# Who would oppose a conspiracy to turn everyone into altruists? [closed]

A group of scientists (in my idea for a novel) have secretly invented an invention with which every person on this planet can be turned to behave altruistically. In the context of my question the term "altruism" means "concern for the welfare of others". Since this would be an ideal world if everyone were friendly, considerate, and helpful towards everyone else, I cannot for the life of me come up with an antagonist (or several) who would oppose the plan to make use of that invention.

Probably certain rich folk would prefer to not want to give away their wealth, and some individuals might resent the idea that they were no longer acting of their own free will, but I don't see these individuals acting on their unease, and I don't see any sane and thinking person not wanting altruism for everyone. I guess I'm blinded by my own ideology, so:

Who would oppose a conspiracy to turn everyone into altruists?

I'm not looking for mere objection, but for someone who would put themselves in the way of those who want to turn everyone into altruists and take measures to wipe out that "threat". Would a government send their secret service? That kind of opposition.

Since there has been some misunderstanding about this point, let me reiterate that the phrase "every person" in the first sentence of my question indeed means every person, including future generations, and that "every person" according to the dictionary definition of "every" includes each man and woman without exception.

One objection has come up several times, so I'll address it here:

Being altruistic does not imply that

• you force help on someone who does not want that help
• you disregard individual differences and help everyone in the same way
• you know what is best

Of course, altruists will

• have to ask a person what they need and whether they want help at all
• make mistakes and unintentionally cause suffering
• have to face difficult decisions

To make the premise more clear: The device removes any inclination to intentionally hurt others and makes everyone consider the wellbeing of others before they act. It does not make anyone lose their self-preservation instinct or make them stupid.

## closed as off-topic by sphennings, Vylix, Mołot, Secespitus, AzuaronNov 13 '17 at 13:57

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• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about theoretical altruism, distribution of wealth, and related topics has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Nov 15 '17 at 3:45
• I have created a site proposal for questions on plot, story, and character development: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/114672 Please participate, if you want to ask and answer related questions. – user44653 Nov 15 '17 at 9:00

You are going to change everyone on the planet. How did they test that invention in the long term? And by long term I mean people affected by this invention will be able to become parents and their kids will be normal healthy individuals. You are going to change brain processes, how do you know this would not end like some sort of prion desease? So there are strong health issues that does not seem to be tested.

Then you have privacy point of view. You are affecting someone without his consent!

"We are going to use a machine to change your personality whether you want it or not. We're only going to use it one time for one innocuous purpose. Honest! 'Zat okay with you? Not like it matters if you disagree..."

Here's the issue ... how can you trust these scientists?

Short answer: you can't. You can't possibly imagine that after using the machine once they'd destroy it utterly. That they might have ... other things they'd like to change. Maybe these scientists favor free-market economics. Maybe they want extreme population reduction to lessen the ecological impact of humanity. Maybe they are all Bahaists. Etc. They have the power to change your brain to want what they want. This is a ghastly power.

Let me put it to you like this... would it make a difference to you if this machine were owned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pope Francis, or Vladimir Putin? If it makes a difference, then you see why these scientists must be slain. Instantly.

In fact, anyone who doesn't already agree with the scientists on all possible points will want to oppose them. Every covert operations group on the planet will be gunning for these guys. The grouchy old coot who lives down the road and loves to shoot stopsigns with buckshot will be gunning for those guys.

Surprisingly, graffiti artists will lead the hunt to destroy the scientists. (An altruist wouldn't deface someone else's property, right?)

Actually, the scientists themselves should realize this. They know that whoever controls the machine controls every soul on the planet. I suspect that at least one of them will have a crisis of confidence and try to destroy the machine. And at least one of them has a more ... aggressive agenda.

This would make for one humdinger of a story, but any sane person would gun those dogs down on sight.

Update: Just to make it real clear ... I'm not criticizing 58980's story idea, I think it will be a fun tale, but I do want to point out that I reckon there'd be huge, immediate opposition to The Plan.

