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Anonymous altruism. Engagement in acts which benefit others at cost to yourself. Anonymously. That is, without knowing who you are benefitting, and without them knowing the identity of their benefactor. So what is so special about that? Well, if you look at the theories we have of the evolution of altruism, you'll see this just shouldn't happen. Generous, self-sacrificing acts are made either because they benefit the actor's overall reproductive fitness or else to continue or intiate reciprocal altruism. In nature, 'altruism' is all about trust, and reputation, and friendship. This is different. Anonymous altruism is completely irrational from an evolutionary perspective. We just shouldn't do it.

And yet we can. And, in various diluted forms, we do it all the time. Every time we consider doing something harmful (be it tax evasion, petty theft, spitting out of a high window, or going on a killing spree) and refrain - not because we fear getting caught, or we worry what others might think, or because the act is proscribed by some religious/moral code, but simply because it is harmful.

But of course what I've just described isn't what I mean by 'true' anonymous altruism. Opportunities for that are rare, and rarely exploited when they do exist. And that's a shame. To me, at least, such acts are symbolic of all the (often sadly overlooked) potential for good in human nature. They are the purest epression of the beauty humanity is capable of. They are also (my hope is) hugely effective in strengthening bonds between people, and in developing a recognition of the common humanity of humanity that crosses the borders of nationality and culture. And I know this is starting to sound like Miss World's acceptance speech, but these things are important and perhaps that's something our modern irony-drenched world tends to cover up.

So this is, I guess, in the most peaceful possible sense, a call to arms. Go forth and find ways to be altruistic anonymously, and to provide opportunities for others to be so, and see if we can't start a quiet revolution of peace, love, hope and joy.

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