You probably remember a staffed toy little pig named Piglet from the Disney’s animated film Winnie the Pooh and Blustery Day? I discussed an episode from this film in my previous article Winnie the Pooh in Fantasyland of Altruism.
In the fantastic toy world, Piglet was the first altruist who tried to live for others—he gave up his home to a homeless Owl and became homeless himself. Adorable fantasy! But, as you have seen, unexpected reality lurks sometimes on the invisible, back side of a fantasy.
Here is another educational and fascinating story about altruism, the story about an extraordinary man who tried to live for others—in real life.
George Robert Price was a brilliant research scientist. Trained as a chemical engineer, he made noticeable contributions in many scientific research areas, including uranium enrichment for Manhattan Project; fluorescence microscopy; radiation therapy in cancer research; IBM computer-aided design and many others. But he became famous for making an outstanding contribution to…evolutionary biology, a field in which he had no special training.
Believe it or not, but George Price made a scientific discovery in that field—he solved a long-standing problem that calls into question Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He developed a simple and now famous Price equation that helped to understand the evolutionary process leading to behaviors, such as…altruism.
Nevertheless, he remained largely unknown during his life time and more than three decades after his death in 1975. He was just 52!
Only recently, George Price was dragged out of oblivion, but with a bang. From 2010 to 2016, a flurry of publicity suddenly appeared in the US and UK—a biography; an NPR series; documentaries by the TV Science Channel and BBC; a number of publications and even a play, all being dedicated to the life, work and legacy of George Price. Such miraculous resurrection is probably the second to Jesus Christ!
But what was the reason for such media frenzy—his tragic life of Shakespearian proportion or his scientific legacy? Why were many events of his life, his actions and motives sanitized with political correctness? Why his scientific discovery was buried in oblivion for so long and still is a touchy subject today?
There are so many inconvenient questions to ask! I wonder why no one asked them. Let me do it. Let me ask these and many other inconvenient questions and give you thought-provoking answers.
But first, I need to brief you about altruism and Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection in order to show how they are related to each other.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) developed a philosophical concept destined to change the world. He named it Altruism.
Egoism should be replaced with altruism in the names of equality and fairness, decided Comte. To achieve that, everyone has to live for others. This is the essence and the original meaning of altruism. This is the way Comte defined it, and that’s how everyone else interpreted it for almost a century.
But what does it mean to live for others, in practice? It means that you should allow a state to control (voluntarily or forcibly) almost every aspect of your life—the products of your labor and your material well-being; your education and health care; all form of ownership, your rights and freedom and even your life. In exchange, you receive what you need virtually free of charge. And, of course, given the laws of supply and demand, rationing will be needed to avoid shortages and inequitable distribution.
You may say that this is not what altruism means today. Modern altruism means selflessness, kindness or benevolence. And you are right. Today, the original meaning of altruism given by its author Auguste Comte was unceremoniously changed. (Who, how and why it was done is another fascinating story about altruism).
So, what altruism has to do with Charles Darwin? Ever since Darwin had published “The Origin of Species” (1859), scientists have been arguing about one mysterious phenomenon—the existence of selflessness, kindness or benevolence (altruism today) in nature—and how to reconcile it with the basic factor of evolution—natural selection.
Natural selection is а natural process that compels species to adapt to their environment. The most adaptable species survive, pass on their traits to their descendants through heredity and propagate faster than their competitors.
In other words, every living thing lives for itself working toward its individual reproductive success (selfishness,egoism). But sterile worker insects, such as ants or bees, live for others working for the good of their nests (benevolence, altruism).
For Darwin, this paradox was the “most serious special difficulty” endangering his theory of evolution. Does altruism exist in Nature or only in human mind? The mystery of kindness (altruism) was summarized by H. Allen Orr: “If animals, including human beings, evolved by natural selection—a merciless process, in which organism struggles against organisms, and all that matters is outcompeting everyone else—how could altruism arise? How could natural selection promote, or even allow, behavior that is costly to the individual that performs it but that benefits someone else?”
Darwin had no answers to these provocative questions. He recognized that the problem with altruism could potentially derail his theory of natural selection. So did his critics. The only solution for Darwin’s followers has been to prove, somehow, that there was no contradiction between альтруизм and natural selection. That’s why there are so many theories today that are trying to prove that animals and even insects can show selflessness, kindness or benevolence (altruism) in nature, as well as many theories that disprove that. A fierce war is going on. It continues to this day, for over 150 years!
(By the way, Darwin did not use the term altruism in his book, although Auguste Comte introduced his theory of altruism long before its publication. He preferred the term benevolence. Obviously, Darwin did not associate Comte’s altruism with selflessness, kindness or benevolence).
So, why was scientific legacy of George Price in oblivion for so long and is still a touchy subject to this day?