• To see this dilemma in real life, you can look at the many proposals of increasing surveillance and stronger punishments for hate speech, and the opposition against it. The stronger the punishment for hate speech becomes, the more political power is gathered into the hands of the entity with the right to decide what is hate speech and what is not. And would you trust them to never abuse that power? Rooting out hate speech, or rooting out selfishness, all seem like noble goals on the surface, but would you trust anyone with limitless power just because they claim they fight for those causes? – vsz Nov 13 '17 at 7:12
• ... would it make a difference to you if this machine were owned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pope Francis, or Vladimir Putin? If it makes a difference, then you see why these scientists must be slain. Instantly. Well, it wouldn't make any difference to me, but I'm not in favour of fatwas on people for any reason. Personally, I'd settle for destroying the machine and the documentation of its design, then isolating everyone who worked on the machine, as well as those involved in its destruction, both from any manufacturing base, and from each other. – nzaman Nov 13 '17 at 10:15
• @nzaman I could live with imprisoning them all, but their Master Plan must be stopped... – akaioi Nov 13 '17 at 16:10
• @user58980 the thing that really surprises me is that nobody called me out on my claim that it would be graffiti artists leading the Resistance... ;D – akaioi Nov 13 '17 at 16:10
• @akaioi but is a graffiti artist defacing someone else's property or enhancing it? – Crettig Jul 31 '18 at 16:10

Who would oppose a conspiracy to turn everyone into altruists?

I think you already answered this with the most obvious group who would oppose such a thing...

Anyone who does not like the idea of having their personality changed against their will or without their permission.

Or as I would call them, "basically every human being on the planet". For some reason you dismiss this as just 'some people'. But I suspect it would not be some, but rather the large majority of people who would oppose it (if done without people's permission).

Also, on a more philosophical level, you say this device turns everyone altruistic. But is it really altruistic to deprive people of their free will by choosing for them that they will undergo this transition? I'm guessing no. I suspect most people will find the very concept abhorrent.

One thing to keep in mind: I hope your process can 'convert' the entire planet at once, because if it doesn't, those who aren't yet altruistic will be able to take great advantage of those who are.

• Thank you, especially for the idea that those that aren't converted will be at an advantage. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 8:16
• A: Any lLibertarians that I know :-). lLibertarians are all for liberty but opposed to coercion - even if the intent is to coerce them to do things that they would voluntarily do. Llibertarians tend to be opposed or very opposed or radically foaming at the mouth vehemently opposed to anything that includes even a mere smere whiff of "Socialism" [tm]. Your proposal does so they hate it with a pure shining unquenchable hatred. – Russell McMahon Nov 13 '17 at 10:49

I think you have highlighted the people yourself. Those who already have the most stand to lose the most so might not be so keen. It would depend on how much they had relative to the others. Extreme differences might present greater opposition. It would also depend on the total amount of resources available. If everyone is on the breadline and a few are just about it they will not want to lose their advantage, whereas if everyone is relatively wealthy then the effect might be less intense.

You are also correct to assume there will be people who will resent loss of freedom or privilege such as philosophers, priests or anyone in a position of power or who worked for the police for example. Who actually decided to oppose the change would depend on the type of altruism that you had in mind and how the population were informed (or misinformed) of it.

It sounds wonderful if everyone is an altruist, but even an altruist needs some rules to work by and not all rules are created equal or considered to be equal by everyone. As an example consider utilitarianism as the basis for your altruist – the greatest good to the greatest number. Sounds fine in principle and in many cases it is an excellent way of dividing up resources or deciding what to do but it does have some terrible flaws if taken in isolation.

Imagine five people about to die in hospital. One needs a heart transplant, another a kidney, another a lung etc. In walks some health visitor to give blood. It just so turns out that he is a perfect match for these five people. So the hospital authorities weigh up what to do using utilitarianism and their decision is that the needs of the five outweigh the needs of the one so the one visitor must die so that five may live.

This is just one example. Whatever system of rules, morality and “altruism” you adopt there will always be corner cases and difficult decisions to be made.

