- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 19, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199738572
- ISBN-13: 978-0199738571
- Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.4 x 7.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pathological Altruism 1st Edition
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"A scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume...The book is the first comprehensive treatment of the idea that when ostensibly generous 'how can I help you?' behavior is taken to extremes, misapplied or stridently rhapsodized, it can become unhelpful, unproductive and even destructive."
--Natalie Angier, The New York Times
"What a wonderful book! This is one of the few books in evolutionary biology I've read in the past ten years that taught me something completely new."
-Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
"The coverage of topics is breathtaking.... The reader will emerge with a much deeper and nuanced understanding of altruism in reading this book, the best on altruism in the last 15 years."
-Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley; author of Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life
"This unique volume manages the impressive feat of pulling together the best research from psychology, genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and law on well-meaning but ultimately harmful forms of self-sacrifice. It will forever change the way you look at altruism."
-Sharon Begley, Science Editor, Newsweek, and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain
"An essential reading for anyone who truly cares about helping others."
-Paul Zak, Professor of Economics, Claremont Graduate University, and co-editor of Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy
"What is grand about the collection is that light pours in through every contribution, and even the glare of competing views can reveal dark assumptions."
-Robert J. Richards, Morris Fishbein Professor of Science and Medicine, The University of Chicago, and author of Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (winner of the Pfizer Prize in History of Science)
"This volume is unique in examining 'pathological altruism' from various angles with unfailing insight and depth."
-Elkhonon Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Neurology, New York University School of Medicine, and author of The New Executive Brain,The Wisdom Paradox, and The Executive Brain
'''Be careful what you wish for' might be one way of summing up the take-home message of this strikingly original book, highlighting the fact that 'more is not always better' when it comes to either being the altruist or the recipient of altruism."
-Jay Belsky, Professor of Pyschology; Birkbeck University of London
"Is pathological altruism a disease, an addiction, an evolutionary relic, or perhaps a mirage? This is a wonderfully engaging and thought provoking book; you may not agree with all of its arguments, but you'll never look at kindness quite the same way again."
-Oren Harman, Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society, Bar Ilan University, Israel, and author of The Price of Altruism
"It is rare-actually, probably unprecedented-to find in a single volume discussions of the moral right to sell one's kidney, of friends who enable an alcoholic's benders out of a misplaced sense of empathy, of people who hoard animals (the not-at-all apocryphal crazy neighbor who lives with 87 cats), of the psychological motivations of suicide bombers, of the genetics of individualism and collectivism, and of the frequent failings of well-intentioned foreign aid programs. This is that rare, if not unique, volume. It manages the impressive feat of pulling together the best research from psychology, genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and law on well-meaning but ultimately harmful forms of self-sacrifice. It will forever change the way you look at altruism." --Sharon Begley, Science Editor, Newsweek, and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain
"Can there be too much of a good thing? Surely, eating too many chocolate chip cookies will lead to a sore stomach, but too much altruism bringing about harm?! In Pathological Altruism, experts in diverse fields consider the phenomenon of radical altruism, from battered women to suicide martyrs, and from autistic people to foreign aid givers, and all the way to Mahatma Gandhi. Is pathological altruism a disease, an addiction, an evolutionary relic, or perhaps a mirage? This is a wonderfully engaging and thought provoking book: you may not agree with all of its arguments, but you'll never look at kindness quite the same way again." --Oren Harman, Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University, Israel, and author of The Price of Altruism
"WOW-what a book! Can one be too nice? In this fascinating volume Barbara Oakley and her collaborators show how altruism can bleed into misplaced, excessive, self-righteous, or self-serving pathologies. Why this occurs and its societal implications make this book essential reading for anyone who truly cares about helping others." --Paul Zak, Professor of Economics and Director, Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Claremont Graduate University, co-editor of Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy
"Pathological altruism? Sounds like an oxymoron, but this fascinating book quickly convinces you that altruism can go seriously mad and bad. The great breadth and quality of contributors to this book from psychiatry, psychology, and philosophy - and that's just the 'P's' - shed light on the dark side of our evolutionary propensity towards altruism, which can be subverted to a wide range of pathologies such as survivor guilt, drug co-dependency, personality disorders, and eating disorders. When within-group altruism is exploited to between-group hostility, it can lead to suicide martyrdom and genocide." --Robert Plomin, MRC Research Professor and Deputy Director, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London; author of Behavioral Genetics (now in its 5th edition), and past-president of the Behavior Genetics Association
"What most of us perceive as unmitigated evil, its perpetrators sometimes regard as self-sacrifice in the name of some delusional cause. Suicide bombers, terrorists, messianic cult leaders guiding their following to self-destruction usually think of their heinous acts as benefiting humanity at the cost of self-deprecation. So did Adolf Hitler. To understand such behaviors, it is necessary to understand 'pathological altruism' in its many manifestations. This volume is unique in examining 'pathological altruism' from various angles with unfailing insight and depth. The book will be an invaluable source for psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, historians, criminologists, as well as fascinating reading for the general educated public." --Elkhonon Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Neurology, New York University School of Medicine and author of New Executive Brain, Wisdom Paradox, and Executive Brain
"Read this book. You will learn much that would be new to you, whatever your expertise or interest. And I would be surprised if you don't enjoy this voyage of discovery."
