Are you a good person?

Let me rephrase that. Do you know the story of The Ring Of Gyges?

Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia. He found a ring which made him invisible when he wore it. Gyges used his power of invisibility to commit crimes – he seduced the queen, plotted to kill the king and take over the kingdom. Because he was invisible, he was protected from the consequences of his actions.

According to Plato, if there were two such rings, and we gave one to a good man and one to a bad man, they would both do bad things. The moral of the story? People are intrinsically bad, and they only behave well when others are watching. Justice is only about reputation, self-interest. This is the story of hypocrisy. This is the story of virtue signalling.

Plato was writing 2500 years ago. Has anything changed?

The Arabian babbler. It’s a bird. It’s not the only creature in the animal kingdom that exhibits altruistic behaviour, but the Arabian babbler practices competitive altruism. These birds fight to perform the most impressively arduous tasks to protect the group, thus conferring upon themselves prestige and fitness.

Have you ever known a billionaire to give away his wealth quietly? To make a charitable donation that doesn’t confer a tax advantage? Enlightened selfishness is the best we can hope for. But does it matter? Fake it ‘til you make it.

And the world will be a better place. Just for a moment.