• I agree with your assessment of my simplistic altruist utopia. Yet I don't see some organised opposition rising from the unease of however many individuals. Take my example of climate change in my comment to the answer by L.Dutch: very many people feel opposed to how a free economy is allowed to destroy our planet, and yet these probably billions of people cannot organise themselves to actually do anything about it. What I'm looking for is someone who would commit themselves to destroy the threat (real or imagined) that those wanting altruism pose to them, no matter what the cost. – user44653 Nov 12 '17 at 20:56
• @user58980 I suppose it really depends on what “turning everyone into altruists” meant in practice, how this was communicated to the public and how the public interpreted it. The degree of opposition would range from public uprising and insurrection leading to overthrow of the government (altruism = strict utilitarianism), through various shades of public disorder to grudging acceptance and finally to overwhelming support. But to get to overwhelming support (or even grudging acceptance) the system of morality implied would have to be exceptional and I don’t think it exists – Slarty Nov 12 '17 at 21:37
• I think that altruism doesn't necessarily have to imply stupidity. An altruist could still make the decision not to help in the short term when the long term consequences would be negative. And of course altruists are (and would still be) faced with difficult decisions and make bad ones. Being an altruist doesn't mean that you always succeed in giving help. What it means is that you no longer feel inclined to exploit other people and be intentionally cruel to them. So I don't see how altruism must lead to utilitarianism, as you suggest. Also, if everyone helped, maybe it would be much easier – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 7:48
• @user58980 I agree that my utilitarian example was a bit extreme, but the point I was trying to make was that the devil of this question is in the detail of how do people assess how to help others. – Slarty Nov 13 '17 at 9:38
• I agree. Thank you for your thoughts. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 9:41

complete altruism is not necessarily a positive trait. If it was (and egoism was negative) natural selection would have already wiped it out.

To back this up, consider that some year ago (citation neeeded, but I cannot remember it after 25+ years) some scientists did a simulation: a population with various expression of heroism gene (-- coward, -+ fairly brave, ++ heroic to death) was attacked by reckless enemies. Cowards and fairly brave escaped while the heroes were fighting until their life.

This behavior saved a part of the population and, more importantly, the gene for heroism.

A similar reasoning can be applied to altruism: in certain situation altruism is not an advantage (imagine food scarcity: an egoist not sharing his scarce portion of meal with someone else will survive, while sharing it will lead both to death).

On top of this you have also to consider ethic opposition related to the lack of free will.

So, I suspect opposition would come from a fair share of scientists and philosophers. And rich people would surely support them.

• But that seems more like the opposition from scientists, philosophers, and many rich people against not actively stopping climate change. Governments allow the economy to destroy our habitat, and yet the "opposition" to this confines itself to talk. None of the activists have taken measures that might bring about a change. So I don't really see the same people doing more than talk when faced with someone wanting to turn everyone into altruists. Rich people, scientists, and philosophers are not enraged enough to start killing for their beliefs. – user44653 Nov 12 '17 at 20:45
• Thank you for your thoughts on altruism. I see that I have some thinking to do. – user44653 Nov 12 '17 at 20:51
• @user58980 Deep-ending on how old you are, you may yet find that your above example is a poor one. There are many others where the central issue is more certain. You could make a case (hypothetical of course) that your scientists, philosophers and some rich people are already part of an apparently altruistic but actually quite the opposite conspiracy to cause people as a whole to act in certain ways to achieve actually unfounded and unproductive ends. Just as well it's only hypothetical :-). – Russell McMahon Nov 14 '17 at 11:42
• @RussellMcMahon I'm sorry, but I don't understand your comment. – user44653 Nov 14 '17 at 11:57
• @what = user58980 : From your text: " ... opposition x against x not x stopping" CC= 4 negatives = supporting CC. ie the S P & MRP are essentially allowing climate change to continue unimpeded. Your adumbration is that this is a NON-altruistic act. This supposes that CC is stoppable and/or that the causes are under 'our' control and that proposed actions against it are properly targeted and liable to be effective. While much of that is a common belief, history will show how well founded it all is scientifically. || Better to choose a less contentious example with good scientific foundations – Russell McMahon Nov 15 '17 at 16:53

This sounds like a principle I've observed and lived by for a long time...

