Bioethics in India: Proceedings of the International Bioethics Workshop in Madras: Biomanagement of Biogeoresources, 16-19 Jan. 1997, University of Madras; Editors: Jayapaul Azariah, Hilda Azariah, & Darryl R.J. Macer, Copyright Eubios Ethics Institute 1997.

43. Ethics of Resource Management: Place of Altruism as a Human Value

T. Ramakrishna
Dept. of Life Sciences, University of Calicut, Kerala

Whether we intend to go through the 21st century or not, I am sure the 21st century will go forward leaving us behind and I do not know in what condition! It is in the fitness of things that we embark on discussing the techniques of resource management after delving deep into such issues as ocean futures, the environment and energy. I shall not, therefore dilate on the problems that we face. However, in the process of squarely facing and solving some of our problems, if not all, we have an uphill task when it comes to management of our resources. No wonder, that in due recognition of the importance and relevance of management in the modern world, schools of management are becoming increasingly popular. But then we have to ponder whether or not the concept and practice of management as it is in vogue today, is suited for solving the problems that confront us now and are expected to in the near future.

It is true that the kind of problems that confront the developed countries are vastly different from the nature of the problems that confront third world countries. Our task primarily is that of removal of poverty, ignorance, disease, and the consequent despair. Hence the techniques of resource management appropriate to conducting the business of modern society where the despair is less marked, may not be appropriate to the third world countries. If I can go into the heart of the matter, what we need are the techniques appropriate to the management of welfare, of innovation and management of our meager resources, to provide for the minimum needs of the maximum number of people. This is no ordinary task as it appears to my mind. What have done towards achieving our objectives in the past? This is the appropriate time to take stock and look ahead. We have inherited as a historical legacy a managerial system that was most suitable to subservient colonial interests. I am afraid, we have not changed much in this system with a view to modifying the same to suit the needs of welfare management. I do agree that we have been attempting a tinkering job here and there and nothing beyond. If we have to see that the personnel with the right knowledge and skills are entrusted with this onerous task, then it high time we examined our priorities and appropriate managerial techniques required.

I do not intend to go into some of the biological roots of human welfare in order to understand the process thoroughly. I can do no better than commend that wonderful book "small is beautiful" written by Schumacher in the early seventies. I do not know how many of you have pondered over the significance of the title: "A study of economics as if people mattered"(1). As a biologist, to me this title was at once fascinating and inspiring. Here was an economist trained in traditional economics who thought deeply about the implications and assumptions and theories of economics affecting the people. In this book he expounds the relevance of Buddhist economics wherein the keynote is simplicity and nonviolence. However, as per the modern trade and economic conceptions the one who consumes more is better off than a person who consumes less. This essential aggression is landing us in trouble. Beyond the consumption levels, all human activity is directed towards something thought of as good. So unless the primary problem of consumption has been sorted out and coordinated, our manifold urges, impulses and desires in striving for good is likely to be confused, contradictory, self-defeating and probably highly destructive. We have to create for ourselves an orderly system of ideas about ourselves and the world which can regulate the direction of our various strivings. As Schumacher puts it, "the true problems of living in politics, economics, education, marriage, are always of problems of overcoming and reconciling opposites." He elaborates further that, "education which fails to clarify our central convictions is mere training or indulgence. For it is our central convictions that are in disorder and as long as the present antimetaphysical temper persists, the disorder will grow worse."

This takes as to yet another useful concept of collective choice and social welfare as propounded by Sen (2). While collective choice is a crucial aspect of economics, notably of welfare economics, planning theory and public economics, the subject relates closely to political science in particular to the theory of decision making procedure. It also has important philosophical aspects related to ethics and especially to the theory of justice. Thus we slowly grope our way from economics to sociobiology.

