My first job after college was at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, where I worked as a radio astronomer specializing in Jupiter's radiation belts. Freed of time‑consuming college coursework, I was able to broaden my reading. A few years earlier, the double‑helix structure of DNA had been discovered. Perhaps stimulated by this, or maybe from the sheer momentum of a childhood fascination with the way genes influence behavior, I stumbled upon a thought which I now believe is the second‑most profound one of the 20th Century: “outlaw genes.”
1963 Identification of Outlaw GenesOn
Figure I.01 An X‑Y matrix of "genetic survival value" and "individual survival value" with hypothetical markings of the locus of individual genes (as conceived in 1962).
In theory, any gene could be "placed" in such a diagram (I hadn't encountered the concept of polygenes or pleiotropy at that time, to be discussed in a later chapter). I imagined genes for this and that, and placed them in the diagram. I recall thinking that there had to be more dots in the upper‑right quadrant, corresponding to PGSV/PISV.
I realized that there shouldn't be many dots in the opposite corner since NGSV/NISV mutations should quickly disappear. Likewise, there shouldn't be many dots in the upper‑left NGSV/PISV quadrant, though wouldn't it be nice if genes flourished when they promoted individual happiness regardless of the cost to themselves. But it was the lower‑right corner that awaited me with a surprise! Gene mutations of this type would "by definition" flourish while "punishing" the individual carrying them! And nothing could be done about it, short of replacing the forces of natural selection with artificially created ones. This gene category has fascinated me ever since!
Why hadn't I read about such genes? Surely others knew about the inherent conflict between the individual and some of the genes within! I looked forward to someday reading about these "outlaw genes," and the philosophical dilemmas they posed. I stashed these original diagrams and writings on the matter in a file, which remained closed for decades. Nevertheless, I did not forget about these genes and during the past four decades I have written about the subject in my spare time.
In the Fall of 1963 I enrolled at the
Although coincidences can shape lives, more
often they don't. While I was at
In this same year, 1963, William D. Hamilton
prepared manuscripts describing "inclusive fitness" (
I sometimes wonder how my life's path might have
differed if I had met Williams at
Even now, four decades later, no one has written clearly about the mischievous genes (to my knowledge). The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins (1976), comes close; but it never explicitly states that genes "enslave" the individual for their selfish advancement while harming the enslaved individual. Mean Genes (Burnham and Phelan, 2000) comes even closer, but its emphasis is on practical steps for resisting self‑defeating behaviors rather than the theoretical origins of the genes responsible for those behavioral predispositions.
Why is there such a paucity of discussion about
the philosophical implications of such a profound flaw in our origins and
present nature? Why have the professional anthropologists, philosophers and
others been so slow to address a subject that captured my unwavering attention
40 years ago, when I was fresh out of college and struggling to establish a
career in an unrelated field? Sociobiologists have written about conflicts
between competing gene alleles carried by individuals of various relatedness (
If my idea has merit then sociobiologists have simply overlooked an obvious “next step” in the unfolding of implications for the basic tenet of the field. The history of science has many examples of simple yet profound new ideas being overlooked by the professionals. Every idea has many discoverers, and probably most of them only half realize the import of their discovery. The oft‑discovered idea remains out of the public domain until it is grasped by someone having the energy to push it into the mainstream while warding off attacks by established scientists unthinkingly defending their academic turf.
Some of the genes within us are enemies of the individual, in the same sense that outlaws are the enemies of a society. This thought should challenge the thinking of every sentient being. The discipline of philosophy should be resurrected, and restructured along sociobiological precepts. If this is ever done the new field would have as its major philosophical dilemma the following question:
"What should an individual do with the mental pull toward behaviors that are harmful to individual welfare, yet which are present because they favor the survival of the genes that create brain circuits predisposing the individual to those behaviors?"
In other words, should the individual succumb to instincts unthinkingly, given that the gene‑contrived emotional payoffs may jeopardize individual safety and well‑being? Or, should the individual be wary of instincts and thoughts that come easily and forfeit the emotional rewards and ease of living in order to more surely live another day - to face the same dilemma? Should some compromise be chosen? How can any thinking person fail to be moved by these thoughts?
Overview of This Book
In writing this book I have wrestled with the desire to proceed directly to the matters of outlaw genes, and how an individual might deal with them. But every time I returned to the position that a proper understanding of the individual's dilemma requires a large amount of groundwork. For example, how can I celebrate the artisan way of life without first describing why the genes created the artisan?
In the first edition of this book I included the many groundwork chapters in their entirety before the culminating chapters. The first person to read the book (Dr. M. J. Mahoney) stated that “Once I hit Levels of Selection [Chapter 12] I couldn't put the book down.” That’s when I realized that I had violated the first principle of writing, which is to “quickly engage the reader before losing him.” Starting with the Second Edition I shortened the groundwork chapters by moving most of that material to appendices. The groundwork chapters have become a primer for the paradigm that leads inevitably to the positions of the main message of this book.
The remainder of this introduction is a précis for the book chapters.
There is no guiding hand in evolution; the natural process of the genes acting on their own behalf leads to individuals who are mere "agents" for these genes. This is the starting assumption for "sociobiology," also called "evolutionary psychology," and presented most effectively for the general public by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976). To understand the "blindness" of evolution one must first understand that the universe is just a "mechanism," that every phenomenon reduces to the action of blind forces of physics acting upon dumb particles. This outlook is called "reductionism," which is the subject of Chapter 1.
Lest the reader surmise that this book is about the physics of life, I attempt an impassioned appeal, in Chapter 2, for an embrace of modern man's scientific approach to understanding life, and a rejection of the primitive backwards pull that captures most unwary thinkers. This appeal provides a foretaste of the spicy sting of chapters found in the second half of the book.
