A very good friend of mine is a beekeeper and I found myself lot’s of time helping him out with his beehives. I was always impressed and simultaneously confused by the apparent self-sacrifice of honeybees, while defending their beehive (admittedly not a very pleasureful experience but supposedly it helps if you have ‘arthritis’. Every time I got stung by them I knew it was the entomological equivalent of a Kamikaze attack.
From a pure Darwinian
perspective it didn’t seem to make sense. Darwin made it very clear in ‘The origins of Species
‘ (without dispute one the most influential books ever), that Evolution
is all about ‘staying alive’.Your dead, your out of the gene
pool, so to say. Only the lucky fellows who stayed around long enough to procreate matter,viewed with evolutionary eyeglasses.
To my rescue came Richard Dawkins
book ‘The Selfish Gene
‘, a bestseller published 1976, that sold over a million copies and has been translated in 25 languages.
It solved my dilemma by pretty much telling me that I’m just a ‘replicators vehicle’, so at least I thought.’Replicators vehicle’ meant that I am supposed to be kinda like a zombie, just a shell for my precious ‘replicators’, my genes that hijacked my body to spread the word.
Though not flattering for my self perception the ‘selfish gene
‘ seemed to explain,why weird stuff like altruism happens (for example a bird warning the others and getting eaten by the predator).
‘I would lay down my live for two brothers and 8 cousins’, a phrase that I picked once up from a fellow named William Hamilton, an Oxford educated biologists came to my mind( gladly I have only one sister and my cousins mean pretty much nothing to me).
Nevertheless suddenly, altruism could be explained via ‘kin selection’, where creatures sacrifice themselves to save more copies of their kin’s genetic material.
Though I had an answer, I wasn’t so excited about me being just a ‘zombie replicator vehicle’, reading on, Dawkins came again to my rescue.Hi told me that there is a light in the end of the tunnel, an exodus from the curse of just driving my precious genes around and being only concerned how to get them among the people (in my case it’s would be the ladies).His exodus from my perpetually self replicating agonies, was the ‘Meme’. Not the guy who almost got Vienna
, no ’meme’, without a ‘t’ in the end I learned is the cultural equivalent of the ‘gene’
Memes like genes like to replicate also, but their payload is way more sophisticated than the perfect curves of Angelina Jolie
(not that I wouldn’t like to drive them around on my replicator vehicle, i’m afraid I have to confess). Memes transport ideas, tradition, believes, religion, things that are extremely important for me and obviously for my fellow human beings.Those things could be summarized with the term ‘culture’. Meme’s spread culture.
Different people interpret thing differently , while Jeffrey Skilling
(the guy from Enron
), used this excellent book (supposedly his favorite) to justify his selfish behavior while demoting people by being ‘the nastiest guy around’. The message I got from this reading was that we humans are an intelligent species, we have something that I consider unique on our planet not say on the universe ‘self consciousness , we can use our self-awareness to defy the diktat of our selfish genes. Actually we do that already, every time we take a contraceptive, we defy the dictatorship of our ‘Selfish genes
‘ and finally we know that giving tips may be not such a stupid idea after all.