There's a huge flaw with the concept of "treat others the way you want to be treated." The flaw is: Not everyone wants to be treated like you! So it is with altruism. One person's altruist, would be another person's nemesis. This would end up going very, very badly. In fact that seems like a perfectly reasonable resolution of the plot... the basic realization that everyone is different and unique and it's simply not possible for everyone to be altruistic, because everyone has different definitions of altruism and you'll never have everyone in agreement.

• van Clute, I think the Golden Rule is a little more nuanced than that. It's not a case of "I wish people would give me ice cream, so I'll give them ice cream even though I know they hate it". That's ... silly. Bump it up a level of abstraction, and you get ideas like "I enjoy being treated kindly, so I'll treat you kindly", which is a much easier sell. ;D – akaioi Nov 13 '17 at 3:25
• Yeah but you're talking about doing things for people, which is quite different from treating them certain ways. For instance, there are no shortage of people who do not want to be treated kindly. Though it baffles me why, I've met plenty of them. The nicer I am to them, the less they're going to like me. But get in their face and be downright rude, and suddenly they respect and take you seriously... see you as a peer, etc. I just mean that people are way too individual for any such idea as "make everyone an altruist", which in itself could be a critical discovery of the story. – Jonathan van Clute Nov 13 '17 at 4:06
• Jonathan, altruism, as I understand it, means that you attempt to be good to people, not that you treat them all the same. If my girlfriend enjoys to be spanked, I can do that for her, even though I generally dislike violence. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 8:20
• And that's precisely my point - as you understand it. If you and I and Bob and Jane all have different ideas of what it is to be altruistic, we won't be on the same page and the whole thing goes pear shaped. Not a big deal with a small group of people, but an entire planet?? I think it would go horribly, potentially humorously, wrong. Which in fact could make for a great story. – Jonathan van Clute Nov 14 '17 at 0:13

I've only somewhat skimmed some of the answers, but here's a take that looks to be somewhat different than what has already been suggested: what if you had a group of highly religious individuals who had an issue with this because it is changing the way God made someone (according to Catholicism, God makes everyone unique, with their own talents and ways of going about helping others -- if this was artificially homogenized, they would definitely have a problem with it). If our current world is any indication, their disapproval would go beyond simple unease and would advance to action.

I think this would made your story more interesting and dynamic, and you could have a lot of interesting themes and messages going on throughout.

Liberals - at least in a sense of movement coming from Enlightenment not any political party in any particular country. Liberalism is based on the principles of individual freedom and ability to decide for themselves. Forcefully brainwashing population - even with 'good intentions' - seems to be antithesis to the liberalism not much better than controlling them by state religion (separation of state and religion was one of the postulates of the Liberals). I don't think you can call yourself liberal - be it 'classical liberal' or 'liberal socialist' - if you aren't terrified by someone considering to rewire the brains of whole population.

Also depending on the scope and exact details - economists. The economy depends on the people making rational choices to the extent they have information. By definition I have a better image of what I want than you do so if you give me a present it might cost you more than it's worth for me (setting aside values of the social relationship). That's not usually a problem as such exchanges are small portion of exchange but it might collapse the whole system if majority of transactions start to be wasteful and any hope of planning goes away once the price discovery mechanism goes away possibly resulting in massive starvation - hardly an aim scientists aimed for. If the effect is very strong you need to somehow find out how to solve basic economic problem. There's lot of resources from both side (at least century or so of debate) so I'll leave it at that as I'm no economist (though most of the debate assumes that humans are at least partially self interested. It might be a bumpy ride though as economy transforms and reshapes).

(To preemptively clarify: I like the idea, I'd be terrified of both such project and consequences)

There is a nefarious group of people who have heard of this project and they are going to spend A-day underground, in quadruple-layered Faraday cages with their tinfoil hats in place.

Afterwards, they will be the only greedy people on the planet and they will RULE it.

The heroes have heard of this and decided that they are unable to penetrate the villains compound, with the mine fields and all.

