Note: This article was taken from the book Foundations, by R.G. Martin
Dawkins’ selfish gene
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, wrote a book in 1976 called The Selfish Gene. This book contains a synthesis of the theses of Adler, Freud, and Morgenthau. Although still a Darwinist, Dawkins claimed it was not the survival of the species that propelled evolution, nor was it the survival of the individual organism, but it was the drive in the DNA code to replicate itself. This driving energetic force in the DNA is found in every cell of every living organism in the world, including all plants and animals.
Note: Dawkins’ will in the DNA can be seen as similar to Arthur Schopenhauer’s universal will and Sigmund Freud’s libido.
The balance of nature
The battle for an organism’s genetic duplication vis-à-vis every other organism can be seen as the balance of nature. The AIDS virus and the elephant have the same drive, just different strategies. Some biologists that there are some strains of bacteria that will rapidly duplicate as much as they can until they are stopped or they run out of food. If they were not stopped (killed, or eaten) and were given all the food they wanted, they would cover the Earth a foot deep within a few days. The only thing that stops them is the balance of nature.
Through the selfish gene paradigm, we can see a human body as a gene machine, a mechanism designed to adapt to the environment so that it can maximize the duplication of its genes. For example, the beauty of a woman and her desire to maintain her beauty may not be significantly different from the beauty of a flower. Both phenomenon of beauty are genetically designed to attract mates—or bees—in order to duplicate the female genes.
In a similar way, the male drive to gain power and to achieve superiority over other males—to be the alpha male—gives him a greater potential for mating with females and having more gene-duplicating children. Also, his becoming an alpha male gives him competence to successfully interact with his environment in order to provide a home for his mate and his children, as well as protect his children against their genetic enemies, who often want to eat them or just kill them. Historically, with the alpha male’s competence and ability to protect his family, his children have a greater probability of surviving to adulthood and duplicating his genes. At the same time, there is a drive in a female’s biological makeup to be attracted to the alpha male. He can increase the probability of her children’s’ duplication of her genes.
The female organism’s drive to duplicate her genes is a good explanation for the inspiring phenomenon where a mother will sacrifice her life in order for the children to survive. For example, a duck sitting on eggs may choose to be killed and eaten by a fox rather than fly away and let the fox eat the eggs. There is a greater probability that her genes will be duplicated if the fox kills and eats her and allows the eggs to hatch. Genetically, this sacrifice might be more selfish than altruistic.
This gene duplication may also be one reason for the spectacular joy that grandparents often feel when they interact with their grandchildren. They instinctively feel their DNA will survive. In a sense, they feel immortal; they have transcended death.
Note: Remember, Foundations was written so that each section can stand alone. This is so that you can go to any one section to read about an idea of interest and do not have to read the book from cover to cover. This is the reason for the periodic repetition of ideas and references to where a continued discussion of an individual idea can be found.
Political scientists finally see biology
The whole concept of the influence of biology and genetic duplication didn’t influence political theory until the 1970s, with E.O. Wilson’s classic book on bio-politics, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.
It was rarely assessed that, throughout history, wars often had a biological component: the maximization of benefit of one’s own genetic tribe and the basic unconcern for other genetic tribes.
The biological component of war and politics was perhaps never more apparent than with Nazi Germany. Hitler proclaimed to his throngs of enthusiastic supporters that the Germans were genetically superior to all other tribes, and he would lead them to a world where they would dominate other DNA groups and all other tribes would serve them. One of the Nazi policies for German women was to have as many children as possible (while the men went out and subordinated or killed their DNA competitors). Hitler and his fellow Nazis had the same unconcern for other human genetic groups (nations and tribes) as the unconcern that a lion has for a deer. Hitler once said that he couldn’t understand why man couldn’t be as cruel as nature.
Hitler seemed to have tapped into a basic instinctual drive of the German people, and this could be seen as one of the variables contributing to the devotion the German people had toward him. This same drive can be seen as a contributor to many wars throughout history, just as the same drive contributes to battles among animals.
How the Nazis treated other genetic groups—especially the Jewish group—was not significantly different from how some genetic groups have treated other genetic groups throughout history: genocide. The Nazis just had more powerful technology.
Note: Genocide is not the exception in human history, but rather the rule. This genocide over other genetic groups may have started with the Homo sapien killing off the Neanderthal man in Europe 30,000 years ago.
With this pathetic history of genocide—and lesser forms of bestiality—we can see the need for civilization. That is, we need laws based on reason and moral standards to stop the various DNA groups—nations and tribes—from killing each other. We need the proven patterns of civilization to keep mankind on a level of existence above the animals and above the historical patterns of barbarism.
Eventually, as more and more DNA groups get powerful nuclear, biological, and cyber weapons, we will need a world government of some sort.
We have two choices: world government or world destruction.
What does world government have to do with social work?
