Self-Interest Or Altruism
The following was inspired by some comments on the blog post Epicureanism, Objectivism And The Predisposition Of The Brain
There is a lot of confusion about this question, but I think that this is due to people having very different selves and what is self-interest to some is irrational to others.
Altruism is behavior, that is directly beneficial for others without any visible return and without any expectation of a return for the self.
Sacrifice is deliberately inflicting damage upon oneself for some goal, which appears out of proportion with the expected benefits. This can include to inflict damage also upon other persons without their consent.
I will call both altruistic and sacrificial behavior as apparent self-disadvantage.
There are three major selves or identities, who interpret and experience apparent self-disadvantage very differently.
The following is a bit simplified, because while comparing the three selves as distinct, I do not really imply, that people cannot be driven by a combination of or oscillating between different motivational forces. Also people's behavior is of course also determined by not obvious real consequence outside this consideration, because self-inflicted real or apparent self-disadvantage is defined by the absence of real consequences.
1. The delusional-submissive self with mental health problems. People with such a self are determined by their religious delusion with the core belief in a deity or higher power, compared with whom they feel powerless.
They expect full compensation for the apparent self-disadvantage as a reward either in this life or in the afterlife. They feed the pleasure center of their brain with the hope and anticipation of future pleasures.
In the case, that the person is driven by fear, anxiety and paranoia, the apparent self-disadvantage serves also to influence the deity to either remove the cause of the fear in this life or to prevent punishment in the afterlife.
The apparent self-disadvantage restores the emotional homeostasis of reducing fear.
2. The strength and presence or absence of the procreation instinct defines the identity. People can identify themselves as either an individual person, who dies, when the body dies, or they can identify themselves subconsciously as being their immortal genes, and consciously as a particle or link connected somehow with the eternal chain of their genes.
2.1. Persons with the particle identity are the breeders driven by an urge to procreate that causes them so much dishomeostasis, that the apparent self-disadvantageous raising of children is for them the only method to restore homeostasis.
2.2. People with the individualistic identity of non-breeders and no religious delusion often base their behavior upon the basic attitude of a fair balance of giving and receiving and a tit-for-tat strategy. They do the first step of giving in the hope that the other gives back.
So people's behavior can be driven by three very different motivations, either to influence a higher power, or to guarantee the survival of their genes or to have a fair exchange with others.
People tend to project on others, what they mistake for granted and as being general. This includes the evaluation of the relative disadvantage of a certain behavior compared withe the benefit to be gained.
Therefore the behaviors of apparent self-disadvantage are considered and experienced as rewarding by some people, depending on the innate inclinations of their brain, while the same behaviors appear as weird and irrational sacrifices to others.
One example: Changing stinking diapers is certainly an unpleasant activity. Nobody would choose to do this as a source of pleasure. Rationally seen, nobody would chose to do it at all without a very good reason to do so.
But people deliberately decide to get themselves into circumstances, in which they are obliged to change stinking diapers as a daily chore.
2.2. Non-breeders with an individualistic identity consider this as an irrational and incomprehensible sacrifice of the individual wellbeing in favor of the survival of the breeders' genes.
2.1. For breeders with the particle identity, the relief from the instinctive urge to procreate, the subjective benefit of homeostation is so strong, that the stinking diapers are a trifle in comparison.
1. The religious delusion can be so strong, that the expectation of being rewarded for breeding or the fear of punishment for not breeding are so strong, that they again are more beneficial than the apparent sacrifice of changing the diapers.
This text is a slightly modified copy from my ERCP-blog.