indicating how often towels were reused in that specific hotel room made guests more likely to return towels to the rack -- more so than with cards that only said to reuse towels to 'save the environment.' This was also demonstrated with the experiment on emoticons and energy use:
And there are lots of other ways to increase cooperation, too, which I will continue to post on the blog throughout 2010...
I'm hoping the altruism budgets for my offspring may be more malleable than those of adults--I say as I hear them arguing over whose turn it is to have the TV in the next room while Daddy threatens to turn it off.