Julyan Davey
Supporting the emergence of life affirming, transformative cultures.

Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness by Matthieu Ricard

Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness by Matthieu Ricard

Date Read: 20/07/18

My rating: 10/10

(See my list of other books I've read)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

This book gave me the belief that we can confront the world's problems with a positive mindset. If we can get enough people to think: What can I do to help humanity's situation? then maybe we have a chance. Big inspiration but doesn't lose track of the bigger picture and structural nature of our problems.


PART 1: What is Altruism?

Chapter 1: The Nature of Altruism

  • Is altruism a motivation (a momentary state of mind) or a disposition (a character trait)?

Example Definitions:

  • Altruism is a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare. (Daniel Batson)
  • Good intentions are indispensable for altruism, but they are not enough. One must act. (Kristen Monroe)
  • We have limited ability to control outer events therefore we cannot qualify an act as either altruistic or selfish on the basis of the simple observation of its immediate consequences.
  • The fact of experiencing joy in working for the good of others, or of coming away with unexpected benefits for oneself, does not, in itself, make an action selfish.

Chapter 2: Extending Altruism

  • Altruistic Love: "the wish that all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness" (Buddhism).
  • By "happiness" Buddhism means not just a temporary state of well-being or a pleasant sensation but a way of being based on an array of qualities like altruism, inner freedom and inner strength.
  • By "causes of happiness" Buddhism is referring to the pursuit of wisdom and a more accurate understand of reality.
  • Compassion: "the wish that all beings be freed from suffering and the causes of suffering." (Buddhism)
  • Compassion is the form that altruistic love takes when it is confronted with others' suffering.
  • "Compassion is a melting of the heart at the thought of another's suffering."
  • Empathy: the ability to enter into affective resonance with the other's feelings and to become cognitively aware of his situation.
  • True love consists in combining unlimited benevolence with flawless discernment.
  • "What will be the short and long term benefits and drawbacks of what I am about to do?
  • How can we reconcile this unconditional and impartial love with the fact that we naturally have preferential relationships with certain people and that we are programmed genetically to show particular care for our kin and our friends?
  • We may take the image of the sun. It shines over all people equally, with the same brightness and the same warmth in every direction. Yet, there are people who, for various reasons, are closer to it and receive more heat, but that privileged situation does not entail exclusion.
  • Rejoicing: feeling a sincere joy at the accomplishments and qualities of others.
  • Impartiality: the desire that beings find happiness and be free from suffering should not depend either on our personal attachments or on the way others treat us or behave towards us.

Dalai Lama distinguishes two types of altruistic love:

Natural Altruism is innate and requires no training. Its most powerful form is parental love. It remains limited and partial for it depends on the way we perceive others i.e. favourable or unfavourably as well as the way they treat us.

Extended Altruism, however, is impartial. In most people, it is not spontaneous and must be cultivated. We all have the possibility of cultivating altruism and transcending the limits that restrict it to the circle of those close to us.

Extension has two main stages:

  • one perceives the needs of a larger number of beings especially those we had regarded as strangers or enemies.
  • one learns to value a vaster totality of sentient beings beyond the circle of those close to us.

Extension begins with the following realisation:

  • When I look deep inside myself, I do not want to suffer.
  • What happens if I mentally project myself into the awareness of another being?
  • Like me, he is perhaps under the sway of all kinds of torments and great mental confusion, but, like me, wouldn't he prefer not to suffer.

Chapter 3: What is Empathy?

  • Affective empathy occurs when we enter into resonance with the situation and feelings of another person, with the emotions that are shown by the person’s facial expressions, gaze, tone of voice, body language, and behaviour.
  • Empathy can lead to an altruistic motivation.
  • But it can also give rise to a feeling of distress and avoidance that leads us to close in on ourselves or turn away from the sufferings we're witnessing.
  • Convergent resonance: I suffer when you suffer; I feel angry when I see you angry.
  • Divergent resonance: instead of feeling the same emotion as your spouse and becoming angry you distance yourself while still showing concern. You say: "I'm so sorry you have to deal with such a jerk"
  • If we lack compassion for certain sufferings and certain beings, we risk lacking compassion for all sufferings and all beings.

Human Sciences (psychology):

  • Daniel Batson's 8 modalities of empathy:
  • knowing another person's internal state.
  • motor and neural mimicry
  • emotional resonance
  • intuiting or projecting oneself into another's situation
  • imagining how another is thinking and feeling
  • imaging how one would think and feel in other's place
  • empathic distress
  • empathic concern

Empathic concern: consists of becoming aware of the other's needs and the feeling a sincere desire to come to his or her aid.

The first six form of empathy can contribute to engendering an altruistic motivation. Empathic distress goes clearly against altruism. Only the last, empathic concern, is both necessary and sufficient to make an altruistic motivation arise and urge us to action.

Pity is an egocentric, often condescending, feeling of commiseration which in no way testifies to an altruistic motivation.


Three distinguished states from studies of the brain:

  1. Emotional Contagion
  2. Empathy
  3. Compassion

For emotional contagion, I automatically feel the other's emotion without knowing that he or she is the one who provoked it, and without really being aware of what is happening to me.

Empathy, is (1) an affective state (2) similar to the other’s affective state (3) produced by the observation or imagination of the other’s affective state which involves (4) an awareness that it is indeed the other who is the source of our own affective state.

Compassion, is the altruistic motivation to intervene in favor of someone who is suffering or is in need. It is thus a profound awareness of other other's suffering, coupled with the desire to relieve it and do something for the other's benefit.

Chapter 4: From Empathy to Compassion in a Laboratory

Without the support of love and compassion, empathy left to itself is like an electric pump which no water circulates: it will quickly overheat and burn.

"We need the gentleness and the strength of compassion. The more lucid we are about the world, the more we accept seeing it as it really is, the easier it is to accept that we cannot face all the suffering that is encountered in the course of our lives unless we have this strength and this gentleness." - Christophe Andre.

Chapter 5: Love, Supreme Emotion

Barbara Fredrickson's research and approach to love.

It is regarded as a positive resonance with others.

  • Negative emotions (joy, love enthusiasm) are much more than a simple absence of negative emotions.
  • To flourish in life, it is not enough to neutralise negative and disturbing emotions; one must also foster the blossoming of positive emotions.

Contemporary Psychology:

  • an emotion is an often intense mental state that lasts only a few instants but that is apt to reoccur many times.
  • The accumulation of these temporary emotions influences our moods.

Fredrickson avers that, of all the positive emotions, love is the supreme emotion.

She defines love as a positive resonance that manifests when three events occur simultaneously:

  • the sharing of one or several positive emotions.
  • a synchrony between the behaviour and physiological reactions of two people.
  • the intention to contribute to the other's well-being. An intention that engenders mutual care.

This resonance of positive emotions can last for a certain amount of time, or be amplified like the reverberation of an echo, until, inevitably, as is the fate of all emotions, it vanishes.

“Love is not lasting. It’s actually far more fleeting than most of us would care to acknowledge. On the upside, though, love is forever renewable.”

They think that the enduring state called “love” by most people is the result of the accumulation of many moments, much shorter, during which this positive emotional resonance is felt.

It is the accumulation of affective dissonances, repeated moments of sharing negative emotions, that erodes and ends up destroying profound, long-lasting connections.

Uri Hasson studied how the brains of two people linked by a conversation adopt very similar neural configurations and enter into resonance.


  • encourages trust and generosity.
  • But can also increase envy and favouritism for members of one's own clan.

Vegus Nerge:

  • restores calm to our organism and facilitates communication with the other.
  • Vagal tone reflects the activity of the vagus nerve and can be evaluated by measuring the influence of one's breathing rate on one's heart rate.

Cultivating Love

  • Fredrickson did an experiment with 140 people to see what would happen if they were taught loving kindness meditation.
  • Compared to control group they: felt more love, involvement in their daily activities, serenity, joy and other beneficial emotions.

Chapter 6: The Accomplishment of a Twofold Benefit, Our Own and Others'

The ideal of Buddhism is bodhicitta: “the aspiration to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.”

Is an action selfish if one benefits from it?

Only a benevolent action stemming from an equally benevolent motivation can give rise to true satisfaction.

Altruism thus appears to involve a synergy between the accomplishment of both the good of others and one's own.

Tibetan Master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche: "The true altruist is one who never hopes for a reward. He responds to the needs of others out of his natural compassion. Cause and effect are unfailing, so his actions to benefit others are sure to bear fruit - but he never counts on it. He certainly never thinks that people are not showing enough gratitude, or that they ought to treat him better. But if someone who has done him harm later changes his behaviour, that is something that will make him rejoice wholeheartedly and be totally satisfied".

Idea of Internal (Buddhist) Economics:

  • If I emerge a winner from a financial conflict, I am richer externally, but I pay the inner price of the hostility that disturbs my mind, leaving a residue of resentment.

Seeking selfish happiness seems doomed to fail:

1) the point of view of personal experience, selfishness and self importance turns out to be a constant source of torment. Obsession with "me", with the ego, leads us to magnify the impact on our well-being of the slightest event.

2) Selfishness is at odds with reality. It rests on an erroneous postulate that individuals are isolated entities, independent of each other.

“The love of my own self is inseparably connected with the love of any other self. Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites. The selfish person does not love himself too much but too little; in fact he hates himself.” - Erich Fromm

True altruism goes naturally hand-in-hand with profound personal satisfaction. When we accomplish a benevolent action don't we feel as if we are in harmony with our deepest nature?

Plato: "The happiest man is he who has no trace of malice in his soul".

Chapter 7: Self-Interested Altruism and Generalised Reciprocity

  • Many seemingly altruistic behaviours do not truly stem from altruistic motivations.
  • One can benefit others with:
  • expectation of reward
  • desire to be praised or avoid blame
  • relieve the feeling of discomfort felt when witnessing others' suffering.

La Rochefoucauld observed, “We often persuade ourselves to love people who are more powerful than we are, yet interest alone produces our friendship; we do not give our hearts away for the good we wish to do, but for that we expect to receive."

Some think that a quest for self-interested, rational, equitable altruism is a more realistic objective than the emergence in our societies of a selfless altruism.

Philosopher André Comte-Sponville expresses it this way: “I think that the whole art of politics is to make selfish individuals more intelligent, which I call ‘solidarity’ and which Jacques Attali calls ‘self-interested altruism.’ It is a question of making people understand that it is in their own self-interest to take into account the interests of others.”

The economist Serge-Christophe Kolm contends that the two economic systems that divided the world in the twentieth century—the capitalist, individualistic, market economy and the totalitarian, entirely state controlled economy—“are both based on selfishness, the pure and simple instrumentalisation of the individual.”

Self-interested altruism and reciprocal altruism are different from narrow-minded selfishness in that they allow constructive relationships to be woven between members of society. They can also be a springboard for selfless altruism.

Chapter 8: Selfless Altruism

There are situations in which selfless altruism is the simplest and most likely explanation for behaviour that occurs constantly in our daily lives. The usual arguments of those who strive to find selfish motivations behind every altruistic action hardly hold up to scrutiny.

Chapter 9: The Banality of Good

Those who carry out the countless acts of mutual aid and solicitude generally say that it is quite "normal" to help one's neighbour.

Between a fifth and a third of Europeans, or over 100 million individuals, take part in volunteer activities.

Three-Fourths of the inhabitants of the US donate every year to charity organisations.

Chapter 10: Altruistic Heroism

Altruism can be thought of as heroic when:

• it has the aim of helping someone else;

• it involves a major risk or sacrifice;

• it is not linked to a reward;

• it is voluntary.

Lots of examples of people helping Jews during the second world war.

Chapter 11: Unconditional Altruism

A vision of the world: "We all belong to the same family".

People are not fundamentally “good” or “bad,” but rather just individuals who have led different lives. This understanding seems to give altruists great tolerance and a remarkable ability to forgive.

Chapter 12: Beyond Imitations, True Altruism

People persist in attributing all of human behaviour to selfishness and we would be hard pressed to find even a single empirical study in the scientific literature that could confirm this prejudice.

"For those seeking to understand human nature and the resources that might enable us to build a more humane society, the motivation counts at least as much as the behaviour. We need to know not only that people (and other animals) do such wonderful things; we also need to know why." - Daniel Batson

If a stimulus presented by another person's suffering is the main cause of my distress, two solutions occur to me:

1) either I help the other get rid of his suffering.

2) or I find another way to escape the stimulus.

As Daniel Batson concludes, “Altruism is a more pervasive and powerful force in human affairs than has been recognised. Failure to appreciate its importance has handicapped attempts to understand what motivates our action and what brings us satisfaction. It has also handicapped efforts to build better interpersonal relations and a more caring, human society. Recognising the scope and power of altruism is not all that is needed to overcome these handicaps. But it is a crucial first step.”

Everyone knows that selfishness exists but when we acknowledge that altruism, too, is inherent in human nature, we will have made a great step toward the birth of a culture that is open to the other instead of one that withdraws into purely individualist interests.

Chapter 13: The Philosophical Arguments Against Universal Selfishness

Universal Selfishness: the theory that postulates not only that selfishness exists, which no one doubts, but that it motivates all of our actions.

Without offering any evidence whatsoever: “it is clear that the rescuer should not bother to save the drowning man.”

It is just as altruistic to give a plum to a child (you know the child likes plums) as it is to refuse it (you know that plums make the child sick to his or her stomach).

If a theory is formulated in such a way that is is always verified, whatever the facts observed, it does not advance the state of knowledge.

When a fireman rushes into a house on fire to get someone out, it is quite absurd to imagine him thinking, “OK, I’m going into the blaze. I’ll feel so good afterwards!”

Psychological hedonism: the constant search for pleasure.

“We are selfish because the only thing we really want is to have pleasant experiences, to prolong them, and to avoid or curtail unpleasant experiences.” - John Stuart Mill

Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted, “I know and I feel that doing good is the truest happiness that the human heart can taste.”

Often the explanation given by ordinary heroes after helping others is "I didn't have a choice".

The Dalai Lama often says that love is more natural than hatred, altruism more natural than egoism, since from birth to death we all need, in order to survive, to give and receive love to accomplish both our own welfare and others’.

We can understand kindness as the expression of a human being’s state of mental equilibrium, and violence as disequilibrium.

PART 2: The Emergence of Altruism

Chapter 14: Altruism in Theories of Evolution

We are biologically programmed for limited altruism, toward our kind and toward those who treat us well, but this ability can serve as a foundation for cultivating extended altruism.

Explaining altruistic cooperation has been one of the great challenges posed to the theory of evolution.

This type of cooperation implies a cost for the individual, and so it is hard to explain from the point of view of “survival of the fittest”.

Hamilton discovered Kin Selection. That the genes passed on by relatives also count. What matters is the overall quantity of copies of our genes transmitted to the next generation, directly or indirectly.

In 1971, Robert Trivers suggested that the creation of long-term relationships of exchange and mutual aid can facilitate reproduction and survival for each individual.

Possibility of Group Selection.

According to the mathematical models presented by David Wilson and Sober, groups that contain a majority of altruistic individuals prosper because of the advantages that cooperation and mutual aid bring to the group as a whole, despite the presence of a certain number of selfish individuals, or free-riders, that profit from the altruism of others.

The members of this group will thus have more descendants, the majority of whom will exhibit altruistic behaviour.

Little by little, cooperators will tend to find each other and to work together, while groups where free-riders are predominant will decline with time.

The success of cooperation depended in the end on the frequency with which cooperators associated with each other.

Chapter 15: Maternal Love, Foundation for Extended Altruism?

Daniel Batson believes that “they lie at least in part in the nurturant impulse of human parents to care for their young. This impulse has been strongly selected for within our evolutionary history; without it, our species would have vanished long ago. Perhaps because altruism based on nurturance is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of our lives, is so commonplace and so natural, its importance has failed to be recognised.”

Without the help of “alloparents,” there would never have been a human species. The notion of “family” as limited to a couple and their children developed only in the twentieth century in Europe, and as late as the 1950s in the United States.

On average, fathers in hunter-gatherer societies spend much more time with their children than fathers in modern Western societies.

Chapter 16: The Evolution of Cultures

Cultural evolution is evident in the development of both moral values - certain values, more inspiring than others, will be more apt to be transmitted from one individual to another -and beliefs in general, insofar as certain beliefs give people greater chances of surviving or attaining a high social position.

