Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Philipp and I had a conversation about altruism as a follow-on to a bunch of posts he done on the site. I end up rambling on and don’t give him much of a chance to talk, but it was fun. Check out other posts on the site and let me know what you think about my theory of altriusm. ;-)

philipp (South Africa) on
The role of altruism in the digital commons

Listen to Joi Ito and Philipp Schmidt discuss altruism, the economic man, the difference between happiness and pleasure, carriers of compassion, and that being a happy sharer yourself, is the best way to get others to share as well.

The conversation starts off with an overview of Marcel Mauss’ The Gift, and the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, which address the issue of sharing from very different directions. The Gift provides a historical framework for sharing that is non-financial, and sets out a clear process of sharing that runs counter to our economies’ urge to commoditise. The Dalai Lama develops a theory of happiness that is grounded on compassion, and the ability of human people to learn happiness. Why is it that we learn Maths and Sciences in school, but don’t seem interested in learning and teaching how to be happy?

Joi then sets out a profoundly optimistic model for collaborative citizenry that will help us identify, and ultimately address, global challenges like climate change. He makes a convincing argument that happiness comes from things like community and a well functioning family, where more is not necessarily better, and that the best way to bring others into this movement is to let them participate in our functional communities of sharing, and to be happy.

Note: The book mentioned by Joi is Scott Page’s The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.


My opinion is that optimism, like pessimism, casts shadows that one should account for. It doesn't matter which direction the ball spins, the very act of placing a ball on the billiard table of life affects people's life and, while some might believe positive spin helps others, I think effect is not really all that different from religions, false or otherwise.

I am not sure if I am doing the right thing but I've always tried hard to minimize my influence on others (well, I sometimes threaten to mettle ;-p) because I am too scared to accept responsibilities for the consequences. That doesn't mean I feel people like you are doing wrong. If you feel it's right, you have my support. Just don't say it's self-less because I don't think there is such a thing as self-less.

I think that trying to be self-less is an ideal that we can strive for. You can argue that it is impossible or doesn't exist. In fact, many economists and psychologists can probably explain exactly why every act is selfish in some way. I think that even if you do not achieve perfect selflessness, I think that it's good to try rather than just say, that it's human nature to be greedy. I don't really want to evangelize this but rather to try to achieve it in myself and hope that others might also feel this way.

I don't think it's so much about optimism vs pessimism... It's more like... if someone wants to cut in during traffic, you let them in. They feel better and let the next person in. Letting that person cut in front of you makes the day a better day for someone and in the long wrong comes back to you, but not directly. You don't "account" for it.

I am not trying to meddle. I'm just trying to achieve happiness for myself and my current theory is that I will achieve it best by becoming more compassionate.

I would take to retract my last sentence. My comment was a comment on altruism in genera and came out seemingly directed at what you are doing. I prefer to lend support to friends than deter them from doing what they like doing. My bad.

Re traffic example, that can be taken an example of selfish act as I believe one could even give up life to fulfill some selfish goals.

I am not sure if you've read my "Selfish Pig" post [1] from long time ago but, like what you are doing, I maintain my selfish pig point of view to be happy. In the end, I guess it's just two facets of the same, yingyang-ish. It's just that selfless end of the stick cuts my hand (probably due to rough brush with existentialism at sensitive age) where the other end doesn't.

Anyway, be at ease for it's not easy.


As usual, jumping in too late. I was surprised that Joi totally side-stepped the usual topics people want to discuss when you bring up altruism. What I took away from the conversation was an understanding that it does not really matter if you believe altruism exists or not (we can well all be selfish pigs) and that your time is not well spent worrying about how others should behave and how to convince them.

Sharing and giving to those around you, might lead to a deeper sense of happiness than consumption. The Dalai Lama's happiness encourages us to question if we are living in ways that make us happy, and if not, how we could be.

In pragmatic terms: If everyone looked out for other drivers needing to cut-in, we'd all get home faster and less stressed.

I can recommend the movie "Autism: The Musical"

I forgot to mention the web site:

and I've blogged about it with many links here: