This week on Facebook: I once asked a young man that I saw wearing an ichthus what church he belonged to: only to be informed that he didn’t know what an ichthus was and wore it for ornamental value only. Then a few a few Christmases ago asked a group of youngsters who said that they were carol singers, but when asked didn’t know what a carol was. I offered no response to the young man but said to the carol singers that if the wanted any money they had to sing a carol (which they eventually did). The ichthus has long since lost its meaning — much as a crucifix with a little man adorning it has — and carol singers no longer appear at Christmas.
“Hark the herald angels sing” Christmas Carol was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley founder of the Methodist church, in 1739. A sombre man, he requested slow and solemn music for his lyrics and thus “Hark the herald angels sing” was sung to a different tune initially.
Over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed a cantata in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the lyrics of “Hark the herald angels sing” already written by Wesley. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Christmas these days does not herald the birth of a ‘newborn king’, rather it heralds a vast increase in junk mail and television appeals for charitable donations. I am sure there are those, especially amongst those that exploit Christmas to promote their charity, that eschew all thing religious. They may be right, but Christmas-time begging (to me at least) questions any altruism claimed for their charitable endeavours, especially their exploitation of those susceptible to increasing their notionally altruistic charitable donations. This leaves me thinking that charitable donations at this time of year have little to do with the origins of Christ’s Mass and rarely, if they ever have, promote altruism in the giving or the receiving of a donation.
Quiz: How Altruistic Are You? — click image
Monday — The Power of Altruism: Classical economics adopts a model that says people are primarily driven by material self-interest. Political science assumes that people are driven to maximise their power.
Tuesday — Effective Altruism’s Political Blind Spot: The “aid curse” literature has convincingly shown that pumping aid money into corrupt governments rarely achieves redistributive goals: aid often doesn’t reach its intended recipients, and the money can fund harmful, kleptocratic activities that hurt the poor.
Wednesday — The Lessons of Effective Altruism: Others are what social psychologists call “warm glow” givers. They contribute smaller amounts of money to several different organisations in response to dramatic images of suffering, requests from friends or relatives, and/or to support causes that are close to their hearts.
Thursday — Do We Get the World We Deserve? A View of Altruism Based on Game Theory Outcomes: The main way that altruism is tested is through game theory experiments, which tries to account for all possible actions and reactions of two individuals, where individuals can be programmed to behave only a certain way. The classic example of a game theory scenario is called the “prisoner’s dilemma,” according to which two bank robbers are in separate interrogation rooms and each has the option to either rat out the other for a plea bargain, or plead innocent.
Friday — The Dalai Lama on Altruism: In order to generate such a strong altruistic attitude in which one promises to seek buddha-hood for the sake of others, it is necessary beforehand to generate an unusual resolve in which one takes on the burden of others’ welfare. In order to induce this unusual resolve, it is necessary to have compassion in which one cannot bear to see either the manifest suffering of others or their oppression by unwanted internal conditions that result in suffering.
Altruism — Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (url): Behaviour is normally described as altruistic when it is motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself for that person’s sake. The term is used as the contrary of “self-interested” or “selfish” or “egoistic”—words applied to behaviour that is motivated solely by the desire to benefit oneself.
Altruism — Encyclopaedia Britannica (url): As a theory of conduct, its adequacy depends on an interpretation of “the good.” If the term is taken to mean pleasure and the absence of pain, most altruists have agreed that a moral agent has an obligation to further the pleasures and alleviate the pains of other people.
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