Those ethicists who claim that the capacity for altruism is hardwired in human nature may take heart from this story. Yesterday's New York Times carried a piece about an archaeological dig in Vietnam which revealed an ancient skeleton showing signs of lifelong paralysis. The fact that the individual lived well beyond adolescence strongly suggests that his family/tribe were willing to care for a non-productive member. One of the archaeologists involved in the study is quoted as saying that "the provision and receipt of health care may therefore reflect some of the most fundamental aspects of a culture."
Coincidentally, last night I watched the film Cloud Atlas, which, in so far as I could make it out, is about the ability of acts of kindness and altruism to echo across generations ("by each crime and every kindness we birth our future", as one character says). Or something like that. It was one of those long, artsy films where I wasn't sure if it was being profound or simply playing an elaborate game (look, there's Tom Hanks again, in yet more makeup, doing yet another dodgy accent! Look, there's Halle Berry). However, the author of the novel Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, seems like an interesting chap, and is going on my reading list.