In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins states that nice guys finish first:

In a given single species group of animals there will be "good" and "evil" animals. "Good" guys may share food or perform less desirable tasks within the group, while "evil" guys will selfishly take and hoard food and refuse to help others.

While the Evil animal will win out over the Good animal in the short run of a single generation, Evil behaviour will destroy the group over a longer period of time. That is, if the majority of a group is continuously comprised by selfish, evil individuals, the chances of that group surviving over the long run are reduced.

Thus, there is an evolutionary pressure against being evil because groups where selfishness pervades across generations will be naturally selected out of the gene pool. However, why we all aren't really nice to each other after millions of years of this kind of selection is beyond me.


The Nodeshell Rescue Team

I have to go, but some things here need clarifying:

What Richard Dawkins describes in his book is the tendency systems have to reach some kind of stability. One kind of stability is where everyone is against everyone else. In that case, anybody trying to do good will be used and on the long run, become extinct. If everyone were good, on the other hand, a selfish bastard will have a helluva good time, reproduce, and generally cause things to deteriorate to the condition mentioned above.

A full population of vengeful do-gooders, however, will cooperate wonderfully with each other while kicking the excretion out of the bad guys. Good guys, on the other hand, get as much support as anyone else in this group. After several generations Good guys and vigilantes are both common, giving the bad guys a chance to slip in.

Eventually, a stable state will be reached with some of the people good, some bad and some vigilant, proportions depending on the reward matrix for cooperation vs. betrayal.

See also Game theory, Evolution, and Complex Systems.

Another factor here is the nature of the "group", mainly how they make a living. As Geez implies, this is an optimization problem. Ants and bison have arrived at different solutions, and in fact the Inuit and Polynesians and Belgians have arrived at three different solutions too, because even though they're physically the same, they're in three different environments. On the other hand, ants and bison living in the "same" environment are actually living in very different environments, because they're not in the same niche. Meanwhile, as a species evolves over many zillions of long and boring years, Geez's "reward matrix" will change, and what was optimal a million years back will begin to look a bit silly. We seem to have reached that stage here in Cambridge. I don't know about Wisconsin.

This "pressure against being evil" is not necessarily a survival trait. Sometimes it is, and sometimes not -- and even when it is, it'll be so to varying degrees depending on circumstances. Also, you're thrashing away at nature with an arbitrary, local, and vertiginously temporary definition of "evil".

dizzy's question could be rephrased (broadly) as "How come Homo sapiens isn't well suited to living in Cincinnati?" The answer is this: He hasn't been there very long, and by the time he starts getting used to it, Cincinnati will have changed beyond recognition.

Evolution is frustrating. That is why I choose not to evolve.




Halcyon&on: But Survivor was an artificial environment, and a very small sample as well. I don't think it creates any problems for the rest of what you're saying. Furthermore, that guy "survived" by completely eliminating his social group. In the long run, eliminating all of your breeding partners probably isn't the best evolutionary strategy...) In fact, the win-by-annihilation-and-thereby-lose approach is pretty much what you're describing with the Amazon basin. It's a mentality we probably picked up back when we couldn't actually annihilate everything, so the "-thereby-lose" part didn't kick in. Back then it was useful, and it only applied to things outside the group anyway: Other groups, wolves, etc.

This is purely a follow up on the original 2 write ups.

I took Philosophy of Biology as my freshman elective last year, and we used "Selfish Gene" as one of our reading guides. We also used a book called 'Sex and Death" by Grail, and it is the counter view of the 'Selfish Gene".

One of the things that was touched upon is the fact that there is no true good or evil in natural selection, thus the is no true altruism. If one views a SPECIE as a what is called a "super organism' one can see how this is true.

Some tribes of monkeys have watchers, they are monkeys that watch out for predetors and warn everyone about the danger by yelling, thus atracting more attention to them selves and usually getting killed.

The way it was explained is that each individual is programmed to ensure survival of the specie, as oppose to the common thinking of the survival of the fittest - every man for him self, thus everything that happens, good or evil, ensures that the reproduction of the whole specie continues, and thus there is no true good or evil, just different roles.

Unfortunately, I haven't read the The Selfish Gene. Too much time buried in biophysics journals ;). However if I may comment on this interesting topic, it sounds to me much like an aspect of Lovelock's Gaia Theory.

Just as on the species level, individuals that are overtly evil eventually overtax the system, on an ecosystem level, species that are irresponsibly consuming resources will eventually eat themselves out of a niche.

Although this may be pseudoscience - something that I despise - I've often thought of man as the evil player in just such as scenario. We're deforesting Nova Scotia and the Amazon Basin at an alarming rate. Biodiversity is steadily declining as we homogenize every environment we move into. Greenhouse gases and environmental pollutions are not only affecting nature, but having deleterious effects on our health levels. So, what's the point?

Well ... maybe we're evilling ourselves off the planet. As per Gaia Theory, the ecosystem will eventually become unlivable for us. The same ecological feedback loops that go haywire when we interfere will eventually find ways to eliminate us to maintain stability - not in a teleological sense, of course.

Of course, this didn't bear out in Survivor, right? The meanest, most conniving man was the one who survived.

"As per Gaia Theory, the ecosystem will eventually become unlivable for us."

Only if we fail to adapt.

We humans have lived that way for millenia, and it worked as long as there were few humans and lots of natural resources.

The balance, or rather imbalance, has changed. Now there are billions of us, and resources are becoming scarcer. But, we are becoming aware of it. It's up to us now to change our way or to perish.

Personally, I think mankind is much smarter than we like to credit it for, and will adapt and survive.

Back in the sixties (1960's), for the first time in human history, it became possible for mankind to extinguish itself within minutes in a global thermonuclear explosion. My generation (the baby boomers) were teen-agers and were pretty scared of the idea we might not live till our twenties. That was no doubt an important reason for the hippie Make love not war movement.

Well, we're still here, and it is unlikely we would start a global thermonuclear war anymore. We have learned, we have adapted. I think we will adapt to the unprecendent population growth as well.

Of course, only time will tell.

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