Being selfish – Chapter 4


The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins is apparently the most famous atheist in the world. His focus is zoology, and his main work involves a gene-centred reformulation of Darwins theories, and that of natural selection. He looks at the role of altruism and selfishness when applied to a biological stage.

“Gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour. However, as we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish goals best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals.” (Dawkins)

I think it’s hard to explain a Biological function with a psychological/sociological mechanism. However

“the quality of being copied by a Darwinian selection process.” (Andrew Brown on Dawkins)

is a slightly unclear mouthful. The word selfish best fits what Dawkins is trying to achieve. (Interestingly we come back to the meaning of words, and what one word means from person to person).  Anyway. The best way to simplify (a pretty confusing explanation) is this – survival of the fittest at a cellular level, an ego-centric genetic cell propagation. (now doesn’t that sound clever?)

He argues that this driven selfish behaviour of cells will lead to a selfish nature of the individual. As in we can be reduced to the sum of our parts, and, we, on a cellular lever are only concerned with the survival of the individual.

This surely simplifies the human process to a primary function, as in survival. This doesn’t necessarily mean the same as a community thriving. As soon as a being has the moral and ethical implications of group interaction, this must have an effect on any cellular directive.

(Now obviously the primary argument of this point is the whole survival of the fittest theory, this probably warrants a whole post to itself, so you will have to wait for that one).

Now almost the complete opposite point (this was unplanned, but unmissable because of the strange television coincidence)

Interestingly, This week is Random act of kindness week. And I happened to be in front of the TV this morning when they ran a piece on RAK. (

“About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth” CHRISTINE CARTER, UC BERKELEY, GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTRE

I found it particularly interesting to learn about the effect witnessing an act of kindness (not even being one of the key people in the act, ie giver/receiver) has on an individual. Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, Which basically makes you feel good. Then the chance of you paying it forward, and committing your own act of kindness increases. The act of kindness is quite literally contagious.

Moreover, the helpers high (as previously discussed) is an actively sought out experience. And (to my horror) some people actually seek out and get their kicks from the complete opposite. That is deriving joy from being unjustly malicious. (And thinking on this for a while, I understand that these people exist. So in the grand scheme of things; even if people do things to gain some form of helpers high, isn’t it better than the alternative?)

As a result of this find, I have, myself signed up to this directive. Even though I dabble in the subject of being randomly kind to people (and yes, I do happen to gain some warm fuzzy feelings from it, anomalously or not) making it official with some kind of ‘profile’ seems to make what the organisation are doing more real. Also, it definitely can’t hurt.



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