The evolution of cultures favours the establishment of social institutions that define and supervise respect for the behavioural norms, in order to ensure the harmony of communal life.

Twofold evolution occurs in parallel: the very slow evolution of genes, and the quicker one of cultures, which allows psychological faculties to appear which could never have evolved under the influence of genes alone.

The advent of complex societies and of civilisation over the last five thousand years has actually occurred too quickly to be the result of genetic changes.

Cultural values are often inspired by those who teach us and by prominent people in a population: charismatic leaders, scholars, celebrities.

If there is little new knowledge or if the environment is very stable, cultures have few reasons to change.

We need a change of mentality towards concern for our “global responsibility”.

Chapter 17: Altruistic Behaviour Among Animals

Among primates, examples of mutual aid abound. Chimpanzees taking care of companions wounded by leopards have been observed. They licked the blood from their wounds, delicately removed dirt from them, and chased away the flies buzzing around them.

A number of observations show that animals are capable of spontaneously helping a fellow who is in danger, or who has specific needs he is incapable of addressing alone.

Primates have shown they are capable of forming lasting friendships.

Elephants have an expression of mourning.

Chimps can be grateful.

Chapter 18: Altruism Among Children

One of the big questions debated in Western civilisation is whether we are born good and predisposed to cooperate with each other before society corrupts us, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed, or born selfish, indisposed to help each other and only taught by society to behave in a more civil way, as Thomas Hobbes asserts.

Research carried out over the past thirty years weighs in favour of the former hypothesis.

Barely a day after birth, a baby who hears another infant crying also starts to cry.

At about fourteen months, children begin to show concern for people in difficulty, moving toward them, touching them gently, or kissing them.

During their second year, children enter the stage described by Hoffman as “true empathy” and become capable of considering things from others’ points of view and modifying their behaviour to suit others’ needs.

Very young children spontaneously offered to help an experimenter complete various tasks.

Studies show that if children are made to understand that they are capable of altruism and that they are “kind” they will tend to behave kindly when the occasion arises.

When they behave in an unkind way, the best strategy seems to be to make them understand the harm they have caused, by bringing them to see the other person’s point of view, and to criticise their action without telling them they are “mean.”

The most reliable predictors of violent childhood behaviour are related to parental issues.

Three principles of parental intervention:

1) assertion of power

Basically punishment by severe reprimands, threats etc.

2) withdrawal of love

Parents shows his irritation by distancing himself from the child.

3) induction

The most constructive and effective attitude consists of calmly explaining to the child why it would be better for him to change his behaviour.

Four factors most important parental attitudes to favour altruistic behaviour in children:

1) expressing affection;

2) acting in an altruistic way oneself, thereby serving as an example;

3) making children aware of the impact of their actions on others;

4) providing children with the opportunity to be useful to others.

Chapter 19: Prosocial Behaviour

Research has shown that the majority of individuals come to the aid of others in daily life.

The bystander effect. The responsibility of helping is diluted because lots of other people are present.

If, in the country, it’s natural to talk to the person you pass on the sidewalk and to be interested in what one’s neighbours are doing, such relations are unusual in cities.

People in a good mood help more than others.

Values are concepts or beliefs that relate to aims or behaviour we deem desirable, for ourselves as well as for others, and which guide our choices in most circumstances of daily life.

Many studies have highlighted the link that exists between altruistic behaviour and happiness.

Allan Luks observed the morale of thousands of Americans who regularly took part in volunteer activities. He noted that they were generally in better health than other people of the same age, that they showed more enthusiasm and energy, and that they were less subject to depression than the average population.

Martin Seligman, one of the pioneers of positive psychology, proposed that one group of students spend a day amusing themselves and another group take part in a volunteer activity (helping the aged, handing out food in a soup kitchen, and so on). Each group was given the same amount of money and asked to write a report for the class.

The results were conclusive: the satisfaction procured by personal pleasures (eating out, going to the movies, having an ice cream, shopping, etc.) was much less than that produced by altruistic activities.

PART 3 Cultivating Altruism:

Chapter 20: Can We Change?

Dalai Lama: “Be selfish, love each other.”

“We all share, the same human nature, feel the same emotions of joy and sadness, benevolence or anger, and are all trying to avoid suffering. Thus as human beings we are basically the same. - Dalai Lama

Neuronal Plasticity: the brain changes constantly when an individual is exposed to new situations.

One can also actively and voluntarily train the mind to develop specific abilities. Research has highlighted transformations of the brain in people learning to juggle or play chess and in athletes who train assiduously.

Epigenetics: in order for a gene, which we have inherited from our parents, to be active, it must be "expressed", that is it must be "transcribed" in the form of a specific protein acting on the organism bearing this gene. The environment can considerably modify the expression of genes by a process called "epigenetics".

It seems that a simultaneous transformation of cultures and individuals is possible.

One of the tragedies of our time seems to be considerably underestimating the ability for transformation of the human mind.

Our character traits last as long as we do nothing to improve them and we leave our attitudes and automatisms alone, or else let them be reinforced with time. But it is a mistake to believe they are fixed in place permanently.

Chapter 21: Training the Mind

Each type of meditation had a different “signature” in the brain, which meant that meditation on compassion activated a series of areas in the brain (called a “neural network”) different from those activated when the subject meditates, for instance, on focused attention.

Meditation caused major changes, both functional and structural, in the brains of the volunteer practitioners, but also that a few weeks of meditation, at the rate of thirty minutes a day, already induced significant changes in cerebral activity, the immune system, one’s quality of attention, and many other parameters.

To meditate on altruistic love and compassion, first you think about someone close to you; you give rise to unconditional love and kindness toward them. Then you gradually extend this love to all beings, and you continue in that way until your whole mind is filled with love. If you notice this love diminishing, you revive it, and if you become distracted, you bring your attention back to love.

For compassion, you begin by thinking of someone close to you who is suffering, and you sincerely wish for that person to be free of suffering. Then you proceed as you did for love.

When participants meditated on altruistic love and compassion: a remarkable increase was observed in

the synchronisation of brain wave oscillations in the gamma frequency, usually associated with increased connectivity and coherence between different areas of the brain.

Six to eight weeks of meditation on altruistic love, at a rate of thirty minutes per day, increased positive emotions and one’s degree of satisfaction with existence. The subjects feel more joy, kindness, gratitude, hope, and enthusiasm, and the longer their training was, the more marked were the positive effects.

Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) from the The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

Six weeks of meditation on altruistic love considerably reduced discrimination against certain groups.

Telomeres are segments of single-strand DNA situated at the end of chromosomes. The study revealed that telomerase activity was considerably higher after the three months of practice among meditators than among members of the control group.

Chapter 22: How to Cultivate Altruism

If we truly want to integrate altruism and compassion into our mind-stream, we have to cultivate these qualities over long periods of time, anchor them in our minds, maintain them, and reinforce them until they become a lasting part of our mental landscape.

Meditating is familiarising ourselves with a new way of being and also cultivating qualities that otherwise remain latent if one makes no effort to develop them.

Meditation is a practice that allows us to cultivate these qualities in the same way as other forms of training such as learning to read, to play a musical instrument, or to acquire any other ability for which we have aptitude

Stabilising the Mind

In order to cultivate altruistic love and compassion, the mind should be ready, clear, and focused.

To that end, we can improve our power of concentration by using a simple support that is always available: the in-and-out of our own breath.

Meditating on Altruistic Love

Start by realising that deep down you want to avoid suffering, and you wish for happiness.

Give rise to a welcoming, tolerant, kind attitude toward yourself; decide that from now on you wish the best for yourself.

You then have to realise that it is shared by all beings.

The simplest object in your everyday life is filled with the presence of others.

1) Meditate First on a Loved One

Imagine a smiling child coming up to us and looking at us happily, trustingly, full of innocence.

2) Extend to Strangers and Enemies

Look at them the way a doctor looks at his most seriously ill patients.

3) Finally, embrace all sentient beings in a feeling of limitless love.


Imagine that someone close to you, your mother for instance, is the victim of a car accident some night, and is lying wounded on the road, suffering terrible pain.

Experience this suffering deep down, till it becomes unbearable.