George Price became interested in evolutionary biology and, particularly, in altruism when he abandoned his family and moved to London in 1967. Those were turbulent 60s, the time when the interest in Marxism, socialism, communism and altruism was at its peak in the US, UK and around the world. Liberal and progressive intellectuals and the left of all colors were drooling in admiration over the socialist, altruistic society built in the USSR.
Even the two most influential evolutionary biologists, John B.S. Haldane and John Menard Smith, whose support Price was seeking at that time, both were card-carrying members of the Communist Party.
No wonder the debate over altruism turned into a cold ideological war waged by left-leaning academia and media. Suddenly, George Price found himself in the trenches on the front line of that war. But, as a green, unexperienced soldier, he found himself in the “wrong” trenches—among anti-communists. Still, his personal anti-communist stand alone cannot explain such long and stubborn ostracism of his legacy.
To blame it on antisemitism does not hold water either. You see, George Price was born a Jewish half-breed. His Jewish father died when he was only four years old, and his Semitic side was kept in an absolute secrecy. No one knew this secret. George himself found out about it only at the end of his short life.
The reason for his oblivion was more serious than anti-communism or antisemitism. The reason was his scientific legacy! Price made a great contribution in understanding of evolutionary biology, particularly in evolution of altruism. His scientific breakthrough was expressed in a simple and elegant mathematical formula known as the Price equation.
But the shocking solutions of this brilliant equation stunned not only George Price himself, but all proponents of altruism who did not expect and cannot accept his conclusions even today.
As it is turned out, altruism, as a behavioral trait, has evolved not out of innate pure benevolence or selflessness, but because it was beneficial to a social group, a family or an individual. And, as was confirmed later, even to…a gene!
Yes, a gene! In 1976, in his book “Selfish Gene,” Richard Dawkins described humans as “robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”
A journalist Theo Jolliffe went even further. He described the Price equation as “just a mathematical translation of the Herbert Spencer’s famous expression—survival of the fittest.”
Herbert Spencer, а famous British philosopher, considered it to be a law of Nature. But Marxists and left-leaning intellectuals have been attacking it giving it a derogatory label “Social Darwinism.” And not for nothing. Because, if it is applied to a human society, it would make their cherished ideas, such as economic equality or fairness, look artificial, unrealistic and utopian.
Even Oren Harman, the author of the book about George Price, revealed ignoring political correctness, “The Price equation shows, in essence, that when we think we are behaving lovingly, we are actually working on a carefully calibrated scale of self-interest. … It describes the world where selflessness was always selfish and what looks like sacrifice may, in fact, be the road to personal gain.”
In other words, the Price equation is a formula of altruism that revealed its origin, and the conclusion derived from it was shocking—altruism turned out to be virtually “egoism in disguise.” For the proponents of altruism in the liberal academia and media, who are peddling altruism as a synonym of kindness and selflessness and as a solution of all problems of humanity, such message has been absolutely unacceptable, potentially dangerous and harmful for their agenda.
No surprise there. Altruism has always been a corner stone of the left-wing ideology. If Price had proven that altruism of kindness and selflessness; was the result of natural selection, he would have been put on a pedestal next to Darwin. But he didn’t! That’s why George Price’s scientific legacy remained obscured during his life time and even after his death.
The unintended consequences of his work devastated the committed altruist George Price. His formula has blown up in his face—he was the first to look into the beautiful soul of altruism and has seen, in horror, a veiled ugly face of egoism there. In an act of unprecedented defiance, Price decides to do unthinkable—to disprove the results of his work and to prove that pure selflessness doesexist in this world.
And here is my point, which many writers overlooked, didn’t grasp its significance or preferred to ignore. George Price turns his life around again and makes a decision to live as a pure, absolutely selfless altruist. In essence, he decides to live for others without even the smallest “stain of selfishness,” as was originally intended by the father of altruism Auguste Comte.
Price puts his career on hold and sets out on a noble mission—not just to help, but to live for others. The reborn altruist, he gives up his home to poor, homeless vagabonds. He gives away his possessions too—money, food, clothes, even the aluminum cross he wears under his shirt. Then the shirt itself. He keeps giving until he is “down to the last 15 pence.” Eventually, he ends up to become homeless sleeping in the streets—a tragic, but predictable result of this artificial, altruistic experiment that goes against human nature.
What happened next to George Price is also unbelievable! Very soon, he comes to a painful realization that his altruistic intentions, although look noble, make no difference in the lives of poor vagabonds, except that he became one of them himself. He understood that altruism is useless in helping others, and that it’s an absolute absurdity to keep living like that. His altruistic experiment is over. He is planning to get back to a normal life style and to care for himself for a change. But it was too late— in a few weeks, he commits…suicide.
