Just because we are natural born killers does not mean we are not good people

September 18, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Good morning:

The significance of the recent scientific study published in Nature, which found that chimpanzees are natural-born killers, is that killing has a genetic basis. They did not learn that behavior from humans or choose to be that way. They are genetically predisposed to kill because, via natural selection, that predisposition has resulted in a competitive advantage for scarce resources and reproduction compared to chimpanzees that do not have that predisposition.

We need only look to our own culture and past to realize that we have the same genetic predisposition.

The Boston Globe reports:

It can be tempting to take a dark view of the violent behavior of chimpanzees, but Joan Silk, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, said discovering the origins of human behaviors in other animals is not the same as learning our destiny.

“How do animals resolve conflict is interesting,” Silk said. “How do animals find out ways to cooperate? Those are general principles from which we can learn a lot, but it doesn’t mean we’re expecting them to be the same across species. I study baboons, and I love them dearly, but they do all kinds of things I think are sort of uncivilized. If they were my kids, I’d be very distressed.”

We are finally beginning to understand that human behavior has a genetic basis. That is, we are predisposed to act in certain ways, despite our race, ethnicity, language and culture.

A predisposition to kill when vital resources are scarce is a competitive advantage. In times of plenty, it’s a competitive disadvantage.

Empathy is a competitive advantage during times of scarcity because survival is enhanced by living in a peer-to-peer cooperative relationship with others.

Individuals cannot long survive unless they belong to a group and groups cannot survive without the informed consent and cooperation of their individual members.

Mutual respect and dignity promote harmony and cooperation in times of scarcity and plenty.

Greed and exploitation of others never do. They promote discord and ultimately cause chaos.

This is why living the Golden Rule and democracy are a better model for living than a corporation that exploits other people and the environment for profit and has no accountability for the harm it causes.

Survival of the fittest is not a law. It’s only a prediction of the outcome of a fight.

Antoinette Tuff, Social Darwinism and Survival of the Fittest

August 24, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Good afternoon:

Antoinette Tuff got me to thinking about social darwinism and white supremacy.

Scientists tell us that our human species (homo sapiens sapiens) began approximately 200,000 years ago in South Africa, and after declining to a near-extinction population of approximately 15,000 people, emerged out of Africa 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. The population decline to near extinction is referred to as a “bottleneck” and many scientists believe it was caused by climate change precipitated by the catastrophic supereruption of Mount Toba in Indonesia approximately 73,000 years ago.

The Toba eruption was the largest volcanic eruption in the past 200,000 years.

This eruption was the last of the three major eruptions of Toba in the last 1 million years. It had an estimated Volcanic Explosivity Index of 8 (described as “mega-colossal”), or magnitude ≥ M8; it made a sizable contribution to the 100X30 km caldera complex. Dense-rock equivalent (DRE) estimates of eruptive volume for the eruption vary between 2,000 km3 and 3,000 km3—the most common DRE estimate is 2,800 km3 (about 7×1015 kg) of erupted magma, of which 800 km3 was deposited as ash fall. Its erupted mass was 100 times greater than that of the largest volcanic eruption in recent history, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which caused the 1816 “Year Without a Summer” in the northern hemisphere.

The Toba eruption took place in Indonesia and deposited an ash layer approximately 15 centimetres thick over the entirety of South Asia. A blanket of volcanic ash was also deposited over the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian and South China Sea. Deep-sea cores retrieved from the South China Sea have extended the known reach of the eruption, suggesting that the 2,800 km3 calculation of the erupted mass is a minimum value or an underestimate.

The vast amount of ash in the atmosphere blocked sunlight for many years resulting in a much colder and drier climate in the area of Africa inhabited by modern humans. In order to survive, they had to cooperate. Those who did not cooperate perished.

Modern humans spread throughout the world by land and sea relatively quickly as a lengthy period of global cooling commenced a new ice age. Modern humans survived that ice age. Neanderthals and Denisovans did not.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution teaches us that genetic mutations occur at predictable rates. Some mutations cause changes that reduce an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce, eventually leading to the extinction of the line of individuals who inherit that mutation or trait. Other mutations cause changes that improve an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce. Some changes are neutral and do not affect survival and reproduction unless the environment changes in a manner that favors or disfavors the mutation.

Most right wing fanatics, including the Nazis and other white supremacists, believe in survival of the fittest, an intellectually impoverished and narcissistic doctrine called social darwinism that is based on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Social darwinism was developed during the late 1800s to provide supposedly scientific support for a belief in the existence of a master race.

The intellectual flaw in social darwinism is that survival of the fittest is a prediction of the outcome of a fight to the death between two individuals. It is not an accurate description of genetic change over time in changing environments, which Darwin accurately described as the engine that runs evolution.

Modern humans adapted to and survived catastrophic climate change by cooperation and reliance on each other. They sympathized, empathized and sacrificed for each other. Sometimes they even gave up their lives so that others might live. These are the characteristics that define us as human beings and we would not be alive today, if our ancestors throughout the many thousands of years before we were born had not exhibited those characteristics.

Antoinette Tuff exhibited those characteristics as did the teachers who sacrificed their lives at Sandy Hook.

They did not have to do what they did and that is the quintessential characteristic that defines who and what we are.

Survival of the Wisest

December 12, 2011

Empathy is the basis for true morality.

Empathy is the basis for true morality
by aerie under flickr Creative Commons

Randian neoliberals, as in Ayn Rand, believe in competition and social darwinism. They claim that human life is like a vast jungle and they have adopted “survival of the fittest,” formerly known as the law of the jungle, as the guiding principle of their lives.

They adopted Grover Nordquist’s advice to privatize government as much as possible and drown what little remains of it “in a bathtub” abolishing all laws, regulations, and regulatory oversight.

They claim they want to create the free marketplace that Adam Smith wrote about in the Wealth of Nations; a mystical place controlled by the “invisible hand” of self-interest that they declare to be maximizing short-term profits.

They have elevated greed to the status of not just any god, but the god of gods. That their interpretation ignores Adam Smith’s warning that the marketplace must be regulated to protect competition from the monopolies that inevitably will develop in a truly free marketplace is no trivial matter.

They have committed an egregious sin by creating a philosophy to justify stealing from others that they put together with disparate elements of philosophy, science, economics, and religion as though selecting from different columns on a Chinese menu to feed their ravenous greed.

Survival of the fittest is not a law; it is a description of what happens when a hungry apex predator hunts, kills, and consumes its prey. If there were no other laws at work after approximately 4 billion years of evolution, only apex predators would exist, and possibly none of them either as they would have extinguished themselves by cannibalism.

Natural selection is an evolutionary process that weeds out unsuccessful genetic adaptations. Natural selection is not survival of the fittest.

In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, research scientists at the University of Chicago reported that lab rats can show empathy. Their experiment demonstrated that free rats will work tirelessly to free caged rats. Even when presented with chocolate chips, a free rat will continue to labor on freeing the caged rat until successful. Then they share and consume the chocolate.

While survival of the fittest may dictate the outcome in most battles between a hungry predator and its prey, unless its prey outsmarts it or it is fortunate to escape, empathy occupies a far more important role in determining whether a species survives. Empathy leads to survival of the wisest and validates the age old maxim that the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Empathy is the basis of the Golden Rule.

Randian neoliberalism is junk science at its worst and should be universally discredited and the legacy of its practitioners condemned to a mere footnote in the sorry history of human greed.

Happy holidays.


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