At this point, give rise to a limitless feeling of love for that person.

Take her gently into your arms. Imagine that streams of love emerge from you and pour onto her.

Extend this warm, loving compassion to other beings who are close to you, then little by little, to all beings, forming this wish from the bottom of your heart: "May all beings be freed from suffering and the causes of their suffering.

Rejoicing, Celebration and Gratitude

We should fully and sincerely rejoice in the accomplishments of others and with that their qualities never diminish!

This ability to celebrate others' good qualities is an antidote to envy and jealousy, feelings that reflect the inability to be happy at others' happiness.

Buddhism encourages us to extend this gratitude to all beings, our parents first of all who have given us life, fed us, and protected us when we were incapable of taking care of ourselves, and to all those who have contributed to our education and surrounded us with affection and concern, especially the spiritual friends who have shown us the path to inner freedom.

How to Combine These Four Meditations

When we meditate on altruistic love, we may stray in attachment to only people who are close to you.

Then we should move on to meditating on impartiality.

Then it is possible that impartiality could drift into indifference. That is the time to think of all the suffering people in the world.

Then you might become overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness. You should then shift to rejoicing about all those who manifest great qualities and accomplish admirable deeds for the benefits of others.

At the end of the session, return for a few instants to your vision of the world; contemplate again the interdependence of all things and try to cultivate a fairer, less egocentric perception of reality.

Understand that all phenomena are impermanent, interdependent, and thus devoid of the autonomous existence we usually attribute to them. This realization will lead to more freedom in our way of perceiving the world.

Conclude with aspirations to bridge meditation and daily life.

Exchanging Our Happiness For The Suffering Of Others

To develop compassion, Buddhism has recourse to a special visualisation that consists of mentally exchanging, through the breath, our own happiness for the suffering of others, wishing that our suffering take the place of others’ suffering.

As you breathe out, think about sending all your happiness, vitality, good fortune, health, and so on, to that person with your breath, in the form of a refreshing, luminous, calming nectar.

As you breathe in, think that you take into yourself, in the form of a dark, thick smoke, all the physical and mental suffering of that person, and think that this exchange relieves the pain.

When you have absorbed, transformed, and eliminated their pain and difficulties, feel great joy, free of any kind of clinging. Repeat this practice many times until it becomes second nature.

According to a variation of this practice, when you breathe out, think that your heart is a brilliant sphere of light from which rays of white light carry your happiness to all beings, all over the world.

You may conclude the practice session by reading or reciting these verses by Shantideva:

May I be a guard for those who have no protector,

A guide for those who journey on the road.

For those who wish to go across the water,

May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an island for those who yearn for landfall,

And a lamp for those who long for light;

For those who need a resting-place, a bed;

For all who need a servant, may I be their help.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,

A word of power and the supreme remedy,

May I be the tree of miracles,

And for every being the cow of abundance.

Like the earth and the pervading elements,

Enduring as the sky itself endures,

For boundless multitudes of living beings,

May I be their ground and sustenance.

Thus for every thing that lives,

As far as are the limits of the sky,

May I provide their livelihood and nourishment

Until they pass beyond the bonds of suffering

PART 4: Contrary Forces

Chapter 23 Egocentrism and the Crystallisation of the Ego

Egocentrism is directly opposed to altruism.

The sense of personal identity has three aspects: the I, the person, and the ego.

1) The I lives in the present; it is what thinks “I’m hungry” or “I exist”.

2) The notion of the person is broader. It extends through time.

Recourse to the notion of the person is entirely legitimate if we regard a person as a practical concept allowing us to designate the history of our lived experience

The ego is not just the sum total of “my” limbs, “my”  organs, “my”  skin, “my” name, “my”  consciousness, but their owner.

We can ask ourselves, “Where is the ego?”.

Maybe ego is associated with consciousness. But that consciousness is also an elusive stream

The more we try to define the ego, the more it eludes us.

Buddhism concludes that the ego is non-existent.

The ego can procure only an artificial confidence, built on precarious attributes - power, success, beauty, physical strength, intellectual brio, the admiration of others - all the elements we believe constitute our “identity” in our eyes and those of others.

According to Buddhism, dissipating the illusion of ego is freeing oneself from fundamental vulnerability, and thereby winning real self-confidence, which is one of the natural qualities of the absence of ego.

Prejudice between groups

The Robbers Cave Experiment

The psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues arranged a summer camp for boys aged twelve to fourteen. They were divided into two groups each of eleven teenagers, set up at opposite ends of a 200-acre area in Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma. For a week, each group thought it was alone in the park, occupying a cabin, finding swimming holes, going on hikes, and so on. The first group called itself the “Rattlesnakes.”

The division between “us” and the “other” was thus quickly made. As the days passed, the situation got worse, tensions took on an unforeseen magnitude, and the experimenters decided to break off the experiment.

To reduce tension and conflicts between antagonistic groups, the establishment of personal contact between their members should be encouraged. One of the most effective techniques consists of proposing to both groups a common goal that can be attained only by joining forces.

Chapter 24 The Spread of Individualism and Narcissism

Individualism is a philosophical, moral, social, and political stance that affirms that the interests of the individual should take precedence over those of the community and the state.

Individualism can lead to a reductionist approach to human beings by regarding them as autonomous entities, instead of as belonging to a vast, interdependent network, thus ignoring the complexity of human relations.

Individualism has two main aspects:

1) a perfectly legitimate way of thinking that commands respect for the individual. And insists that the individual should not be used as a simple instrument in the service of society.

2) An egocentric aspiration to be free of any kind of collective responsibility and to give priority to the idea of “everyone for himself”.

Today the balance has tilted too far towards the individual pursuit of private interest and success. So it is excessive individualism, we believe, that is causing a whole range of problems.

Individualism is often associated with the notion of individual freedom. i.e. “For me, happiness would be doing anything I want with no one having to say anything about it”.

The individualist confuses freedom to do anything that comes to mind with true freedom, which consists of being master of oneself.

The Downward Spiral of Individualism

Priority is given to hedonism, to the desire to be “different” to the cult of personal expression and personal freedom.

People want to be “real” while “having fun” every second. We have to “have a great time” and “get the most” out of life.

Individualism eventually degrades into Narcissism.

Narcissism is described in psychology as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”

According to studies by Jean Twenge and her colleagues, North America has for over twenty years been suffering from a real epidemic of narcissism. In 1951, 12% of young people between fourteen and sixteen agreed with the statement, “I am an important person.” In 1989, this percentage rose to 80%!

Becoming famous is the main ambition for young people in the United States (51% of twenty-five-year-olds).

Self-esteem built on a swollen ego can procure only an artificial, fragile confidence.

The Solitude of Hyperconnectivity

Social media constitutes, for the individual, a way to be alone while still being connected to many people.

 The Virtues of Humility

Pride, however, the narcissistic exaggeration of the self, closes the door to all personal progress, since in order to learn, you must first realise that you don’t know.

Most people associate humility with a lack of self-esteem, a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities, and an inferiority complex.

A humble person has nothing to lose or to gain. If he is praised, he thinks it’s for what he has been able to accomplish, not for himself as an individual. If he is criticised, he thinks that bringing his faults out into the open is the best service anyone could do him.

Chapter 25: The Champions of Selfishness

A school of thought argues not that altruism is nonexistent, but that it is pernicious, immoral, or unhealthy.

These thinkers assert what psychologists and philosophers call “ethical selfishness” a doctrine according to which selfishness is a virtue that is the foundation of a personal morality.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand went so far as to assert that altruism is “immoral”. She continues to enjoy considerable influence in America society.

For Rand, altruism is nothing but a masochistic vice that threatens our survival and leads us to neglect our own happiness in favour of the happiness of others, and to behave like “sacrificial animals.”

Altruism is not only detrimental; it is “a monstrous notion” that represents “the morality of cannibals.”

Ayn Rand thinks that human relations should be based on the business principles.

Ayn Rand’s views leads to supporting a libertarian economy which regards the poor as killers of growth, beings who harm entrepeneurs.

Ayn Rand’s ideas, then, are a recipe for the unbridled promotion of individualism and inequality in society, an inequality whose harmful effects on quality of life, prosperity, justice, even health, are well-known.

