Man Bartlett

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The Unselfish Gene - Harvard Business Review


Charm for Nurture, Individually hand-painted peppercorns, found mussel shell (Wheaton Island, Maine), 2010.

Excerpt from an essay by Yochai Benkler (via notational):

Almost two generations of human beings have been educated and socialized to think in terms of universal selfishness. “We need to get the incentives right” has been the watchword for anyone engaged in designing any kind of interaction, organization, or law. “What’s in it for him/her/us?” is the question we have trained ourselves to ask first. Once we get in the habit of thinking of ourselves in a particular way, we tend to interpret all the evidence we encounter to fit our preconceptions and assumptions. When we see acts of generosity or cooperation, for example, we tend to interpret them through the lens of self-interest. The first generation of economic scholarship on open source software analyzed the voluntary contributions of participants as an attempt to improve their reputations and long-term employment prospects—interpretations that were refuted by the decade of empirical research that followed. Through sheer force of habit, our erroneous beliefs and ways of thinking about human nature are interpreted as evidence and become entrenched. New insights need to overcome substantial barriers before they are accepted. In today’s world, adaptability, creativity, and innovativeness appear to be preconditions for organizations and individuals to thrive. These qualities don’t fit well with the industrial business model; they aren’t amenable to monitoring and pricing. We need people who aren’t focused only on payoffs but do the best they can to learn, adapt, improve, and deliver results for the organization. Being internally motivated to bring these qualities to bear in a world where insight, creativity, and innovation can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time is more important than being able to calculate the costs, benefits, risks, and rewards of well-understood actions in well-specified contexts. Alongside creativity, drive, flexibility, and diversity, we must include social conscience and authentic humanity when trying to design cooperative systems.

Yes. That. That right there.

The above image is of a small talisman that I made for a muse back in November 2010. While there is an inherent selfishness even to the notion of the muse, and this one was short-lived, it served a valuable function here. That function was to remind me that when I am consciously giving freely of myself to and for others, I am thereby free. Especially the longer the care, and labor that is invested (those peppercorns take forever to paint). I’ve had some uncomfortable reminders recently of how the opposite flow functions.

Anyhoo, a good reminder for a Sunday. Will be adding “giving more [back]” to the list today.

Man Bartlett