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Fight the Evolutionary Urge to Be Ruthlessly Selfish



We live on this lovely Earth blissfully unaware, most of the time, of the unique position we find ourselves in. We live mostly unimpeded by the rules and laws that so hindered our ancestors; we live in the time of the universe with the most prosperity. Life is pretty good for us. Except it’s not. There’s an enormous population of the world that doesn’t have clean drinking water. There are still genocides going on in parts of the world. Mainly going on in Africa, ironic in the fact that the location of the origin of the modern human is currently the location most dangerous to live in.

“Oh, damn. Genocides. That isn’t a word I really like to hear. Shit, we should probably do something …” Yes. You’re absolutely right. Something should be done. We should feel a responsibility to the rest of humanity. We should care. But we don’t.

“What?” you say. “I care! What are you on about? Of course I care! It’s awful!” Not quite, dear reader. I’ll call you evolved.

We humans have become incredibly smart. However, this is merely a byproduct of natural selection. We’ve been selected to be smart. But we’ve also evolved to become ruthless. We’re survivors. We are competitors. And you’re a perfect example, reader. Your genes have survived over millions of years, being passed on from parent to offspring since before they were even the genes of a human. These immortal coils of DNA have been around since life itself. And you are the product. And so is every other living thing in the world today. You, like the rest of us, are part of the tiny, infinitesimally small fraction of things that have succeeded in reproducing all the way until now. That’s an incredible thing … Let it sink in for a moment. You’re a boss. Pat yourself on the back.

Unfortunately, with the incredible success of your genes (surviving for millions of years in a highly competitive environment) come certain expected qualities in you. And one of those things, due to natural selection, and in many cases defined by natural selection, is this: ruthless selfishness. This selfishness is at the level of the gene, and in a way you can see yourself as merely the mortal shell in which your immortal genes pass through the universe on their quest to continue existing. But this gene-level selfishness (wanting to continue to survive forever) also leads to selfishness at the personal level, in the individual personalities of each of us. It is easy to see, then, how even as much as we’d like to believe it, universal peace and welfare for our entire species just doesn’t make evolutionary sense. It seems that if we want to live in this kind of optimum world, we won’t have any help from our basic biology. How unfortunate.

Why do you think commercials about starving African children focus on individual kids, with names and faces? We as a species react poorly to numbers. We can only come across an emotional connection on an individual level. So we let genocide march on. We let poverty and starvation march on. We mostly choose to forget the troubles of the world because it’s much, much easier to be selfish. You can find reasons not to care, or not to act. It’s human to lie, and most of the time we’re lying to ourselves. So if you really want to start changing things, we need to start looking at our species as a whole. We have to fight our own evolutionary instincts in order to help others.

That unique position I spoke about? It’s really this: We are the first animals on this Earth with the cognitive ability to fight our own evolutionary instincts. We may be born selfish, but that doesn’t mean we are constrained to live by those laws. We are the first of our kind to have the capacity to escape the chains of natural selection. Perhaps, just maybe, altruism will eventually be selected for, instead of against.

So munch on your snacks and drink your plastic bottled water while you flip the channels, and when you come across something that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you can keep watching, instead of being so goddamn selfish.

Despite his congenital instincts, Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson decided to take the time to enlighten you all. Call him evolutionarily advanced.

Photo by Chanel Miller
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6 Responses to Fight the Evolutionary Urge to Be Ruthlessly Selfish

  1. web developer Reply

    February 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Also, Brian, stop being a dick.

  2. Kevin Ferguson Reply

    February 14, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks Jesus, I agree with you. Altruism is definitely common in the animal kingdom. I should have been clearer in saying that altruism in the sense of the larger humanity could be selected for… But I guess that could take a while. It was merely a way of trying to get people to think about how much they don’t do for greater humanity when they have excess.

    • John the Baptist Reply

      February 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      Altruism is definitely not a common feature of motivational psychology across the animal kingdom.

  3. Judas Reply

    February 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Jesus is right. He was altruistic for all of us, and even though I knew this to be true, I denied him not once, not twice, but three times! So before you go ranting about evolutionary impossibility of altruism, take a wiff of what Jesus has cooking. He puts lamb on all of our soul-tables and our lives on his Holy back.

  4. Jesus Reply

    February 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    One thing you got wrong: Altruism is selected for. We just don’t apply it globally, to people we don’t know or have any personal connection with.

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