‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 2 The Threat of Terminal Alienation from Science’s Denial
Chapter 2:10 Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology
There were, of course, serious problems with this so-called Social Darwinist contrived excuse that ‘nature is selfish and that’s why we are’. For starters, it didn’t account for instances in nature where selflessness occurs, such as in ant and bee colonies where workers slave selflessly for the whole colony. And secondly, and most particularly, it didn’t account for our instinctive memory of having lived in a cooperative, loving, ‘Garden of Eden’-like existence, which is our selfless, consider-the-welfare-of-others, born-with, instinctive moral nature, the ‘voice’ of which is our ‘conscience’.
Seeking to address these cracks in the argument, biologists developed the theory of Sociobiology, with E.O. Wilson acting as its main proponent. Later known as Evolutionary Psychology, this theory explains, truthfully enough, that worker ants and bees are not actually being unconditionally selfless, truly altruistic when serving their colony because, when doing so, they are fostering the queen who reproduces their genes, which means their apparent selfless behaviour is, in fact, just a subtle form of selfishness: they are helping the queen to selfishly reproduce their genes. But in terms of maintaining the primary agenda of avoiding the unbearable and unacceptable issue of the human condition at all costs, this idea of selfless behaviour actually being a subtle form of selfishness, where you indirectly promote the reproduction of your own genes by fostering others who are related to you—your kin—was then not surprisingly, but in this case extremely dishonestly, commandeered to explain our moral instincts. Yes, it was claimed that our moral inclination to help others was no more than an attempt to reproduce our genes by supporting others whose genes we shared, with any anomalies put down to ‘misplaced parental behavior’ (George Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection, 1966, p.vii of 307)! As Wilson boldly summarised, ‘Morality has no other demonstrable function’ other than to ensure ‘human genetic material…will be kept intact’ (On Human Nature, 1978, p.167 of 260); even saying that ‘Rousseau claimed [that humanity] was originally a race of noble savages in a peaceful state of nature, who were later corrupted…[but what] Rousseau invented [was] a stunningly inaccurate form of anthropology’ (Consilience, 1998, p.37 of 374)!!
So, in saying our moral soul is still basically selfish, the old ‘nature is selfish and that’s why we are selfish’ excuse was preserved; the same ‘I’m going to determinedly avoid, not confront, the human condition’ attitude had been upheld.
The problem that then emerged, of course, was that this denigration of our moral self as nothing more than a subtle form of selfishness was both deeply offensive to and entirely inconsistent with what we all in truth know about our moral instincts, which is that they are unconditionally selfless, genuinely altruistic. As the journalist Bryan Appleyard pointed out, biologists ‘still have a gaping hole in an attempt to explain altruism. If, for example, I help a blind man cross the street, it is plainly unlikely that I am being prompted to do this because he is a close relation and bears my genes. And the world is full of all sorts of elaborate forms of cooperation which extend far beyond the boundaries of mere relatedness’ (Brave New Worlds: Staying Human in a Genetic Future, 1998, p.112 of 198).