A selfishness as extreme as the one she advocates is much more likely to make the individual unhappy than to favour his or her prosperity.

 Freud and disciples

According to Freud and his disciples, humans show very little inclination to do good, and if perchance they come to nourish altruistic thoughts and behave kindly, that’s not real altruism, but rather a way to try to contain aggressive tendencies constantly lurking in their minds.

“Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.”

But actually all studies based on the objective and systematic observation of many children, especially by Tomasello and Warneken, have demonstrated that Freud’s assertion is wrong, and that empathy and kind behaviour count among the very first spontaneous behaviour patterns of young children.

“I don’t rack my brains much over the subject of good and evil, but, on average, I haven’t discovered much ‘good’ in men. Based on what I know of them, they are for the most part nothing but scoundrels.”

Darwin and many others, however, haven’t stopped stressing the natural propensity of humans and other animals who live in society to cooperate and to display social instincts.

The reasoning of those who think that humans are natural malevolent and aggressive (Frans de Waal):

1) natural selection is a selfish, nasty process

2) this automatically produces selfish and nasty individuals

3) only romantics with flowers in their hair would think otherwise.

Darwin on the contrary thought that the moral sense was innate and acquired over the course of evolution.

Studies by Jonathan Haidt show that the moral sense appears spontaneously in young children and is not attributable to the parents’ influence, social norms or “demands imposed by society”.

For psychoanalysis, altruism is a defence mechanism meant to protect oneself from aggressive impulses that are hard to suppress.

Psychoanalysis often describes itself as a way to know oneself, rather than a therapy. It is opposed to any overall evaluation of its methods, deeming this approach too simplistic. (Lacan speaks of “the subversion of the role of the doctor by the rise of science”)

As a report by INSERM shows when this effectiveness is evaluated by taking into account a sufficient number of cases, the therapeutic benefits were deemed almost nonexistent compared with cognitive behaviour therapy, which was proven effective for many disorders.

The fact of following a psychoanalytic therapy often leads to an increase of egocentrism and diminution of empathy. “the psychoanalyzed person - arrogant, secretive, given to introspection - always withdraws from communication with the group.”

The psychoanalyzed subject “often views with bitterness his friends, his parents, his spouse, all of whom he holds responsible for his ills.”

Jacques Lacan affirms that “well-intentioned people are much worse than those who are ill-intentioned.”

True freedom, however, does not consist in doing whatever comes to mind, but in being master of oneself.

Chapter 26: Having Hatred or Compassion

The ability to love others is often associated with that of loving oneself.

Basically, kindness and compassion for oneself comes down to asking oneself, “What is really good for me?” If one asks oneself this question in all honesty, one should be led to conclude, “Yes, if it were possible, I would rather not suffer, and I’d rather feel happy.”

For people who have a very negative image of themselves simply wishing to be happy only makes memories of traumatic events arise. These people then come to turn this violence against themselves.

Another essential point seems to be the realisation of a potential for change.

Self-mutilating behaviour affects 10 to 15% of adolescents in Western Europe, especially girls, a great number of whom experienced traumatic childhoods.

Compassionate Mind Training, or CMT. Way to treat people suffering from self-aggression.

He tries to have his patients discover a zone of security and human warmth and, little by little, to substitute kindness toward oneself for self-hatred.

The psychologist Heinz Kohut insisted on the idea that to feel that one belongs is one of the main aspirations of human beings. One of the major causes for mental health problems is the feeling of being cut off from others.

There is a clear difference between self-compassion and self-esteem. An increase of compassion for oneself is not accompanied by an increase of narcissism.

It is too much to demand compassion for others from people who already have so much trouble loving themselves.

Once one has established a better relationship with oneself, it becomes easier to feel kindness and compassion for others.

Chapter 27: The Shortfall of Empathy

60% of practicing doctors have reported symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion and feelings of powerlessness and ineffectiveness, even uselessness.

Many doctors say to themselves: “In order to take care of my patients, I must avoid reacting emotionally to their suffering.”

Such an attitude can quickly degenerate into cold indifference.

Pathological Altruism: “the willingness of an individual to place the needs of others above him- or herself to the point of causing harm, whether physical, psychological, or both, to the purported altruist.”


Psychopaths (also called “sociopaths” or “antisocial personalities”) are almost entirely devoid of empathy. Usually, as children they already show a lack of interest in the wishes and rights of others, and constantly violate social norms.

Psychopaths lack the whole chain of reactions that begins with emotional contagion, is continued by empathy, and culminates as empathic concern, or compassion.

In a normal population, there are an average of 3% psychopaths among men and 1% among women.

For a long time it was taken for granted that these illnesses were incurable and relieves that interventions could even aggravate psychopathic tendencies.

Recent, innovative research has shown that certain correctly targeted interventions, including cognitive therapy and psychological assistance for families (in the case of juvenile delinquents exhibiting psychopathic features), could prove effective.

Caldwell used a therapy called decompression, which aims to interrupt the vicious circle of crime and punishment, a cycle that often leads psychopaths to take part in even more reprehensible behaviour.

The results were remarkable: a sample of over 150 young psychopaths treated by Caldwell showed a probability that was twice less likely to commit a crime than an equivalent group serving time in a classic detention and rehabilitation centre.

Instead of thinking that psychopaths are monsters, it is important to understand that they are human beings who, because of their empathic and emotional limitations, may be led to behave monstrously.

Chapter 28: At the Origin of Violence: Devaluing The Other

At the root of all forms of violence there is a lack of altruism and a devaluing of the other.

Hatred makes us see the other in an entirely unfavourable light. It leads us to amplify his defects and ignore his qualities.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”The desire for revenge is a major cause of violence.

When one looks at an individual prey to hatred, one should regard him more as a sick person to be cured than as an enemy to subdue.

The death penalty does not have any preventative value. Its suppression throughout the European Union did not give rise to an increase of criminality, and its reestablishment in certain states in North America, where it had been temporarily suppressed, did not diminish the crimes committed.

The Fiction of Absolute Evil

Media and works of fiction like to evoke evil in its pure state. Evil comes from the “other”, the stranger, the person who is not one of us. What Baumeister denounces as a myth is the idea that certain people can be evil by nature and have no other aim than doing harm.

Respect for Authority

Milgram Experiment: 65% of participants ended up administrating the maximum dose because it was more important to them to respect the authority.

Zimbardo Prison Experiment: shows how individuals who in principle are kind can be led to make others suffer entirely gratuitously.

Ideological Dogmatism: doing evil in the name of good.

When a religious or political ideology declares it is acceptable to kill in the name of a superior cause. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, the Crusades caused more than a million deaths.

Does a “Violent Instinct Exist”?

Freud writes, “I take the view that the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man.”

But neither physiologists nor psychologists have been able to demonstrate the existence of such a spontaneous impulse for hostility

Charles Whitman killed several people from the top of a tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, before shooting himself in the head. He left a note saying he felt incapable of resisting the rage that was overwhelming him, and asked that his brain be examined after his death. The autopsy revealed that a tumour was compressing his amygdala.

“Significant exposure to media violence increases the risk of aggressive behaviour in certain children and adolescents, desensitises them to violence, and makes them believe that the world is a “meaner and scarier” place than it is.”

First, they increase the propensity to act with violence or aggression, acting as the priming mechanism. Second, they raise our threshold of tolerance for violence - the habituation mechanism. Third, they exasperate our feelings of fear and insecurity - the wicked-world syndrome.

TV viewers who constantly watch negative actions show an increased tendency to act in the same way, and that the more one watches television, the more inclined one is to think that people are selfish and would deceive us at the first opportunity

Video games unquestionably furthered the development of aggressive thoughts and behaviour, and lessened prosocial behaviour.

Until recently, little attention was paid to the creation of prosocial, nonviolent video games in which the characters cooperate and help each other, instead of kill each other. Prosocial video games reduce the general level of hostility and malevolent feelings in players, while simultaneously increasing positive emotions, compared to violent or simply neutral games, and this is true in the long term.

Moral Violence

In some cases, the mental suffering inflicted by others is harsher and more difficult to endure than physical violence.

Harassment is one of the most common forms of mental cruelty. In schools, bullying incidents are forms of harassment that are sometimes cruel and that can have long-term effects on those who are its victims.

