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Are humans selfish?

People often disagree with me when I say that most humans want to help others, and will help others, and it ends up being a debate about whether people are basically selfish or not.

There’s a difference between being selfish and self-interested: selfish means – for example – not helping another person when there is little or no cost for you (e.g. not giving one ringgit to someone who clearly needs it, and you can easily spare it); self-interested means not sacrificing yourself – it is not selfish to refuse to give your car to someone, when you need it to get to work and support yourself, for example.

One of the reasons I decided that most people are not selfish is that I used to travel quite a lot, and I used to hitchhike often too. I travelled thousands of kilometres in strangers’ cars, and often they would go out of their way to drop me somewhere convenient for me. In all the places I travelled to, I have always been able to count on someone helping me out if I’m lost, or for some other reason.

OK – you may say that it was only a minority that helped me, and that’s true. But think of this – if everyone was really so selfish, how would societies work at all? We all cooperate willingly with other people every day, and think nothing of it. The idea that if there were nobody to force us to cooperate, under pain of punishment, we would turn around and become crazy beasts just flies in the face of all evidence. Wherever people group together, the first thing they will do is try to find some common means of communication and common standards to operate on. The problem, in my opinion, is that so many people are trained to expect others to make decisions for them, so when they are faced with a situation where there are no clear and obvious rules, they turn to someone to lead them – depending on that individual leader, they may or may not end up acting in violent and unsocial ways.

Anyway, all of this is because I was pointed to this interesting experiment - tweenbots. It sounds like some marketing cartoon for kids, but in fact
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Check out tweenbots to see what happened when this was tried in Central Park, New York

Blogrolls and indecisive reciprocity

OK, I’ve decided to announce when I am adding links to my Blogroll. I decided early on just to include links to blogs and websites relevant to my research, anthropology and internet research in general, but recently I’ve been wondering about that, as it means I’m not doing what most bloggers do, ‘spreading the link love’ – i.e. exchanging reciprocal links. The thing is, I don’t want to link to some and not to others, and seeing as I look at a whole range of blogs – not just those I would read regularly – I don’t know which to choose to link to or not… On the other hand, I’m feeling guilty about not linking back to those who have linked to me…

I haven’t made up my mind on that one yet, but what I’d like to do is set up a link list of all the blogs I have collated in my database (about 250 so far), but for that I’d need some automated process linking a static page to a database, which I don’t know how to do…

Anyway, here are the recent links:

Susan C. Herring's Publications
Susan Herring has done lots of pioneering research into blogs, and I came across this page recently. It has a list of all her work, and most of them are available for download – even some scanned book chapters.

Native Anthropologist
A “Nigerian PhD candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology” Nigerian (I think) anthropologist, doing research on second hand clothing trade networks between Benin and Nigeria; I think we could have some interests in common, seeing as we’re looking at economic/market issues.

Cicilie among the Parisians
“A blog from Cicilie Fagerlid's fieldwork research on poetry, anger and cosmopolitanism in Paris” – urban anthropology I guess, she is a Norwegian anthropologist.

Blog Analysis Toolkit
I have yet to test this properly, but it comes from the same people who developed the handy online Coding Analysis Toolkit - an online, free, application to do content analysis coding. It can work with Atlas.ti files, or you can do your own coding from raw data.

The Impoverished Social Scientist's Guide to Free Statistical Software and Resources
A useful resource – as the title says.

Blackstone's World With
A lecturer at the Center for English Language Communication (CELC) – National University of Singapore. Using his blog as part of his teaching.

Oh, and by the way, nothing to do with research, but Congratulations! to Mei Chern. She has now released her second album and is going to play at a festival in the US! Tahniah! :-D Listen to her!