We have seen over and over again in Foundations how macroeconomics and macro-politics significantly influence the quality of life of our clients and ourselves. We can ask ourselves these Socratic questions: What good is it if we spend our entire lives increasing the quality of life of our clients only to see macro-problems bring their quality of life even lower than when we started working with them? For example, what good is it to spend our lives helping the poor and oppressed only to end up with an economy so overburdened by debt that they can’t get jobs or get financial support? What good is all our work if we just end up with a world war? Or if the environment is so polluted that our clients can’t breathe properly? Or if the Earth’s resources are so depleted basic human needs can’t be met?
Life is calling us to be responsible adults and responsible professionals.
The effects of macro-problems are long-term and subtle, but these destructive tendencies can be understood by ordinary people and we can work against this destruction in our own small way. We can put in our two cents. This is often good enough.
Note: The most effective way an ordinary citizen of the world can work against global warming is to become a vegetarian! Animals and the grains that feed them are among the greatest contributors to global warming.
The selfish gene at a bar
Dawkins’ paradigm helps us understand much of ordinary human behavior. Take, for example, a typical singles scene at an ordinary bar. George Bernard Shaw once said that what goes on at a singles bar may seem like frivolous behavior, but underneath the frivolity, there are very serious dynamics going on. The male drive at such a bar might be to meet someone for a one-night stand, and the female desire might be to meet a guy to go on a future date and with whom to establish a relationship. Even if the bar encounter develops into a relationship, the guy often has one foot out the door and the woman is looking for a relationship that is “going somewhere.”
Underneath the drunkenness, dancing, frivolity, and superficial conversations at a bar, there is a biological drive to copulate, and the effects of copulation can be serious, emotionally, socially, financially, and biologically.
Note: A dating agency once did a survey to try to discern the main quality in a woman that influenced the man on a first date to ask her out again. It was a surprise to find that this variable was overwhelmingly kindness. It was not beauty, sexuality, humor, or intelligence. Looking at this phenomenon through “genetic eyeglasses,” we could hypothesize that perhaps—genetically and unconsciously—these men put a high value on women who would affirm and support them in their competition to “bring home the bacon,” who would be kind and care for them when they were down, and who would be good mothers for their children (the duplication of their genes).
Genetically, the drive in men and women is the same: to duplicate their genes. However, before we add civilization to the psychosocial situation, men and women have different genetic strategies for this same goal. Instinctually, the male wants to have sex with as many females as possible and have as many kids as possible, not caring as much as the female about their upbringing.
The woman, on the other hand, genetically and unconsciously, knows she can have only a limited number of children—and, historically, the children only have had a small chance of survival. Thus, the future mother is instinctively looking for an alpha male—that is, a male who is strong, handsome (who will have good-looking kids), and assertive, and who has a secure financial future. She is also instinctively looking for a male who will be committed to a relationship with her and be committed to help raise their children.
If you doubt this basic instinct for the female to be attracted to an alpha male, stop at a bookstore and look through the popular romance novels. In nearly all of them—with the exception of The Beauty and the Beast—the beautiful heroine falls in love with the tall, dark, handsome, wealthy, powerful, and competent man.
Genghis Khan and Joseph Kennedy
We can look at these two historical figures through the cognitive eyeglasses of the selfish gene and perhaps get some interesting insights into this phenomena.
Genghis Khan was one of the greatest conquerors in world history. He conquered and dominated a large part of the Asian world in the early 1000s CE. No doubt one of his main drives in his life was the quest for power. However, his selfish gene was at work also, and may have been a source for his quest for power.
Khan’s religious mythology allowed him to have multiple wives and his political philosophy allowed him to rape women of the conquered tribes. With the advent of genetic tracing, some experts now believe that around .5% of a large section of Asia can be traced to Khan’s and his relatives’ genes, specifically the Y-DNA profile of Haplogroup C-M17. This amounts to around 8% of the world’s population!
With a much more civilized genetic strategy, Joseph Kennedy had many faults, but few people deny that he was a very devoted father. One of President Roosevelt’s memories of Kennedy was that, often when he met with him, Kennedy would ask Roosevelt for pictures and autographs for his kids.
Kennedy amassed a fortune of over $3 billion (in today’s dollars) in his lifetime and set up trust funds not only for his nine children but also for his numerous grandchildren (and possibly even his great-grandchildren). He devoted much of his energy to making sure that his sons would be successful in life, even helping one to obtain the Presidency of the United States. Presently, all his numerous grandchildren, and their children, live in the reflected luminosity of John Kennedy’s inspired leadership. Joe Kennedy’s selfish gene is doing well.
Joe Kennedy had a lobotomy performed on one of his daughters, Rosemary, because she had a developmental disability and reportedly was uncontrollable and possibly promiscuous. However, he raised his sons to “get laid as often as possible,” a philosophy that he practiced himself. Looking at this belief through the eyeglasses of cognitive theory, we can see how this dysfunctional belief had negative consequences in the Kennedy family throughout the children’s and grandchildren’s lives. This belief may even have affected the in-laws (think of Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Kennedy’s wife, Rose, was the opposite from Joe. She was attracted to him partly because of his being an alpha male and having the capacity to help successfully raise her children, and then have successful grandchildren. There is no evidence that she had the least desire “to get laid as often as possible.” Nine kids were enough. Plus, she was a devout Catholic.