How to reduce violence?

Three main factors counteract the desire to harm others: altruism, or kindness, which will cause us to be sincerely concerned with the fate of others; control of our emotions, which allows us to not give in to sudden impulses; and moral scruples, which make us hesitate at the idea of harming others.

Chapter 29: The Natural Repugnance to Kill

During WW2, only 10% to 15% of soldiers in combat situations had used their weapons to shoot at the enemy.

“Squad leaders and platoon sergeants had to move up and down the firing line kicking men to get them to fire.”

Repugnance to kill increases as physical proximity between combatants increases.

To prevent the soldier from thinking of the enemy as his fellow, the idea is drilled into him that the opponent is despicable, hateful, different in every way from him. The enemy becomes a repugnant being, a “rat”, “vermin” an inferior being who does not deserve to live and who threatens the soldier’s relatives, his country, all of humanity.

Cultural distance is based on ethnic, racial or religious differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the other by asserting he is fundamentally different from himself.

Moral distance stresses belief in the moral legitimacy of the soldier and his desire for vengeance.

Social distance grows with the conviction that certain social classes are inferior to others from any perspective, and that they are made up of subhumans whose lives are a negligible quantity.

Physical distance makes the act of killing more abstract.

Mechanical distance separates the operator from his future victims, reduced to being only simple virtual targets on a screen.

Semantic distance is also created. One does not speak of “killing” the enemy; rather, the enemy is “neutralised” or “liquidated.”

In order to be capable of killing, one must manage to stifle any feeling of empathy for, closeness to, or resemblance to the other.

Training of soldiers in modern armies integrates techniques aiming specifically at making this natural repugnance to kill disappear.

Chapter 30: Dehumanising the Other

We have shown that humans have a profound repugnance toward killing their fellow humans. But, powerful as it may be, this resistance is overcome in certain particular situations and leads to behaviour that counts among the most sinister in human history, causing persecutions, massacres, and genocides.

As the psychologist Aaron Beck explains in Prisoners of Hate, the members of a group that has been designated as the enemy are first of all homogenised; they lose their identities as individuals, and victims become interchangeable. They are then dehumanised and no longer perceived as being able to inspire empathy: “They could just as easily be inanimate objects, like mechanical ducks in a shooting gallery or targets in a computer game. Finally, they are demonised…. Killing them is no longer optional; they must be exterminated…. We attack the projected image, but harm or kill real people.”

A slogan of the Khmer Rouge announced to those they eliminated en masse: “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.”

Disgust is an emotional reaction of atavistic defence against external agents that could contaminate us: bodily secretions (mucus, vomiting, excrement), parasites (worms, lice, etc.), decomposing bodies and vectors of contagious diseases (plague victims, lepers).

It then leads people to reject those they regard as “impure” and harmful, and who constitute, they think, a source of contamination for society on ethnic, religious, or ideological levels. Hitler and Nazi propaganda compared Jews to cancers, typhus, and plague-carrying rats.

Desensitisation: as individuals give in to violence, they become insensitive to the suffering of the other.

“At first, there is a phase of cumulative radicalisation during which the perpetrator learns to kill. In the second phase, the violence carried out is reinterpreted as being a “moral” action. Then comes the phase of habituation to homicide. Finally, the act of killing is defined as “work”, a profession in its own right.”

Moral Compartmentalisation: when people assume one identity or the other according to circumstance. This allows the “normal” part of oneself to evade guilty feelings, while the other, disavowed by the former, does the “dirty work.”

Cognitive Dissonance: for example when a killer tries to get around the internal conflict between the inhuman actions he’s carrying out and his own self-image. Killers experience an acute conflict between their practice as killers and their self-images.

The Establishment of a System: Most massacres and genocides are the work of merciless minorities, organised according to a highly repressive hierarchy that allows it to impose its authority by terror on the majority of the population.

Instead of maintaining the “duty to intervene”, which risks antagonising governments anxious to defend their sovereignty. We should speak of the “responsibility to protect” their citizens that falls on governments. If they are not disposed to do so, such a responsibility must be assured by the “community of nations” mainly by the UN and intergovernmental and regional organisations.


Chapter 31: Has War Always Existed?

For the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes: “For where there is no Commonwealth, there is, as hath been already shown, a perpetual war of every man against his neighbour; and therefore everything is his that getteth it and keepeth it by force; which is neither propriety nor community, but uncertainty.”

Winston Churchill goes further: “The story of the human race is war. Except for brief periods and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began, murderous strife was universal and unending.”

Robert Sapolsky: “A thorough review of the evidence leads, first, to a critique of the status quo picture of war and human nature - here dubbed the man the warrior perspective - and, second, to the construction of a new interpretation of human aggression. The book argues that warfare is not inevitable and that humans have a substantial capacity for dealing with conflicts nonviolently.”

Are we the descendants of killer apes?

Many argue we are “the dazed survivors of a continuous, 5-million-year habit of lethal aggression.”

The assertion rests on two hypothesis:

1) violence predominates among certain great apes.

2) this condition was true for our common ancestor and for the first hominids.


First point rests on the observation of violent behaviour among chimpansees particularly on the “chimpanzee war” documented by Jane Goodall. But actually, in everyday life, disputes are infrequent, and are generally resolved by reconciliations between protagonists who groom each other.

Bonobo society seems ruled by the “Make Love, Not Wa” slogan of the 1960s rather than the myth of a bloodthirsty killer ape.


Raymond Dart saw in the presence of fractured skulls and broken bones proofs that these ancestors of man were not only hunters, but also that they killed each other and practiced cannibalism.

But actually the holes observed in skullcaps were very likely perforations produced by the teeth of an extinct species of leopard.

War is defined as an aggression carried out in a group by members of one community against members of another community.

War should be distinguished from the personal violence characteristic of homicides and acts of vengeance.

War leaves identifiable traces: fortifications built around villages; weapons intended for combat (which differ from hunting weapons); representations of scenes of war in art; burial places containing a large number of skeletons with points of projectiles or other artefacts embedded in the bones or other sites of the body; as well as a reduction of the number of males buried near villages.

“Archaeologically, there is negligible evidence for any kind of warfare anywhere in the world before about 10,000 years ago.” - Frans de Waal

There is indeed evidence indicating that certain individuals were probably victims of murder but no trace of war between groups.

The image of Rousseau’s “noble savage” is no more plausible than that of the “martial man.”

Individual violence was part of the existence of our ancestors and resulted in murders, themselves followed by reprisals. The rate of violent death (including death due to non-human predators) varies from 1% or 2% to 15% in prehistoric societies. Today, the homicide rate in Europe is only 1 per 100,000 inhabitants (.001%) per year.

Chapter 32: The Decline of Violence

Individual and collective violence has continued to diminish for a millennium, especially in the last sixty years.

People are systematically mistaken in their evaluation of the level of violence that prevailed at different times in history.

In the fourteenth century, a European was on average fifty times more at risk of being victim of a homicide than today.

Institutionalised Violence: any form of suffering one individual inflicts on another that is regarded as “legitimate” by the dominant powers in a society.

The frequency of wars between nations has regularly diminished over the centuries, as well as the average number of victims per conflict.

Factors Responsible for the Decline of Violence

1) Increased interdependence of world citizens (Norbert Elias)

When our existence depends on a larger number of people, we tend to be less violent toward them.

2) Existence of a Stable Government

Populations that live in an established nation-state have on average a rate of violent death that’s four times lower than populations that do not enjoy the existence of a government equipped with functioning institutions.

3) The Rise of Democracy

Democracies engage less often in war than dictatorial regimes or countries in which democratic institutions are not respected

4) Peace Missions and International Organisations

Fortna examined the question: “Does Peacemaking work?”. The answer was a “clean and resounding yes”.

5) War no longer arouses admiration.

Until the First World War, patriotic heroism was the order of the day, and pacifism was reduced to unforgivable cowardliness.

6) The Rise of Respect for Human Rights

7) Decline of Religion Intolerance

In 1990, 62% of American Protestants and 74% of Catholics agreed with the statement, “All religions deserve respect.”