As a prominent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson said, “Altruism is really a self-destructing behavior performed for the benefits of others.”
You may say that some individuals do commit suicide, such things happen. I agree, but the suicide of George Price, who tried to live by the principles of altruism, could make people think that altruism is destructive for an entire society, too (History 101). Therefore, some innocent, politically correct explanations of his behavior were needed for damage control. And they were given in every media release—on TV, in Internet or in print.
The most popular explanation of the strange behavior of an atheist George Price was that he suddenly embraced religion. But there is a catch that was overlooked, though. Christianity does not teach to live for others—it teaches to love your neighbor as yourself. A big difference! This means that religion could be a part of his altruistic experiment, not the other way round.
Otherwise, why did George, by his own confession, stop, step back from religion and “give up much of the amateur social work” when he realized that his altruistic experiment was a failure?
Another popular explanation was that George was just a total nut. “Altruists are not literary insane, but they may look like that,” confirms Prof. Barbara Oakley from Oakland University. In fact, his give-away spree does remind a mental disorder called anorexia—the more weight these people lose, the more they want to lose more. In all other aspects, they are normal people. *
George Price was normal too although he might look insane. He knew what he was doing, and he was prepared to face the music. Normal people know when to stop, nuts don’t. George was planning to turn his vagabond’s life around again—“to get married, have four kids, a dog and a cat.” To be crazy about cats is not insanity—ask millions of crazy cat lovers about it.
So, what is the legacy of George Price? Trying to live for others, George Price showed that his extreme acts of altruism did not bring any good to the lives of homeless vagabonds—“no one left the bottle, none returned to their families, none changed their ways.” Altruism does not help people!
This is a devastating verdict to altruism coming from a devoted altruist right before he said goodbye to this world—dying people do not lie, and the mathematical equations tells the truth and nothing but the truth.
In this respect, Прайс gave a priceless gift to the world, which no one noticed. He was a man who voluntarily injected himself with a deadly virus of altruism and lost his life, thus, warning the humanity about the danger.
History knows many examples of outstanding scientists and doctors who were taking risks with their health and even their lives testing new drugs and procedures on themselves.
Sir Isaac Newton stuck needles in his eyes studying optics. A Nobel Prize winner Dr. Jonas Salk of Pittsburg University tried polio vaccine on himself. A surgical resident in a Berlin hospital Werner Forssmann inserted a catheter in his heart. A microbiologist Pradeep Seth injected himself with HIV virus.
George Robert Price should stand next to these remarkable people as equal.
George Price sacrificed himself, but he gave an educational lesson to those who naively believe in altruism and those who are shamelessly manipulated by the proponents of altruism.
This is the real legacy and prophesy of George R. Price. The true essence of the formula of altruism that George Price gave to the world confirms the eternal wisdom of Nature:
If you want to help others, help yourself first. Like on board of an airplane during an emergency—put an oxygen mask on yourself, first, then you’ll be able to help others.
His formula of altruism has to be engraved on his tombstone.
What tombstone? There is no tombstone! George Price lies in an abandoned, unmarked grave covered with weeds and wild brush at Saint Pancras Cemetery in North London.
Hey you, altruists! You, who profited from the juicy story about tragic life and death of George Price! Where is your kindness, selflessness or benevolence? Why didn’t anyone put a modest tombstone on the grave of a man who lived for others? No one gives a damn! This is the true “priceforaltruism!”
Just look at those grandiose monuments erected from pompous words in the name of altruism—the altruism that lives high on the hills of our noble thoughts, moral desires and bold fantasies; on the pages of prestigious scientific journals and nonfiction books; on the screens that show moralizing TV series and movies.
But on the screens of the real life, instead of pompous monuments, we see nothing but abandoned, unmarked graves covered with weeds and wild brush.
This is a true and symbolic illustration of what altruism really is—a fruit of human fantasy that has nothing to do with reality.
To live for others in an altruistic society by your own will! What an absurd idea foreign to Nature! Nature castrates such altruists to prevent them from breeding. But Man can be violently forced to live in such an altruistic society. Hundreds of millions coerced altruists lived in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. And they are still living in North Korea and Cuba.
These facts our liberal media prefers to ignore, as they ignored the fatal attempt of George Price to live for others.
More information about altruism and the references you can find in the book “Altruism, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Valdemar Malin (Amazon.com).
Красильщиков Аркадий - сын Льва. Родился в Ленинграде. 18 декабря 1945 г. За годы трудовой деятельности перевел на стружку центнеры железа,километры кинопленки, тонну бумаги, иссушил море чернил, убил четыре компьютера и продолжает заниматься этой разрушительной деятельностью.
Плюсы: построил три дома (один в Израиле), родил двоих детей, посадил целую рощу, собрал 597 кг.грибов и увидел четырех внучек..