Rose seemed to tolerate and accept Joe’s compulsive sexually acting out. She may have felt that the other women kept Joe from being sexually assertive with her, once she had her children. She may have also been accepting of his behavior since he was so beneficial for her selfish gene.
A token of gratitude
Note: Joe Kennedy had a torrid three-year affair with one of the most beautiful movie stars at the time—Gloria Swanson. After both Joe and John Kennedy had died, in a simple twist of fate, Rose and Gloria were on the same cruise going to Europe, and eating in the same dining hall.
Rose walked over to Gloria and presented her with a John Kennedy half-dollar, saying, “I thought you might like this.” After a few pleasantries, Rose went back to her table. Gloria then said to her friend, “Either she’s dumb or she’s a saint.” There’s no evidence that Rose was dumb.
Competition for the deer
In prehistoric times, the male went out to kill the animals for food and to fight the enemies, while the woman stayed home, nurtured the children, and grew food. Before modern civilization (with all of its time-saving technology, which men created), raising a family was a full-time job for the woman.
There is some evidence that in prehistoric times women would apply primitive makeup and do other things to make themselves attractive. This may have been so that, when her mate was returning with the slain deer, a woman in the next cave—who may have been younger, sexier, and without children—wouldn’t entice him to bring the deer over to her and her extended family.
We can easily see where this sort of infidelity would wreak havoc with the success of individuals in the tribe’s DNA duplication. Thus, most tribes developed strict rules against adultery. Dawkins argues that tribal rules weren’t made for the survival of the group, but rather for the successful duplication of the individual’s DNA, which may be one and the same. The individual can often maximize the duplication of his genes by following the group rules.
Each person in the tribe instinctively understands that his DNA is similar to the DNA of his tribe, especially his family, and his DNA is slightly different from the DNA of competitive tribes. Thus, some members (warriors) are instinctively willing to sacrifice their lives for others in their tribe because this would increase the chances of their own DNA being duplicated. Also, the warrior sacrificing his life could be protecting his own children. One of the battle cries in war is often “We must fight to protect our women and children.”
Note: The same theory is congruent with animal behavior, for example, the behavior in an ant colony. The duplication of each individual ant’s DNA is maximized by the rules of the colony. It is the biological self-interest of the individual ant that drives his behavior more than his loyalty to his ant tribe.
Of course, in a civilized society, people usually don’t act only on the basis of their instincts, however influential their instincts may be. Every society has an established pattern of behavior, called culture, and every society has some form of religious mythology that has as one of its main goals—besides transcending death and explaining the mystery of existence—to tame the animal instincts of men and women, and to make them more kind, gentle, and empathetic. Most religions have as a goal to help mankind transcend the animal within them and become more angelic.
Note: Karl Jung called this animal within a person his “shadow,” and we all have one. He stated that to be psychologically healthy, we must accept this shadow as a part of our authentic selves and work with it, integrating it into our “higher,” more civilized selves.
However, after gaining some understanding of culture, we still may be able to get a deeper and clearer understanding of much of human behavior by using Dawkins’ cognitive eyeglasses.
The taboo against biology
This understanding of the selfish gene may be hampered by our current political taboo against biology. Many people have a neurotic idealistic desire to see men and women as free from their biological restrictions and limitations. We don’t want to see ourselves so denigrated as to be just another life form. We don’t want to see ourselves as human animals, since we have the ability to transcend our animal natures and move upwards to angelic or philosophical heights. We don’t want to accept our animal natures, since we believe we have the ability to transcend our deaths and go to an eternal paradise. We often even arrogantly distance ourselves so far from our biological beings that we become alienated from our own bodies (a state that can be assessed as neurotic or psychotic).
Hitler does it again
Hitler contributed to the taboo against discussing the drive for superiority—since this was a basic belief of the Nazi ideology that resulted in 50 million being killed in WWII. In the same way, he contributed to the taboo of discussing genetic determinates of behavior—since genetic determinism was another one of the basic beliefs of Nazism. If a person discusses ideas about genetic influence on talent or behavior, some people will look at him as if he were a racist or a Nazi who supports mass murder.
This ends our discussion on the power eyeglasses and genetic eyeglasses through which we can choose to view the world, and possibly see it more clearly.
 Some historians argue that if Germany hadn’t invaded Russia and declared war on the United States, it could have defeated Britain, and thus won a more limited war.
 See Vol. II, #21 for a discussion on how energy and mass are one and the same.
 Now, with modern technology and woman’s liberation, woman are participating in this traditional male role.
 See “Save the Planet, Eat Plant Based Foods” at “Clearnewsbyrgmartin.com”
Leave a Reply