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Social Scientists Build Case for 'Survival of the Kindest' - Comments

Mayhemm's Avatar Comment 1 by Mayhemm

Ok, this strikes me as wishful thinking with the intention of sucking up to religiots:

See, evolution isn't hard and uncaring like you think! It's actually cute and fuzzy! Perfectly safe to teach your children at home-school!

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 04:55:00 UTC | #422110

JuJu's Avatar Comment 2 by JuJu

Nothing really new here. Dennet and Pinker have mentioned most of this before. It sounds like sociologist are reaching into the evolutionary psychology realm.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 05:49:00 UTC | #422129

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 3 by InYourFaceNewYorker

And Richard's books have mentioned this as well...

BTW I wonder if oxytocin is released when we care for animals and if that's why we bond with them so quickly. When I got my cat, I thought he was female until two days later when the vet told me otherwise. I was worried that he would spray, even if I got him fixed. My parents suggested that I take him back to the person who gave him to me and get one of his sisters. But I couldn't do that. I was already very attached to my cat! I had fallen in love with him! I really do wonder if the same chemical processes are at work with human/pet bonding that are at work with parent/child bonding.


Thu, 10 Dec 2009 06:08:00 UTC | #422130

zengardener's Avatar Comment 4 by zengardener

If kindness is more fit, so be it.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 06:18:00 UTC | #422133

andersemil's Avatar Comment 5 by andersemil

This is clearly evidence that god is supervising evolution, right?? People are becoming more like the image of god...


Thu, 10 Dec 2009 09:38:00 UTC | #422165

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 6 by bendigeidfran

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 09:44:00 UTC | #422171

mixmastergaz's Avatar Comment 7 by mixmastergaz

I don't see why this is characterised as wishful thinking. It makes perfect evolutionary sense. There is an obvious survival benefit in caring for one's offspring, and arguably, even those who aren't 'kin'. Admittedly the phrase 'survival of the kindest' is a bit twee...

I daresay this isn't an original observation (I'm not well-read enough in evolution to know which experts have already suggested something like the following, but I'll bet someone has), but it often seems to me when I ponder this and related issues that surely our tendency to collaborate and specialize has helped facilitate our intellectual evolution. Consider a tribe in human pre-history. There would presumably be no need for all of the tribe to be expert hunters, expert fishers, expert gatherers (knowing what may be safely foraged and what should be avoided) for example. As long as some in the tribe possessed some of these skills then everyone could benefit from them. Of course, for this to work there would need to be collaboration and cooperation ("I'll swap you some fish that I've caught for some of the berries you've foraged"). But I'm not describing some idealistic pre-historical utopia. Those involved in such early bartering would be acting in their own self interest. But from this something like 'survival of the kindest' might emerge, unless I'm more mistaken than a man who thinks Elvis is still alive.

Anyway these are my non-expert, idle speculations. Feel free to point and laugh at them.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 10:01:00 UTC | #422177

Henri Bergson's Avatar Comment 8 by Henri Bergson

This is secular Christian ideology disguised as science. These people should read some history.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 10:18:00 UTC | #422181

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 9 by Quetzalcoatl

Henri Bergson-

This is secular Christian ideology disguised as science. These people should read some history.

Splendid, the nihilist is back.

In precisely what way do you disagree with the findings of the scientists? Which conclusions do you think are flawed, and why?

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 10:26:00 UTC | #422184

Reckless Monkey's Avatar Comment 10 by Reckless Monkey

Evolution is blind, it doesn't care how you survive just that you survive. Being kind obviously works, however our species certainly hasn't completely hitched it's wagon to this strategy. Personally I prefer the Bonobo Chimps method. Problem? Have sex.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 11:22:00 UTC | #422197

John Desclin's Avatar Comment 11 by John Desclin

The trouble with such post is that it is a mere "press release for lay (implying dumb) people" (IMHO). Although it mentions the names of researchers involved in the research, there are no data available about numbers and methods of sampling of populations sampled for these surveys. Nor are there data available about what questions were asked to those surveyed, etc. Hence, one may wonder whether the results (or the so-called "findings") might not be biased by the initial albeit "unconscious" whish to reach precisely such conclusions as they were arrived at: which is indeed whishful thinking (I may of course be wrong, but surveys and studies by sociopsychologists are frequently quite questionable regarding their methodology - at least those that I know of about psychiatry and psychology in european countries, which explains why I am wary of them when I have no access to the original papers).

