Is the selfish gene an altruistic gene.

The selfish gene

Can egoistic genes produce altruistic people?


Like all living things, humans behave selfishly. It's about reproductive success.

But cooperative and helping behavior cannot be overlooked in humans and other socially living animals either - because it pays off in the interests of survival.


In 1976 The Selfish genes ("The Selfish Gene") by British biologist Richard Dawkins. The book was an essential contribution to Sociobiology, the study of the social behavior of living beings (including humans) on a genetic and evolutionary basis. It has also sparked a lot of controversy.


In particular, it has given the impression that living beings are just survival machines whose behavior is determined by their genes. In addition, it was - and is - justified to ask how genes could behave selfishly. Dawkins had deliberately formulated pointedly and boldly in order to bring a - actually trivial, but unpopular - insight into the foreground: All living beings, including humans, behave selfishly and only pursue their individual interests in survival (= successful reproduction).


Social life requires cooperation


This finding is, of course, consistent with Darwin's theory of natural selection. However, it is countered by the observation that not only in humans, but also in other animals also cooperative and helping, that is altruistic (altruistic) behavior occurs. Concerning man specifically, the Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) noted the following: “No matter how selfish a man may be, there are obviously certain basic dispositions in his nature that take him part in the fate of others and make it necessary for him to take part in their happiness. ”From a modern sociobiological perspective, however, these predispositions are easy to explain:


All species that rely on cooperation - from elephants to wolves to humans - show group loyalty and helpfulness. Such tendencies developed in the context of a tightly knit social life (Frans de Waal).


Group formation, which is widespread in the animal world, requires a minimum of cooperative and helpful behavior. The members of a group are also primarily “interested” in their own survival and remain egoists. But since their group offers them decisive advantages, they must also be “interested” in its stability and therefore

cooperate with other group members. Cooperation and mutual help are - even today - often opposed to Darwin's selection theory. These phenomena were well known to Darwin himself. He took on "social instincts" in socialized animals and devoted himself to the ability to empathy or for compassion his attention. In this he also saw the roots of morality.


Cooperation as the basis of culture


Genes are neither selfish nor altruistic. These properties are what make their sense

at the level of the whole organism in its relationships with conspecifics. But evolution by natural selection has social beings with that genetic disposition equipped for cooperative and helpful behavior. These dispositions can then be modified or reinforced through individual and social learning.


One thing is certain: if prehistoric people had had nothing else in mind than beating each other's heads, then we would not be here today. Our Stone Age ancestors must have had a minimum of cooperation and willingness to help, at least within their groups. The ability to cooperate and be helpful was also the basis for our culture - and thus the engine for our evolutionary success.


Franz M. Wuketits