Continuing with my rumination about some underlying aspects of human sanity, altruism and philanthropy...
HORIZONS OF INCLUSION- Part III
We’ve been discussing “horizons theory”... an area also covered at http://www.davidbrin.com/eon.html It is very much about the “modernist agenda”, of course.
In fact I think this is one of my least-developed ideas. Still, it has some real potential, I hope. If other bright minds need to bounce it around and offer fresh input. CITOKATE.
How does all of this relate to philanthropy?
The “horizons” metaphor deals with how far into the future you perceive it in your interest to both plan and invest... and what kinds of ROI (return on investment) you are seeking.
That return need not be personal financial rewards. Indeed, if you are sane - at least in the limited measure of two narrow parameters, low indignation and high satiability - then there is some degree of wealth at which you start pondering horizons well beyond personal wealth rewards. If you stretch your horizons far enough, self interest rewards that you seek become virtually indistinguishable from altruism.
Although it galls purists and preachy types to hear this, patterns of altruism do tend to be predictable according to horizon theory. The more satiable AND satiated an individual feels, the farther into the future they worry... and the more distant are the “relatives” whose welfare becomes a personal concern. Our present civilization demonstrates that millions - who have never known hunger - are capable of stretching these horizons to include spans of centuries into the future and animal species whose common ancestry lies very far in the past.
Alas, preachy types tend to smugly assume that they have done this expansion of concern because they are morally superior. In fact, while it may be very satisfying, this notion is actually counter-productive, since smarmy pretensions of moral superiority reduce your effectiveness at persuading others to join the cause.
The one thing they hate is to have it pointed out that their horizons have expanded - at least in part - because they have been pampered and wealthy and satiated for most of their lives.
(See http://www.setileague.org/iaaseti/brin.pdf for a paper about how altruism manifests both in nature and individual human beings. This paper especially concerns the interesting question of whether advanced alien life forms must necessarily become altruistic - the standard Soviet and SETI ideology - or whether this is yet another horizon-perception effect. I contend that beings descended from bears or tigers, even when satiated, might interpret altruism quite differently than we do!)
But let’s get back to how this applies to pragmatic philanthropy. Assume you want to encourage the kinds of long range investments that may help your distant cousin and distant descendants... the essence of a modernist agenda that looks to distant horizons. All right then. Who has the capital and the foresight to invest?
Now the interesting thing is that governments and corporations and independently wealthy people = are all CAPABLE of perceiving rather different sections of the potential investment horizon. Nor, if you look closely, do the facts fit into our simplest left-right preconceptions.
As it turns out, government is the entity that invests the farthest and in the most eclectic manner. In space telescopes, pure research, and highways for example... some highly pragmatic and others abstract, but also often with long range thinking in mind. ROI is measured in entirely different ways - (actually, a wide variety of manners) - than for a corporation, which seldom looks beyond three years. Governments, apparently, are very bad at making profitable payback decisions in short term. Yet they can spur long term development like nothing else.
What government does lousy is respond in an agile fashion to feedback loops generated by constituents, the way that companies and entrepreneurs react to customer desire in markets. Moreover, the whole notion of measurable ROI is so debilitated in government that Pork Barrel earmarking by Congressmen has taken on budget busting proportions and yet there remain no institutions able to step in on the taxpayers' behalf.
(Those corrupt Congressmen DO get ROI. If not in bribes, then using our money to lavish attention on their own local voters.)
In any event, the Modernist Agenda clearly has vastly more projects that need sagacious investment than will ever be attended-to by governments or corporations. Neither policy not market forces appear capable to surveying - or even perceiving - large stretches of the Investment Horizon. On that philanthropy discussion list, we are trying to find ways to foster activity by the third group I just mentioned -- wealthy people who hold autonomous control over massive amounts of capital and may choose - simply as a matter of whim - to perceive portions of opportunity horizon that other capital wells cannot.
Mind you, we aren’t talking about not the wing of the aristocracy that is currently ruling us... the Insatiables who yearn for a return of feudal pyramids of inherited privilege. Fortunately, there are just as many wealthy people who fit the other model. Loyal to the social diamond, they prove that capitalism is a net beneficial process. When well-tuned.
They are the wheat, as opposed to the chaff.
==Continue to Part IV or return to Parr I