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 14:36:00 UTC | #422232

littletrotsky13's Avatar Comment 12 by littletrotsky13

mixmastergaz reckless monkey: thanks for saving me from having to write that myself

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 15:00:00 UTC | #422243

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 13 by ThomasBombay

I wonder why some (or most) of us are afraid of moral relativism? Is it because we don't want to be painted as evil or heartless? It should be painfully obvious that culture dictates morality. We are a compassionate culture in the west because of, like it or not, Christianity. This of course lends no validity to its metaphysical claims, but the cultural morals of the teachings of Jesus (on his good days) is what gives our culture the fingerprint that it does. You just have to look at the morals of people throughout history and different cultures now to see this.

Compassion might be what is culturally best and different philosphers have suggested this throughout history. But only did it get cultural clout when Christendom made it obligatory. And we are the inheritors of this philosphy. Hopefully in time we will shed the metaphysical baggage (as Harris calls it) of the religion.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 15:15:00 UTC | #422248

s.k.graham's Avatar Comment 14 by s.k.graham

@ #10, Wreckless Monkey,

Evolution does not even care if you survive (or reproduce). It cares about whether (and how many) copies of your genes get into the subsequent generations.

If you sacrifice yourself so that others, related to you or at least carrying the same genes, survive and reproduce, evolution will be quite happy with that.

DISCLAIMER: All personification of the physical process of evolution should be taken metaphorically.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 15:50:00 UTC | #422261

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 15 by ThomasBombay

Hmmm. Very interesting idea of "your genes that also appear in family" (or tribe I would suppose) surviving. That is intruiging, but what about charity to complete strangers....or animal rights for that matter, or forest protection. I can't seem to shake the idea that our ethics comes from some "reverence" for nature that seeped through our culture along with Christianity i.e. Christmas Trees.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 15:56:00 UTC | #422263

COD's Avatar Comment 16 by COD

"Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive."

I don't see how compassion and collaboration challenges the idea of being wired for selfishness. In fact, I'd say it supports it. E.g. Being self-serving, *I* don't want enemies - so, try to collaborate and get along with as many people as possible. Being self-serving, *I* dislike seeing suffering, it makes *me* suffer. So, I try to ease *my* suffering by helping others.

All sounds quite selfish to me.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 15:56:00 UTC | #422265

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 17 by Tyler Durden

15. Comment #440788 by ThomasBombay

Charity to complete strangers can be explained by recipricol altruism:

It has "evolved" over time, and is genetic in some species, Volvox carteri:

"For reciprocal altruism to work, there is no need for the two individuals to be relatives, nor even to be members of the same species. However, it is necessary that individuals should interact with each more than once, and have the ability to recognize other individuals with whom they have interacted in the past."

We may give charity to complete strangers due to the fact that in the very early days of hominids, helping each other, in turn, aided survival.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 16:16:00 UTC | #422276

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 18 by bendigeidfran

Comment #440788 by ThomasBombay

They're relatives too. Also a touch of the biophilia. I for one would gladly leap into a river to save a drowning oak tree.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 16:32:00 UTC | #422278

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 19 by Quetzalcoatl


I wouldn't. An oak tree would never do the same for me. Weeping willows would just stand there and look sorrowful. So would the pines.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 16:37:00 UTC | #422279

root2squared's Avatar Comment 20 by root2squared

16. Comment #440790 by COD on December 10, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 16:43:00 UTC | #422282

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 21 by bendigeidfran

Comment #440804 by Quetzalcoatl

Well I once misunderstood E.O.Wilson's biophilia and tried to marry an oak tree. I wrote a song about it I was so smitten:-

I once fell in love with a hole in a tree
'til a squirrel became too familiar with me
I wore a thick condom to lessen the cuts
But the squirrel was hungry and nibbled me nuts

It went downhill after that.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 17:17:00 UTC | #422296

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 22 by Carl Sai Baba

I never did understand why any of this was a mystery. It's so friggin simple. People are nice most of the time, but if they get scared/angry/desperate they turn into dicks. Oh, how weird! How could we possibly explain this behavior? How could this be useful?

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 18:46:00 UTC | #422324

prolibertas's Avatar Comment 23 by prolibertas

Thomas Bombay: "I wonder why some (or most) of us are afraid of moral relativism?"

People are 'afraid' of moral relativism because the logical conclusion of it is moral nihilism. If right and wrong are just what culture says it is, then whenever you say 'that is wrong' you have to follow it with 'because my culture says so'. This makes any progress impossible; according to this, the first abolitionists were wrong to fight slavery, because their culture said slavery was 'right'. Similarly with the first feminists and the first fighters for civil rights, and everything else that separates the modern age from the dark age. If a muslim culture decides it is 'right' to cut the heads off girls for the 'crime' of being raped, they can't be told that they are wrong. And if your culture decides that it is morally OK to flay children alive for weekend entertainment, you would have to agree with them. All this makes a mockery of morality.

