Saturday, July 23, 2011

Altruism Under Attack

I am revising my Encyclopedia of Evolution, which Facts on File plans to reissue only in electronic format. Don’t look for it at your local bookstore. But, I hope, you can buy it soon online. Librarians! Alert! You can have it on your computers for your patrons!

When I got to the “altruism” entry, I dutifully recited the scientific arguments for why humans are the most altruistic species. My summary is concise and interesting, but for a fuller picture, you can read Michael Shermer’s book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule; and Frans deWaal’s book Age of Empathy. You can even read Dacher Keltner’s Born to Be Good. Well, maybe you don’t have to read the books. The subtitles tell you everything you need to know. Altruism is basic to the human psyche.

Their viewpoints are without doubt correct regarding the instinctual capacity that humans have for altruism. And I wish that I could believe that such altruism will actually prevail in the world. But I am sad to report that altruism is being strangled.

It is quite clear, on the national political scene as this blog is being posted, that the Republicans are willing to destroy the nation’s financial future in order to promote their power. Every thought they have and every action that they take is only for their own power. They have no sense that altruistic cooperation with Democrats would not only be good for the whole nation but also enhance their own electability in 2012. They seem oblivious to even the benefits they would receive from altruism. Rather than acting like altruistic humans, or chimps, or bonobos, they are acting like gorillas, using force as the sole means to consolidate their power.

And that is the way society is also. I am speaking, of course, from Redneck Central, in rural Oklahoma. I have neighbors—such people are all over the place in rural Oklahoma—who believe that they have the right to vandalize my property and threaten me with physical violence if I raise any objection to their vandalism. They act like gorillas, not chimps or bonobos or humans. When you look at them, they even look like gorillas; they look like they have been taking steroid injections since age six. Hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, producing the capacity for altruism, has been jettisoned by these people in my neighborhood.

Oh, by the way, these people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. I wonder if Jesus would have said, Blessed is he who destroys his neighbor’s property and threatens his neighbor with physical violence.

I dutifully write about the evolution of altruism—in my encyclopedia, as well as in my book Life of Earth—even though I no longer believe that there is enough of it left in American society to save us from social chaos.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, living in the Bible belt can be tough for us skeptics or humanists.

    I hope my public library will carry the online version of your encyclopedia - the Chicago Public Library. I'll keep checking with them...