However, the security around the mind control ray is lighter and easier to breech. So, to stop the villains from gaining control of the planet, they must stop the mind control project.

• I can very much imagine this as a Hollywood blockbuster :-) – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 9:21

There exists a very long lived and very well known conspiracy to turn people into altruists.

For example Matthew 19:21: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Mark 12:31: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

And the best of all: Matthew 7:12 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

How can anyone oppose that? Yet many people have opposed this conspiracy, and the most successful people have done it from the inside: embraced the premise of the consipracy (because who could possibly oppose such a thing) and then diverted the energy and enthusiasm behind it to their own ends. There are people who, in the name of this conspiracy, advocate and themselves practice hatred, the killing of persons who behave in certain ways, and the accumulation of fabulous wealth. Such persons find it more effective to instead subvert the conspiracy and turn it into something different. What better way to oppose a thing than to turn it into its opposite?

And then, unfortunately, those people who overtly oppose a conspiracy that we should all be good and love one another do so because the first group has ruined what it was supposed to be about.

• The conspiracy I have in mind would no longer give you the freedom to act as if you were an altruist and pervert an altruistic movement, because you would be an altruist and therefore unable to not act altruistically. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 7:43
• Sounds familiar, somehow. | As I was going down the stair, I met a man who wasn't there, he ... . Bzzzt. Reset. Where was I. Oh yes, ... wasn't there again today, ... . – Russell McMahon Nov 13 '17 at 10:55
• @user58980 Will could have cited other verses that would be less appreciated by many, that indicate that your criteria will be well met in due course, reluctantly or freely. "At the name of ..." – Russell McMahon Nov 14 '17 at 11:49

"It's for your own good" has been so overused that it's discredited.

Postwar history is full of inventions which were supposed to be of universal benefit that have developed unexpected downsides or flaws. People have started distrusting everything, including supporting evidence. Vaccines are altruism that people have started opposing. So I would say that there are very definitely going to be people who disbelieve the altruism in your scheme and oppose it on that basis.

What is altruism, anyway

Does this extend to other species on the planet? Is it altruistic to forgo consuming resources in order to benefit them? Therefore, is it altruistic to never have children in order to deliberately bring about the extinction of the human species?

There are people who already believe this.

Therefore your "universal altruism machine" might bring about the extinction of humans. Are you sure this is a good idea?

Who: As other said Libertarians, evolutionary genetics and economists. So combine these group into one character (and you have perfect leader for oposition).

Why would they fight it even at cost of their life?

They/he was already influenced by this invention, they know that it is bad (on surface it sounds good, but they know it's bad for everyone) and they already are altruistic, so they are willing to sacrifice themselves.

• "Why the very first test subjects of course," was exactly what I was thinking : ) – Erik Reppen Nov 13 '17 at 14:24

I would.

The problem with altruism is that it relies on everyone instinctively knowing what is good for others. How can they possibly know that in all circumstances?

My life is complicated enough, without having others actively deciding what is best for me. I might not agree. I might not agree for altruistic reasons (but my reasons, not someone else's). Where does the standard 'altruism' come from in the end?

• No. In fact doing good necessarily implies that you ask if someone needs help and what kind of help they want, before you force yourself on them. Altruism doesn't imply that you have to treat everyone the same regarless of their needs and preferences. That would be evil and the opposite of altruism. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 12:44
• So everyone has to ask everyone else if they want good doing to them, and ask what that good will be? Suppose they just want drugs? – Lee Leon Nov 13 '17 at 14:12
• Even an altruist cannot help everyone. Also, see the edit to my question: Altruism doesn't imply that you have an answer to every problem. It just means that you try to consider the needs of others, and that you try to abstain from intentionally harming others. I doesn't mean that you suceed at all times. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 14:25
• I think the world is a lot more predictable and safer if people generally act for reasons of self-interest. Altruism, as a motive, is more likely to bring about unpredictable outcomes and strange feedback loops as people try to aim for the best possible outcome for others in a continually changing world. – Lee Leon Nov 13 '17 at 14:41

# I would be against it.

This is basically the premise of the film A Clock-Work Orange. A few thoughts

Firstly, why do you think that scientist are especially able to define what altruism is, why do you think there definition of altruism should count above everyone else's, this shows a clear bias on your side.I'm assuming the scientist who decides altruism is not called Mengele or Kevorkian

Secondly, the removal of free will is not a noble cause. Without free will a person is basically a slave, do you think making a slave of all of humanity is noble, remember slavery and love does not mix.