"It should be painfully obvious that culture dictates morality."

Not really. Some of morality may be cultural, owing to their history and environment, but there are plenty of universals like love your neighbour, not killing, stealing, etc. that run through all cultures, and have clear evolutionary explanations.

"We are a compassionate culture in the west because of, like it or not, Christianity."

Maybe, but I'm not sure about that. The 'christian west' wasn't all that compassionate before the 18th century Enlightenment, a largely secular phenomenon born of the renaissance of ancient PRE-Christian Greek thought, and which was characterized by the assertion of reason and experience against exactly the kind of authority and tradition represented by the Church. Before the Enlightenment, the West might as well have been the Middle East.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 21:49:00 UTC | #422365

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Comment #440891 by prolibertas

Moral relativism is surely a fact: people's morality can be determined by circumstance, such as culture.

What we need to avoid is moral equivalence, which insists that all moral systems are of equal value.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 21:53:00 UTC | #422366

righton's Avatar Comment 25 by righton


Love your neighbor is universal? What if they are assholes?

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 22:18:00 UTC | #422373

rebby's Avatar Comment 26 by rebby

Friedrich Hayek's description of morals as a by-product of cultural evolution is the best theory I've come across to explain the asymmetry in the ways that we treat our fellow human beings, morally. In his theory, the "kosmos" is all the familial and tribal/community relationships that require some degree of selflessness of us. But within the "extended order", we must substitute the common ends we share with family and neighbors for rules; if we didn't, we could never accommodate ourselves to the diversity of ends pursued. Rules provide the framework within which anonymous individuals can pursue their different ends in a coherent and orderly fashion. Hayek saw the rule of law and the establishment of rights of property as the foundations of this extended order. Which is I guess why his views have never caught on among the intelligencia, dominated by their belief that all moral rules must have been "designed".

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 00:52:00 UTC | #422401

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 27 by SaintStephen

19. Comment #440804 by Quetzalcoatl on December 10, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I wouldn't. An oak tree would never do the same for me. Weeping willows would just stand there and look sorrowful. So would the pines.
Sorry Quetz, I disagree. The pines would most certainly NOT "just stand there and look sorrowful" :

They would needle you.

(*Rimshot* Thank you. I'll be here all week.)

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 07:50:00 UTC | #422447

keddaw's Avatar Comment 28 by keddaw

Comment #440892 by Steve Zara

Agreed, moral equivalence is dangerous.

I think prolibertas doesn't quite get the dual levels of right and wrong. There is a cultural right and wrong that you may disagree with. Therefore society's morals differ from your own. It is then up to you to do whatever you can (be bothered to) to change the prevailing opinion in society.

To take the example of flaying children alive; society would deem you to be in the wrong for trying to save the child and spoil the crowd's enjoyment. You, and a few others, would consider you to be in the right.

What we need is a decent framework to hang our morals from. A philosophy of life that we can set out what the fundamental rights should be and test our laws and culture against that. The real problem here is that people will not start from scratch in this scenario - they bring their existing cultural baggage into their thought process. For example, if I said eating dead human flesh is absolutely fine you would immediately disagree, but for cultural reasons, not biological or rational reasons. Until we can get beyond our culture, and our biology, and use our intellect to define the rights and responsibilities of people then we are doomed to have circular arguments about (non-existent) objective morality vs. moral relevatism.

There are no objective morals, but there are some relatively objective principles that we can try to hang some morals on, such as autonomy and freedom of choice - virtually everyone wants these things for themselves, even if they seek to deny them to others. So if we use this as a basis and say it is only fair that if you get this then so does everyone else. To go deeper into this would require too much space so I'll leave it there.

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 17:35:00 UTC | #422542

Lordsuhn's Avatar Comment 29 by Lordsuhn

If kindness is fit, then why is it that sociopaths have all of the power and money? Perhaps it is more accurate to say that those who can make others care for them are fit. If the kind proliferate, the clever sociopath will dominate.

If a kind person competes with a sociopath, the sociopath will win if he can make it look like he isn't a sociopath, i.e. cheat and not get caught.

It's like a pride of lions, the females take care of each other and their offspring, as well as the alpha male. Th alpha male dominates and benefits from the kindness of the lionesses, while not being kind at all.

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 20:07:00 UTC | #422575

Henri Bergson's Avatar Comment 30 by Henri Bergson

The degree of ignorance regarding ethical theory here is sickening.

If you do not differentiate prescriptive from descriptive morality, for a start, your arguments will not scratch the skin of this body of issues.

Sat, 12 Dec 2009 01:03:00 UTC | #422671