Kindness comes from human nature and not from capitalism

Today’s economy is built on the idea that humans are naturally selfish, and that rewards are needed in order for the best of both us and society to be seen. We live in a society that validates, condones and encourages actions through monetary bonuses, salary and other extrinsic rewards. ‘Successful’ is often synonomous with ‘wealthy’. Let’s take the current scale for measuring professional value: salaries. Stock-brokers are, by this measure, more valuable to society than eldercare or disability workers.

Many would argue that this rewards system is needed in order for people to take responsibility (even though volunteers exists). This belief however, is based on the underlying assumption that humans are intrinsically selfish.

Altruism: the willingness to be kind

Altruism is “a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare” [1]. Basically the willingness to be kind. There has been two major philosophies regarding where this source of kindness comes from and what role it play. The Aristotelean school of thought sought to do activities for well-being through ethical and political thinking, aiming to reach what they thought was the highest human good (eudaemonia). On the other hand, the Hedonic school of thought of ancient Greece sought to have actions motivated by a strife to maximize pleasure and minimize pain  (hedonism). From that time to modern time there has been a debate of wether or not human kindness is at its ultimate core motivated by selfishness, or if a true unselfish will to help others, only for their own good, truly exists.

True selfless kindness is real

The philosophical perspectives of kindness can more or less be translated into psychological models which can then be tested. Cialdini et. al proposes that kindness is motivated by an innate drive to reduce negative moods, and that being kind ultimately comes from an hedonic selfish drive (1981). They call this the ‘negative-state relief model’. The idea is that this drive makes us want to help others in order to make ourselves feel better. The unselfish proposition is the ’emphathy-altruism hypothesis’ which suggests that altruism, the will to be kind, may be motivated by the feeling of empathy, such as compassion and sympathy (Batson et al., 1987; Fultz et al., 1988).

The selfish and unselfish theories of altruism however can, and have been tested. The shocking news is that from the 80’s, when these tests began, the unselfish version of altruism seemed to exist. By testing how female students would interact with electric shocks Batson et al. got evidence in 1981 that empathy-altruism vs empathy-egoism, the empathy-altruism won the comparison. After this, almost a decade later, in 1990, Dovidio, Allen and Schroeder once more showed that the unselfish kindness model gave a more accurate result than the egoistic ‘negative state relief interpretation’. Their findings were presented in the article with the subtitle ‘Evidence for altruistic motivation‘. So from 1980 psychologists started to realize that there is evidence for unselfish kindness.


What is interesting is that this unselfishness starts from an early age. Some would argue that people and children do unselfishly kind acts if they know someone is watching them, in order to get esteem from others or build a nice image, or even due to culture. But an experiment made to test this says otherwise. Hepch, Vaish and Tomasello noticed an equal increase in happiness within children when the children saw someone else being helped, as well as when they themselves were the ones who helped them. It did not matter if the child received appreciation for helping the other as the child became happy regardless of if the children themselves were the helping agent or not and thus “seem to have genuine concern for the welfare of others” (2012). So basically, true altruism exists and the models are stronger than the selfish theories. What is also important is that science says that this unselfish kindness exists from birth.

The source of good will is human nature. Not capitalism or rewards

The Hedonic view and the capitalistic idea that man is ultimately selfish, even when being kind, affects how we train our children to become kind. We often gives them treats or ‘teach’ them the art of kindness, as was suggested by prominent psychologists Kohlberg (1958) and Piaget (1932).

To test these ideas, Warneken and Tomasello (2007) gave 20-months old children extrinsic rewards over a period of time whenever they conducted helpful behaviour as an attempt to reward helpfulness and thus increase it (fitting to the idea that altruism is taught, and that it at its core comes from selfish motivation of wealth accumulation or personal gain). What is interesting is that the treat did the exact opposite!


The children who received rewards became less helpful during the experiment, showing that rewarding helpful behaviour actually undermines it, making us more selfish and less kind.

So then how to motivate to do good? Doing good and seeing good being done is the motivation and brings joy. If receiving rewards undermines altruism, then how can we express our gratitude to people who we consider to be helpful? The answer may seem surprising, but receiving a reward may not be the most important thing to us.

Let us recap before we move on: 1. Infants can understand simple inferred goals, and help without being asked. 2. Children become happy when someone is being helped, even if they do not get any personal recognition for being the ones that help. 3. Rewarding kindness and putting focus on our personal gains in helping others makes us less kind.

But what about the individual? If we do want to think in a more selfish term, and we want to be happy, isn’t getting rewards still a nice thing? Well, this is an outdated belief that yet again doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In 2012 scientists showed the contrary:


So yes, there is some form of selfish benefit from helping others as well: we ourselves become happy. But the real take-away is that we do want others to be helped, and as a bonus it makes us genuinely happy. And giving may be more important than receiving on a psychological level. Remember that it doesn’t need to be resources, it can be to help others complete their tasks, or giving them some of your time while wanting nothing back from it. I think we need a new definition of both success, moral development and a new economical view of the unselfish man.

A capitalistic perspective makes it harder to be altruistic… and happy

The capitalistic assumptions that we are driven by profit, gain, fear of loss and are selfish at our core, have made our society develop counter-acting mechanisms to increase altruism and good will in society. This perspective is based on out-dated psychology and today we have the knowledge to create a society which does not work against our naturally tendencies to help others and receive joy from it – and with this perspective perhaps we can even increase, and allow, our true altruistic nature to flourish. With this intelligence also comes the understanding that it is not payment that makes us help others. A world without jobs will not by default be without kindness – hopefully it will allow us to act freely out of goodwill, and like the children who choose to give their candy away: receive more pleasure by voluntarily helping others, than to receive from others. The collaborative economy is built on people developing society without the need to claim personal ownership over the developed knowledge or products: but still they continue. Under the capitalistic perspective this is hard to understand, but as we learn more about human nature, we start to realize that we have collaboration and self-determination at our core. If we posses the need to receive a salary in order to help others, remember that it seems to be more a temporary construct manifested by wrongful assumptions about the nature of man.

Economy 4.0 need to acknowledge that kindness motivates us and makes us happy

Today’s economy is built on transactions of selfishness, whereas the new economy needs to embrace altruism as a genuine source of motivation and behaviour. Altruism exists from birth, and is actually undermined through rewarding us with selfish gains; the very act of being kind is what makes us happy and motivates us. This, at least before society teaches us how we can receive personal gain through helping others and thereby making us, paradoxically enough, less kind, and less unselfish. This may mean that we need to stop seeing unpaid work and help as a bad or neutral thing, and allows us to accept that having a decrease in paid ployment due to automatisation will not necessarily be a burden for society. Citizens have a motivation to help others, if we give this motivation space to bee completely altruistic. It gives some hope that a basic income, an automated collaborative economy or an resource based economy is not only possible, but also holds more potential for unlocking the kindness we secretly harbour within.

By: Andreas Sjöstedt
Edited by: Ellen Wheeler

Kindness comes from human nature and not from capitalism

by | Nov 18, 2016 | Articles, Personal Story | 0 comments