Since this would be an ideal world if everyone were friendly, considerate, and helpful towards everyone else...

This may be your ideal world but my ideal world will tolerate some rude people so as to ensure that everyone has the free will to choose there rudeness because of there own free will.

What makes your ideals more worthy of enforcing on all of humanity than mine?

• (1) The invention would be applied to everyone. In Clockwork Orange the brainwashing was applied only to perpetrators. (2) The invention would make your inclination to do hurt others disappear. The brainwashing in Clockwork Orange only made wanting to hurt others feel bad, but did not change the want. (3) The invention does not precluce that people still have to communicate about what they want or don't want. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 12:51

Dystopian SF mode:

The scientists would test their invention on at least a few people before using it on everyone. If successful, this would create a group of perfect altruists, people who really want the best for humankind.

Therefore, the first thing these people would do would be to realize this invention is pure evil, and thus murder the scientists, and destroy the invention itself and all traces of its existence.

Before doing that, for a bit of extra fun, they could fight to the death among themselves: being perfect altruists, they would value the good of the many versus the good of the few (including themselves and their buddies). They would all agree that everyone should give everything they have above a certain level of wealth to a Good Cause... However their opinions about which cause deserves the most resources would differ. What's a few dead dissenters when you're working for the Greater Good?

We can only hope the survivors get a "what have we done" moment and decide it wasn't such a good idea after all.

• Super! Thanky. But how about: The scientists test the thing on themselves. They then use the thing on everyone else, because they know that humanity will become extinct anyway, if nothing is done now, so the slim chance that this will work is still better than no chance at all. This is actually the setting in which many medical treatements are made: you might die from it, but you will certainly die if we don't do it. – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 12:39
• If the world is extremely overpopulated, the most altruistic would all kill themselves to fix the problem, leaving only those who are immune to or least affected by the machine ;) – peufeu Nov 13 '17 at 13:02
• Not necessarily. If the most altruistic took on a perspective of long-term sustainability, they would kill everyone of low altruism, because if those survived, the world would soon be overpopulated again, facing the same problems, while the altruists would refrain from unbridled procreation because they know that would cause suffering in the long term ;-) – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 13:08
• Don't you love how utopias always end up with mass murder XDDDDD – peufeu Nov 13 '17 at 13:54

Q: Who would oppose a conspiracy to turn everyone into altruists?

A: Any lLibertarian* that I know :-). lLibertarians are all for liberty but opposed to coercion - even if the intent is to coerce them to do things that they would voluntarily do. Llibertarians tend to be opposed or very opposed or radically foaming at the mouth vehemently opposed to anything that includes even a mere smere whiff of "Socialism" [tm]. Your proposal does, so they hate it with a pure shining unquenchable hatred.

_______________________

*I use the term lLibertarian or Llibertarian as they can be very picky about whether they are called a libertarian or a Libertarian. The former is an individual with this bent, and the latter is a formal member of a lLibertarian organisation, I'm told, I think.

• Reminds me of my son who recently said that he would enjoy school if he didn't have to go. I find this view very childish. Do libertarians hate to breathe, eat, and sleep? Because they cannot choose, but must? – user44653 Nov 13 '17 at 11:23
• @user58980 It's risky considering ANYONE's ideas childish, regardless of how little sense they seem to make to us. Most of the problems in the world that are not based on greed and lack of altruism [tm] are due to people forming opinions of their own on given subjects and denying the merits of others' opinions, regardless of how well founded such opinions are. | In the case of the 3 actions you mention, none of these are compelled by others - they are the free choice of each person. Each can be resisted to some extent - leading to death in each case for those who succeed well enough. – Russell McMahon Nov 14 '17 at 11:48