8) Education and Reading, Catalysts for Empathy

9) The Increased Influence of Women

The Challenges Still to Be Overcome

Today, 95% of weapons that feed conflicts throughout the world are made and sold by the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations. As the Dalai Lama declared during a visit to France, “A country that sells weapons sells its soul.”

There is still a lot to do, and immense financial resources are still wasted in waging wars. Two billion dollars a day get devoted worldwide to military expense.

The poverty of citizens, especially when it quickly worsens, represents a major cause for instability and violence. The countries whose GNP was $250 per inhabitant in 2003 have, on average, entered five times more often into war (15% compared to 3%) in the last five years than the countries whose average GNP was $1,500.

Chapter 33: The Instrumentalisation of Animals

The notion of altruism is severely tested by the way we treat animals.

When a society accepts as a given the outright use of other sentient beings for its own ends, and grants almost no consideration to the fate of those it instrumentalises, then we can only speak of institutionalised selfishness.

Is it conceivable to desire the advent of a more altruistic society while closing our eyes to the fate we inflict on the billions of animals killed every year for our consumption?

In the system of industrial production, the lifespan of animals is only a fraction of their natural expectancy, 1/60th for poultry. It is as if a human’s life expectancy were only a year and four months

Chapter 34: Backfire: Effects of the Meat Industry

  • Industrial breeding contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities, in second place after buildings and before transportation;
  • To produce 1 kilo of meat, 10 kilos of food that could feed poor countries must be used;
  • 60% of land available in the world is devoted to the breeding industry;
  • The breeding industry alone consumes 45% of all the water destined for production of food;
  • By reducing meat consumption, we could prevent 14% of deaths in the world.

The equation is simple: 1 hectare of land can feed 50 vegetarians or 2 carnivores.

Intensive fishing is leading progressively to the extinction of numerous species of fish, and has an enormous impact on biodiversity. Ten deep-water trawlers could destroy the surface area of a city the size of Paris in two days


The simple fact of replacing meat with whole grains or other sources of vegetable protein diminishes the risk for early death by 14%.

Chapter 35 Institutionalised Selfishness

Institutionalised Selfishness: When groups knowingly resort to all kinds of manipulations to preserve their interests.

This is the case for industries, companies, or financial entities that with their considerable means have been able to influence governments to modify laws and regulations to serve their own special interests.


The tobacco firm Brown and Williamson chose to act as if nothing had happened and announced, in 1967, that “There is no scientific evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer or any other disease.”

But only 19 countries, representing 14% of the world population, have national health services offering help with giving up smoking.

Climate Change Denial

David and Charles Koch, two oil industry magnates with ultra-conservative opinions have contributed over 60 million dollars to this campaign since 1997.

Exxon Mobil had, in a few years, paid 8 million dollars to no less than 40 organisations that denigrate scientific research that proves global warming.

Bad Pharma

The private interests of pharmaceutical companies have often been privileged over those of public health.

Monsanto: extreme institutionalised selfishness

Monsanto produced PCBs and for forty years dumped with impunity highly toxic waste from that production into Snow Creek, a canal that flows through the city. “It was poisoned water. Monsanto knew it but never said anything”.

In 1959, Monsanto launched into production of the herbicide Lasso, better known under the nickname “Agent Orange”. Agent Orange caused many cases of cancer in Vietnam, as well as the birth of 150,000 children afflicted with severe birth defects and serious illnesses.

PART 5: Building a More Altruistic Society

Chapter 36: The Virtues of Cooperation

Paul Ekman: “If we are to bring about change that results in an increase in altruism, it must be selective, focused on specific goals, and linked to actions which have impacts and which form part of a social movement.”

Mutual Trust Solves the Problem of the Commons.

Tragedy of the commons: When people share a resource it’s in everyone’s interest to use it to the maximum. This inevitably leads to overexploitation and ultimately the resources degradation.

This idea was prophetic seeing as today 90% of large fish stocks have been destroyed.

But actually the practice of grazing “common land” had been around for a very long time in many European countries. Members of the community had established a balanced system for regulating the use of commons that generally worked satisfactorily.

“Not a tragedy of the commons but a triumph!”

Altruistic Punishment

In order for cooperation to prevail in society, it is essential to be able to identify and neutralise those people who profit from the good will of others.

Better than punishment: reward and appreciation

It is more constructive to create a pleasant working environment, to honor good and loyal service in various ways, and to redistribute a share of the profits to employees, than it is to penalize them if they grumble about carrying out their tasks.

Chapter 37: An Enlightened Education

“What is the thing you want most for your children?”

  • happiness, self-confidence, joy etc

“What do we teach at school?”

  • math skills, work ethic, ability to think.

Intelligence however important, is simply a tool which can be used for good as well as for evil.

Intelligence must be dedicated to the service of altruistic values..

Moral neutrality is a delusion, since children will develop a value system regardless. Without wise teachers they risk finding it in the media, with all its violence and focus on consumerism and individualism.

In Kidlington Primary School, the head teacher, decided to introduce the teaching of basic human values into the education of his pupils. The students are all involved in the process of choosing the values the school is going to teach.

Cooperative Learning

Learning with others, for others, rather than alone against others. Make students work together in small groups where they give each other mutual assistance and encouragement.

The best results arise from groups that are mixed in terms of skills, sex, cultural background and motivation levels.

Benefits of Mentoring

A child is entrusted with giving a younger kid one-to-one classes for a few hours a week under the supervision of a teacher.

Philosophy with 8 year old children.

  • Sit in a circle a pass around a baton to give them the floor.

The Jigsaw classroom

  • Lessons are divided into 6 parts.
  • Each child has just 1/6 of the work which they learn alone for a period.
  • Students with same section first check that they all understand.
  • Then they spend the rest of the lesson explaining to the others who had the other parts.
  • Jigsaw classrooms reduce hostility and bullying among students.

Roots of Empathy Project

In a class for difficult children a mother brings in her young baby and places it on the ground on top of a blanket around which the students form a circle. They observe the baby closely for a while before being offered to take the infant in their arms.

They are then asked to describe what they imagine the baby’s experience to have been.

Reconnecting with Nature

Children in urban areas in Europe and North America play ten times less in public places than 30 years ago.

Between 1997 and 2003 the percentage of children aged nine to twelve who spent time playing outside, going hiking, or gardening fell by half.

Positive Education

Aim to teach children wellbeing.

Help students deal with day-to-day problems faced by all teenagers.

Chapter 38: Fighting Inequality

Inequality, as the French sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin explains, can occur on several different levels: territorial (poor regions and rich regions), economic (extreme wealth and extreme poverty in a single region), sociological (ways of life), or in health (those who enjoy advances in medicine and technology, and those who do not).

We must also distinguish between inequality linked to education and working conditions (between those who gain pleasure from their profession and those who endure theirs with the sole goal of making ends meet; inequality in how justice is administered (in certain countries the majority of legal authorities are corrupt); inequality in taxation (capital flight into tax havens); and inequality between those who struggle through life and those who are able to enjoy it.

In the United States the richest 1% of the population currently owns 40% of the country’s wealth, compared with just 13% of it twenty-five years ago.

As Joseph Stiglitz explains, inequality is both the cause and consequence of the failure of the political system, and it contributes to the instability of our financial system, which in turn contributes to increased inequality.

In the US a boss took home on average 253 times more than a normal employee.

Research by the IMF suggests that almost everywhere in the world income inequality slows growth and triggers financial crises.

References The Spirit Level book. For each health of social care indicator i.e. physical health, mental health, drug addiction etc the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.

Mutual trust plays a particularly important role in ensuring that a society functions well.

How to Reduce Inequality

Revise or cancel the debts of poorer counties.

Food self-sufficiency must be re-established in countries where it is lacking.

The most direct policy tool to reduce inequality is redistribution through taxes and benefits.

We need a “Positive Economy” a term coined by BeCitizen group.

Chapter 39: Toward a Caring Economy

The economy must exist to serve society, not to be served by society.

An economy becomes dysfunctional when those who have made a negative contribution to society are those who reap the most reward.

Homo economicus: idea of humans as selfish agents capable of making rational choices that optimise their chances of satisfying their own preferences and promoting their own interests.

Homo reciprocans: which states that humans are motivated by a desire to cooperate and take into consideration the benefits to the community.

