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Society Functions best When Controlled by the Selfish, Corrupt: Study

Update Date: Jan 23, 2013 07:05 AM EST
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We all know cheating and stealing are unacceptable in society and that we can get arrested, put to trial and punished. But, who decided that these things were bad? According to a latest study, our ideas for compassion and goodness come from our selfish nature and not from kindness.

Researchers from Princeton University have now decoded human kindness and found that it arises as a measure to help humans preserve resources and benefit the society. They also found that corrupt and powerful people, who own resources, are the best people to keep the community in check. Their self-interest in preserving the resources cancels out the competition from other powerful groups, letting common people work and save time.

The study explains why crime rates among the neighborhoods ruled by the Italian mafia have the lowest crime rates and why medieval knights harassed the same town-folk that they defended from foreign-attack

For long, it was believed that kindness and selfishness were two distinct entities and that kindness evolved to cancel out the selfish nature of community members. The present study shows that altruism or the community's idea of protecting the good was a result of some people deciding what was "good" and "bad" for the society to protect their own interests.

Researchers from Princeton University along with their colleagues from University of Arizona tested the study hypothesis by building a simulation model that described how a society would work solely on punishing the "cheaters."  Another simulation model showed how a society would function when only a group of selfish people decided what was acceptable and what wasn't.

Researchers found that when the society started punishing the cheaters, it took an awful lot of time from all society members as well as resources.

However, when a group of powerful people was given a chance to decide what was good for the community, they not only kept other "powerful groups" in check but also ensured that other people wouldn't waste their time in fighting crime. The people who kept the society running by bending the rules got access to resources, recognition and sometimes even devotion.

Authors noted that the idea of some society members getting to decide what was good for the entire community wasn't restricted to humans. For example, cancer cells won't let other tumors grow in the body and tree wasps  don't allow other member to lay eggs apart from the Queen.

The study is published in the journal Evolution.  

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