The approach of the sociobiologist is highly congenial in fact, to the economists' since the both rely on competition, allocation of limited resource of say food and energy, efficient adaptation to the environment and other concepts also used by the economist (3). The trouble with sociobiologists however, is that they rely solely on the rationality related to genetic selection - the physical and social environment discourages ill-suited behavior and encourages better suited behavior. Economists, have on the other hand relied solely on individual rationality and have not incorporated effects of genetic selection. In this context it should be understood that the central problem of sociobiology, namely the biological selection of altruistic behavior and an individual level is compatible and reconcilable with the modern economic approach. The reason why I went into this theoretical projection of economics and sociobiology are to see the extent to which they are related to the techniques of management must be firmly anchored to the individual's welfare as well as to the welfare of society as a whole. As Julian Huxley (4) made it very clear, the forces of evolution in the case of Homo sapiens are overwhelmingly tilted in favour of psycho-social development rather than biological growth. Spree Roger (5) went a step ahead in contending that we have to bear in mind human conscious psychic mental forces, while dealing with human nature and human welfare.

Hence there is need to recognize the imperatives before we incorporate it into the science of management for the future. These imperatives as they appear to my mind, are therefore, knowledge and understanding of human behavior and concern for that central conviction namely the wisdom born out of good education which should ultimately govern the practice of management. The imperatives include the increasing need to humanize our social environment. We need to guard ourselves against slipping into a faceless dehumanizing and unstable industrial society. How can we achieve this? We have to pay increased attention to human values in the process of economic development and resource management (6, 7).

This leads us necessarily to the need to adopt an organic system of management in preference to mechanistic systems. As was recognized by the management experts, a mechanistic management system is appropriate to stable conditions whereas an organic form is appropriate to changing conditions. The mechanist system of management is characterized by the hierarchic structure of control, authority and communication whereas the organic form is characterized by a network of structure of control, authority and communication (8). This applies to all levels of management whether local or central. This applies equally well to institutions as well as to our large sociopolitical systems of management and decision making. This also presupposes the adaptation of smaller and much more efficiently manageable infrastructural setup. It is also necessary that after imparting the required knowledge about the philosophy of the management of innovation for change through organic systems, we also give necessary training to the personnel involved in such branches of corollary disciplines as human biology, sociology, and sociopolitical sciences.

I do think that biologists have a special role to play in this regard in spreading the message that after all altruism has its firm biological roots and served the human race extremely well in raising his life span from 27 during the Neanderthal age to 72 at the present time (9). Psychosocial and psychobiological studies have proved beyond doubt that the female of Homo sapiens (1) tends to be more altruistic and reticent in order to be delivered of the baby through a painful process and to bring up the helpless infant over several years through parental care and love (10). Cognizance of this central theme in sociobiology namely altruism as applicable to resource management is by no means to negate the forces of aggression which co-exist with altruism. However, there is no doubt that the more altruistic humans becomes, greater are our chances for survival as a race, and better are the prospects for collective welfare and happiness through wiser, equitable and much more sustainable resource management.


This article was written during my tenure as visiting Professor at S. V. University postgraduate centre, Kavali. I thank Professor Dr. R Ramamurthy, Vice Chancellor and Professor Dr. Raghava Reddy, Special officer for their kind hospitality.

1. Schumacher, Small is beautiful - A study of economics as if people mattered, Blord and Briggs Ltd, London 1973.
2. A. K. Sen, Collective choice and social welfare, North Holland 1979.
3. G. S. Bekker, The economic approach to human behaviour, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1976.
4. J. Huxley, The humanist frame, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London 1961.
5. Sperry Roger, "Mind, brain and humanist values", In New views on the nature of man, Ed Hohn R. Blatt, University of Chicago Press 1965.
6. G. E. Pugh, The biological origins of human values, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1978.
7. V. Geist, Life strategies, human evolution, environmental design towards biological theory of health, Springer verlag, New York 1978.
8. T. Burns and G. M. Stalker, The management of innovation, Tavistock publication, London 1961.
9. T. Ramakrishna, "Altruism in human society (review)", Trends in Life Sciences 3 (1) 81-90, 1988.
10. T. Ramakrishna and T. R. Madhav, "Altruism the obstetrical dilemma", In Readings in Behaviour Eds R. Ramamurthy and Geethabali, pp 168-174 New Age International Ltd, New Delhi 1996.

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