Take a living organism. In order to protect itself, it protects the environment it lives in. If there is a mismatch, the chances of survival of either or both are threatened. This conflict can be resolved when either or both compromise to ensure their survival. Mahatma Gandhi is well known for non-cooperation, and also for serving the needs of the people. One of his friends once asked him, if his serving the poor purely humanitarian. He said, “I am here to serve myself only, to find my own self-realisation through the service of others.”

We reward people even when we know it is going to cost us. We are also out of proportion selfish. We behave selfishly even for small returns. We punish people even if the punishment costs us and yields no material gain. In the struggle for existence, eternal battle between good and bad, between altruist and the selfish is going on. If one ever leaves the field, the other will not exist.

One selfish doesn’t like the other selfish. David Sloan Wilson says that selfish individuals have their own incentives to get rid of other selfish individuals within their group. ‘Selfish punishers’ use altruists to punish other selfish individuals. Selfish punishers try to prevent the altruists from being completely eliminated from the group. Altruism can evolve by natural selection as long as its collective advantage outweighs its more local disadvantage. Wilson says that punishment is a form of altruism. Consider a situation where you are largely responsible to put a criminal in jail. This altruistic act of yours results in the punishment of the crooked and brings relief to the many law-abiding citizens. But you paid the price. This is a ‘higher order public good problem’; someone pays the cost, the benefit of which goes to someone else. Such higher order altruists allow themselves to be exploited. Wilson showed in his analysis that the individuals most likely to cheat were also most likely to punish other cheaters. It simply means, the best groups might be those that include a few devils along with the angels. Although we know it to be a perverse way of going about things, but we also know that we inflict pain for no gain, and spitefulness stems from an affronted sense of fairness.

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