Today was one of the blood drives at Wizards; they park a big bloodmobile outside the building and you can set up appointments to donate.  I did so, and when I got there the place was packed.  It got me to thinking about altruism again, and exactly what the motivations are for spending an hour getting quizzed and then stabbed and then having your literal lifeblood taken… potentially to save the lives of unknown others.

Blood donation is very interesting to me in this respect because you don’t know who the blood is going to, and hence consideration of the character of the recipient doesn’t really factor into the equation.  There is definitely incentive in the sense that it increases “good guy” points for the donor in the eyes of others – as I was lying there thinking about all this, I definitely thought about how good I felt knowing my friends knew I was a good person for donating.  But is that all of it?  Is there a “true” altruistic impulse here?  Do people donate blood because they genuinely care enough about unknown others who will be in need, and want to help them?

I kept thinking about how I wanted to know if my blood was going to be used to save lives.  Could I ask for statistics on that?  Unlikely.  But even not knowing, I wanted to give.  The distinction between giving because it makes the giver feel good, and giving because you want to help others, is such a fine line that I’m not sure how relevant it is.  It does lead to another interesting question, though – is it the end result (helping others) that matters here?  If so, can a totally selfish person, who inadvertently helps other people, be considered altruistic?  I don’t really think so – in which case, I need to further define altruism to make it a useful concept.