Altruism and Fittestism Genes in Human Biology

14 Dec

Part of humanity lives according to the principle of exploiting their bodies and the environment to the best possible outcome in terms of material gains (wealth, fame, legacy): this gives rise to the idea of human ‘fittestism’. Another trait readily observed in humanity is altruism which is somewhat opposite to fittestism. Fittestism describes the individual’s motivation to exploit his resources to aid physical survival to the maximum benefit and is not related to the term ‘Survival of the Fittest’ in evolutionary biology. It merely describes a particular type of social trait.

Human society is composed of a spectrum of motivational strategies between the extremes of those who practice ‘fittestism’ through selfishness and sociopathic behaviour and those that practice ‘altruism’ for social development of live and let live that is reliant on the individuals sacrificing their efforts in caring for others. Both these strategies of living must have genes driving the personality of the individual, the two traits operating in a varied combined way to make the human species flourish as a social animal. There are individuals who exhibit both fittestism and altruism to varying degrees while some only exhibit one or the other. This is possible because the theory is that two independent genes or gene-systems are involved and both can reach a high level of expression in the same individual. Altruism does not reach the position of sacrificing to the point of dying in the act. Dishonest people (sociopaths and psycopaths are the extremely self-centred ones) belong to the former category and at the extreme are unable to practice altruism because their actions generate foreseen and unforeseen adverse effects on others because relationships are all interconnected.

Evolutionary biology must consider that both fittestism and alturism are examples of fitness to the same environment that all humans live in. It is highly unlikely that historically Homo sapiens has been moving on a transition course from one form of motivational strategy for living to the other, most commonly understood to be from fittestism to altruism. There are no indications when observing human societies worldwide that one or the other will predominate as being the greater (more successful) survival strategy. A balance between the expression of the two traits has taken place within the global population of human beings and therefore shown itself to have been the optimal survival strategy and hence fitness. This is to say that a compromise between the extremes has evolved within and between individuals in the human population.

Thus fittestism and altruism are both strategies of fitness. Beatsong at Rational Skepticism wrote: ”Nature is full of examples of organisms having various capacities which can contradict each other, but which have all evolved via natural selection. In fact everything comes down to this really. A lion that can run faster is more likely to catch its prey. A lion that is bigger is more likely to be able to kill its prey once it’s caught. But a lion the size of a whale is not going to be able to run as fast. So the advantages of both of these characteristics enter into the evolution of lions and you end up with a broadly optimum compromise between speed and size. Just as you do between the peacock’s need to run around and the size of it’s tail. Or between a human’s (or a lion’s, or any other mammal, for that matter) capacity for self-advancement within the social group and capacity for sacrifice for the social group”. And in the same forum, CdesignProponentsist pointed out in accepting my use of the term ‘fittestism’: ”Species do not exhibit altruistic behavior because they just happen to be nice individuals. They exhibit it because it gives the genes of their local gene pool a better chance at survival, including the genes that contribute to the altruistic behavior. It increases the fitness of the group. So altruistic behavior is a gene acting selfishly. Fittestism and Altruism can both be examples of fitness in the same environment and even the same species. Altruism benefits the gene pool and more directly benefits the altruistic genes that exhibit the behavior as those around you typically share the same genes. If you sacrifice for their benefit you increase the reproductive health of the rest of the group and thus continue to pass on the genes. This doesn’t mean that others in your same gene pool can exhibit the hording of wealth, power and respect to attract mates. A species can have both genes but expressed in varying degrees and different ways from individual to individual. Both strategies are expressed in wolf packs, chimpanzee troops or any socially advanced species including humans. There are always the power grabbers and there are always the altruistic non reproductive followers that play the support roles. The group benefits from both.”

The motivation and drive that compels those who proceed with their endeavours to succeed in their chosen careers and fields of work requires a gene or a gene-system (multiple genes?) because we know that this ‘capacity’ is absent in vast numbers of people. The capacity is unlikely to improve through correct upbringing or education. CdesignProponentsist further wrote: ”Rarely does a single gene exhibit a single expression, especially when it comes to complex expressions like social behavior. We are probably talking about a complement of genes. As far as specifics on how the two expressions relate in a single individual, I don’t have a clue. I would imagine the waters are also muddied quite a bit with the nature vs nurture problem. Having said that, there is indication of there being a particular gene responsible for sociopathic behavior. The MAO-A gene which has also been called the ‘Warrior gene’. Again, it is probably not the only gene involved in greedy power driven behavior but has a strong influence. I would imagine it is strongly selected for, for the fact that a sociopath is also a player and has a much higher reproductive success (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy#Genetics). I would also imagine a social group with all sociopaths is not as fit as a group with a mixture of sociopaths and altruists. So both are probably required for overall fitness of the group of any socially advanced species.”

Mirror neurones have been suggested to provide a mechanism for learned behaviour and the genetic basis for the development of empathy in animals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neurons

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