-Francisco J. Ayala, Templeton Prize Laureate and University Professor, University of California, Irvine
"It will lead the way for future investigators and scientists to open the doors of inquiry into a new and most interesting field of inquiry. It is well done, reader friendly, and highly praised by leaders in the scientific and educational communities. I will add my praise to those and recommend it highly." -- Lois Bennett, Ph.D., New York Journal of Books
"Overall, this is a well-written, easily comprehensible collection of typological (epidemiological) investigations into "altruism's gloomy underbelly" (p. 7)asserting that "some people are pathological altruists in their essence" (Krueger, p. 298). From its seemingly oxymoronic title to the final chapter, the content flows logically in a coherent, clear, and convincing presentation of all aspects of altruism. Ultimately, the book adds to the growing scientific examination of empathy and prosocial behavior. It is a must read for clinicians and researchers interested in these fields." -- Lora Humphrey Beebe, PhD, Issues in Mental Health Nursing
"Apparently not, at least for a lot of people. One of the best pieces in Pathological Altruism is David Brin's chapter on addiction to indignation: "Self-addiction and Self-righteousness." You might see why looking to feel outraged as often as you can is pathological, but how could overweening, self-righteous huffiness ever be described as altruistic?" -- Los Angeles Review of Books
"This book offers a well-balanced sense of how altruistic acts can cause harm to the self, to
any intended target(s), and to society at large. Although not organized into these categories,
Pathological Altruism highlights the problems that can emerge when personal, civic, and
civil agendas are left unchallenged." -- PsycCRITIQUES
About the Author
Barbara Oakley is an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan. Her work focuses on the complex relationship between social behavior and neuroscience. Her books include Cold-Blooded Kindness (Prometheus Books, 2011) and Evil Genes (Prometheus Books, 2007).
Ariel Knafo is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research deals with the genetic and environmental contributions to empathy and altruism and how children's genetics affect their behavior and the way parents react to them.
Guruprasad Madhavan, a bioengineer, is a program officer in policy and global affairs at the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council - collectively called the National Academies - in Washington, DC. He is senior co-editor of Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (Springer, 2008).
David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. His books include The Neighborhood Project (Little, Brown, 2011), Evolution for Everyone (Delacorte, 2007), Darwin's Cathedral (Chicago, 2002), and Unto Others (Harvard,1998).
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An update on 4/12/14: At my request, and after two of my undergrad psychology students presented a paper on it, this incredible book now sits on a shelf in the library of Lake Superior State University (Michigan) where I teach.
The authors are divided between those that see the phenomenom as chemical, a side effect of too much oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin or seratonim, all known to promote pro-social trusting behavior, or physiologically particular to brain development or chemistry in the amygdala and frontal lob, and those who see it as caused by psychology and cultural factors. One extreme is the pseudo altruist – who stages a crisis so that they can save the day. Chapter 16 by Augustine Brannigan examines the roots of the Rwandan Genocide comparing it to the Holocaust where both Tutsis and and German soldiers murdered freely out of the belief that they were improving their respective societies. Both sets of genocidiers shared a belief that they had passed their obligation of self control and duty to the State and felt little contrition after the fact – they believed they were doing good. In Chapter 17, “Too Much of a Good Thing: Foreign Aid and Pathological Altruism”, editors Oakley and Madhavan differentiate effective vs prudent foreign aid. Most aid presumes centralized control of collection and distributions where the donors and the recipients are unknown to each other. Problems arise where well intended and overabundant gifts fail to match actual needs, as was a recent case of an earthquake in Pakistan where most of the donated clothing proved to be impractical for the cold weather.
A very different approach was by science fiction author David Brin on the dangers of 1st contact with an alien species. The basic assumption of SETI is that any culture advanced enough for spaceflight will be altruistic. He brings up the example of dolphins helping human castaways and of human beings helping beached whales, then brings up the the fact that in the past the immediate reaction was often “lunch!”. He advises us to not be so generous as to give away our cultural datastore to visiting aliens – to a sufficiently advanced civilization this might be the only thing of value which we have to trade!
An interesting and provocative essay was by Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin to the famous comedian), an autism researcher, who argues that empathy is usually stronger in women whereas men tend to focus on systematizing behaviours: collecting and categorizing, developing abstractions and accumulating mechanical, numeric and kinetic skills. Empathizers tend to avoid science, math and technology, but excel at having a theory of someone else's mind, something that people with Aspberger, or autism have difficulty achieving. However a good point made in Ch 22 “The Co-evolution of Empathy and Altruism” warns that sociopaths do have a theory of mind but lack empathy altogether though it could be argued that they do but perversely enjoy the pain of others. Another interesting distinction made was that sympathy differs from empathy in that the latter entails interpreting and internalizing others feelings but may in turn be excessively driven by a sense of drama, an extreme form of virtue signalling. Though culturally altruism (as opposed to egoism) is thought of as a good, when it becomes pathological it can be destructive, as in the case where someone commits suicide so as not to become a burden on others or to preserve family or community honor.
Particularly interesting was the material on culture and on evolutionary biology. Overall I appreciated it as a very good read.
This book should have its own psychology class attached to it. But, I am really and truly grateful for it and the lessons it has taught me. I'm sure I'll keep learning, too.
The various chapters by different authors investigate altruism gone wrong from multiple perspectives and based on different fields of knowledge - biology, sociology, economics, etc. Several of the authors went so far as to show how even genocide is the product of misguided altruism.
This book deserves far more attention from everyone, but especially policy makers and anyone looking to help others effectively.