“Homo economicus is a caricature of real mankind. In truth, it is a dehumanized version that contributes to the dehumanization of a section of economic science.”

The truth is that the invisible hand of blind selfishness cannot build a better world: freedom without duty leads only to an exacerbation of individualism.

“An economic system does not simply produce goods and services. It also produces human beings and the relationships between them. The way in which a society produces and consumes has a major influence on personalities, characters, knowledge, desires, happiness, and types of interpersonal relationships.”

Any theory of economics that excludes altruism is fundamentally incomplete and diminished.

Even though we are generally convinced that we are rational, our decisions, economic or otherwise, are very often irrational and strongly influenced by our immediate gut feelings and emotions.

The Price of Everything, The Value of Nothing

Even if the market economy is an effective tool for organising productive activities, from a moral point of view, it should not invade all sectors of human life.

The reality is that the free market economy does not work as well as its supporters claim.

Work of Thomas Piketty

When people obtain most of their wealth through inheritance and from subsequently investing it, they invariably grow richer and richer, while those who earn wages and salaries for their productive work grow relatively poorer.

Their success has nothing to do with hard work or personal skills.

There are two types of problems that free economic market activity and individualistic selfishness will never be able to resolve: collective goods and poverty in the midst of plenty. To solve these problems we need to bring about the voice of care and altruism.

The problem with collective goods is that those who make no contribution to them can nonetheless continue to draw advantage from them. There is a strong temptation to behave like a free rider.

The state of the environment in particular is one of the most vitally important public goods.

“It is the willingness to contribute to the common good, even though the individual cost exceeds the individual benefit.”

To break the cycle of poverty in the midst of plenty, the privileged must not only accept the need to fix inequality, but also want to achieve this without hoping for anything other than improving the lives of other people.

The solution lies in the will of the privileged to make a concerted effort to render better services to those most in need.

Reason alone is not enough, without some prosocial motivation, to persuade individuals to widen their sphere of responsibility to include all those who are affected by their actions.

Altruism is contagious, and imitation, or inspiration, plays an important role in human societies.

Two economic systems prevailed in the twentieth century: capitalism and totalitarianism each founded on selfishness, the objectification of others, hostility, conflict and competition between people, domination, exploitation, alienation.

The alternative system is the economics of reciprocity. General reciprocity is the process by which each individual gives to society (time, resources, skills) and reciprocally, benefits from everyone else’s contributions.

Example of Mondragon. The biggest cooperative group in the world today.

There is selfish business: the purpose of which is just profit for a few people. Then there is selfless business: the goal of which is primarily to serve society.

Idea of the selfless business stock market. Would give people the choice to invest in the selfless economy.

Charity money will do the job only once. Social business can have an endless life and be fully sustainable.

Science fiction is always ahead of science. But then a lot of what was science fiction yesterday becomes science today. We should also write “social fiction” and inspire people who will think “Why Not?”

Other examples of selfless business:

  • The Rise of Fair Trade
  • Ethical Funds.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) applies the principles of sustainable development to financial investment.

Create a Positive Economy Stock Exchange.

The Rise of Free Access to Knowledge

Chapter 40: Voluntary, Joyous Simplicity

Austerity is not a nice word to hear. It alludes to the smothering of daily pleasures.

“Voluntary simplicity”, on the other hand, allows us to come to a better understanding of how to achieve genuine satisfaction.

“Voluntary simplicity is a way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich.”

As the Taoist wise man Zhuang Zhou said: “He who has gained some insight into the meaning of life will no longer bother to care about that which does not contribute to life.”

High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser.

Those who place great importance on wealth, image, social status, and various other material values promoted by so-called consumer societies are overall less satisfied with their lives than those who focus on the more fundamental values in life, such as friendship, happiness.

Kasser’s main suggestion for fixing this inclination toward consumption is to ban any advertising aimed at children.

Kasser concludes that by focusing on external rather than internal values we look for happiness where it isn’t, thus creating our own feeling of dissatisfaction.

Renting and Repairing Instead of Buying

In 2010, 65 billion tons of raw materials were extracted from the earth and injected into the world economy.

This is expected to reach 82 billion in 2020.

Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

We have more food, more clothes, more cars, bigger houses, more central heating, more foreign holidays, a shorter working week, nice work, and, above all, better health. Yet we are not happier.

Example of Jose Mujica.

Chapter 41: Altruism for the Sake of Future Generations

The “Anthropocene” recognising that humans are now having an unprecedented effect on their environment.

Planetary Boundaries: within these boundaries we can maintain a safety zone in which humanity can continue to prosper.

9 Boundaries:

  • climate change
  • depletion of ozone
  • soil usage
  • freshwater usage
  • impoverishment of biodiversity
  • ocean acidification
  • infiltration of nitrates and phosphates into the biosphere an ocean
  • aerosol content in the atmosphere
  • chemical pollution

The impoverishment of biodiversity is particular severe. By end of the twenty first century as much as 30% of mammals, birds and amphibians risk extinction.

A person’s ecological footprint is defined as the area of land required to supply him with food and habitat, the energy required for his movements.

Establish a circular economy.

Yet in theory, metals can be recycled an infinite number of times, and this process would create new job opportunities.

Chapter 42: Sustainable Harmony

What good is an extremely rich and all-powerful nation full of unhappy people?

Growth should be secondary to establishing a balance between everyone’s aspirations and a “sustainable harmony” that factors in the fortunes of generations to come.

Majority of economists define growth in terms of a wealth increase.

This sort of growth no longer suited to the realities we face today.

“Nature is treated like any other part of the capital stock whose purpose is to be exploited for humanity’s interest.”

Three reasons current growth model cannot continue:

  1. Growth is no a good indicator of prosperity. It is a very narrow and reductive vision of what constitutes a quality of life.
  2. Growth is distributed very unequally, disproportionately to those who are already rich.
  3. Unlimited economic growth is impossible because of the planet’s ecological boundaries.

The midway between growth and decline can be found in sustainable harmony.

GDP ignores social costs, environmental impacts and income inequality.

Creator of GDP metric said “Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.”

Example of Bhutan “Gross National Happiness”

GPI: Genuine Progress Indicator.

HDI: Human Development Index

Ecology of Wellbeing

Countries CO2 emissions are inversely proportional to the well being of its citizens.

Positive correlation between life satisfaction of inhabitants and a countries environmental performance indicators.


Can a capitalist company apply the principles of sustainable harmony and factor the three crucial indicators namely material propensity, life satisfaction and environmental conservation in its balance sheet?

Profit must be shared mutually between investors, workers and the environment.

Chapter 43: Local Commitment, Global Responsibility

Global warming, the loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, the melting of glaciers, and ocean degradation are problems that local bodies acting alone simply do not have the capacity to control.

“A new global order for how the world works has become essential.”

The first thing to do if you want to help others, therefore, is to develop your own compassion, altruistic love, and courage enough to be able to serve these others without betraying your original intention. Remedying our own egocentrism is a powerful way of serving those around us.

In order to achieve this, NGOs, which have sprung from engagement at the local level and from social movements, must learn to cooperate so as to create a global synergy and build their capacities.

Government structures are stuck in a form of individualistic democracy, whereas today’s problems require above all else cooperation at the international level.

Community groups in the plural sector are the best suited to creating the social initiatives we need.

Jeremy Rifkin says that civil society is the principal domain in which civilisation develops. But it has been relegated to the background and deemed marginal by comparison with economy or state.

To make the step from community engagement to global responsibility it is essential to realise that all things are interdependent and to assimilate that worldview in such a way that it influences our every action.

It is essential that we work out how to globalise and deglobalize: we must maintain and develop every aspect of globalisation that fosters fellowship and cultural vitality, but at the same time we must deglobalize in order to restore vital forms of autonomy to local populations and promote cultural diversity, local economies, agroecology, local food supplies, and small-scale artisans and businesses, not to mention safeguarding traditional practices and expertise that have stood the test of centuries.

An informed democracy involves maximum decentralisation of decision making power, which needs to be entrusted to citizen bodies active in their relevant areas of expertise.

Federalism adheres to 3 principles: separation which involves dividing up legislative authority between a federal government and several federated governments. Autonomy which allows each level of government to be solely responsible in its field of competence. Appropriation federal entities feel a sense of belonging within the community.