Since genes are such an essential player in everything, I found it necessary to include tutorial chapters on genetics. The first of these genetics tutorials, Chapter 3, presents general properties of genes, such as how they compete and cooperate with each other, and have no concern for individual welfare beyond what serves them. The second genetics tutorial, Chapter 4, explores some subtle properties of genes that will be needed by later chapters. For example, since in every new environment some genes will fare better than others, it is useful to think of genes as being "pre‑adapted" and "pre‑maladapted" to novel environments. This will be an important concept in considering artisan niches in the modern world.Chapter 5 is not necessary for the development of the book’s theme, but for those who understand it the chapter will provide a deeper insight into the mathematics of pre-adaptation and pre-maladaptation.
Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted to the brain. The most recent advance in the evolution of the human brain is the refashioning of the left prefrontal cortex. It is important to view the brain as an organ designed by the genes to aid in gene survival. Rationality is a new and potentially dangerous tool created by the genes, and it must be kept under the control of "mental blinders" to assure that the agendas of other genes are not thwarted. Competing brain modules, cognitive dissonance, and self‑deception, are just a few concepts that any sentient must know about when navigating a path through life's treacherous shoals.In Chapter 9 I write about the first artisan, whose precarious role as a full‑time tool and weapon maker may have begun 60,000 years ago. When the climate finally warmed 11,600 years ago at the start of our present "interglacial," called the Holocene, the small number of existing artisan roles served as a model for an explosion of new ones. The new artisans made high‑density populations possible and eventually led to the creation of civilizations (Chapter 10). Since I will celebrate the artisan way of life it is necessary to understand how it came into existence and why others in society are likely to view it warily. I will outline a theory for "anti‑intellectualism" and suggest that it may play a role in civilization's decline.
is a gentle introduction to one of the most misunderstood topics in
sociobiology: "group selection." GS has had a rough time gaining
acceptance partly because it had too great a resemblance to the silly
notion (still embraced by the uneducated) that people do whatever is
good for the species. The mathematics of group selection was started on
a sound footing by Reeve (2000), and finally given a symbolic blessing
by Wilson and Wilson (2007). This last reference joins others in
suggesting that altruism has an unsuspected additional origin rooted in
tribal conflicts, and that it has co-evolved with genes promoting
intolerance for people in out-groups.
In Chapter 12 I combine the new thinking about group selection with something entirely overlooked by sociobiologists: the role of individuals with insight to subvert the genetic agenda and in the process influence the rise and fall of civilizations. I argue that group selection increased when tribal warfare led to ever‑larger tribes, which required that its membership be ever‑more subservient to "tribal requirements" since the entire tribal membership had a shared destiny. But,when group selective forces were at their maximum during the Holocene, something new happened that heralded the first‑ever "individual selection" dynamic. The artisans assumed a leadership role in molding culture, governance, and opening opportunities for individual expression of creative and productive labors that led to a state that we now call "civilization."But a civilization is vulnerable to outside attack by societies that remain uncivilized, that foster religious fanaticism. These stay‑behind societies harbor resentment of the material wealth of the civilized society, and instead of achieving wealth for themselves by surrendering their group‑serving grip on the individual, they instead mobilize the individual to discredit their rich neighbor and declare cultural warfare on them. Religious zeal serves these super-tribes by fostering fanatical, suicidal attacks on those societies that respect the individual. But since individuals in the civilized society think first of themselves, the civilization's defense is half‑hearted and ultimately ineffective.
(I wrote this chapter years before the "September 11" attacks on the World Trade Center.)
It is inevitable that civilizations arise with an ambivalent self‑hatred. This is because people whose thinking style is overly influenced by their "primitive" right brain are naturally resentful of the world created by those new left‑brain artisans. The new world order favors the left‑brained artisan (engineer, scientist and other rational thinkers) and relegates to some vague periphery the contributions that can be made by the old‑style people. Thus, every civilization should have "two cultures" that are in conflict, and this is treated in Chapters 13 and 14.Chapters 15 to 18 begin to address the matter of what factors might contribute to the decline and fall of civilizations. In the earlier editions of this book they were one chapter, but as I added to it for this Third Edition it became necessary to split them into 4 chapters. The most interesting speculation in these chapters is the role played by genes that predispose for something called "parochail altruism" and "Intolerance." In 2007 several authors published theories about how genes predisposing for these two traits are selected when a tribe is in chronic conflict with a neighboring tribe. The version of altruism that's selected is called "parochial" because individual sacrifices are for the benefit of only the home tribe, not the other one. When a tribe is decisively victorious, and peace prevails for several generations, the theory (and computer game simulations) call for a reversal of selection forces, leading to an excess of selfishness and tolerance. This new behavior leads to a weakening of society and a eventual decline and loss of dominance. I've added to this theory in a way that permits faster switches between the two opposite behaviors. Another theory invokes a back‑and‑forth dominance of artisan "producers" versus opportunistic "parasites." Another suggests that the two cultures war, or the “War of the Brain Halves,” is eventually won by those who succumb to the primitive pull. I also report on the suggestion by others (which I wish I could have thought of first) that there's an ebb-and-flow in the frequency of genes in tribal gene pools for the co-evolved pair predisposing for "parochial altruism" and "hostile intolerance for outsiders" that compete with their opposite pair predisposing for "un-altruistic selfishness" and "tolerance for others." Gingerly, I also suggest that dysgenia might undermine our genetic vigor and sap societal energies.
Chapter 19 describes what others now refer to as the Anthropic Principle (I hit upon it in 1990 and later learned that it had been written about and published obscurely a few years before). I use this idea to predict an approximate range of dates for a significant crash in the human population. In the process of calculating this horrific event, I show that the rate of technological innovations exhibits a trace over time that foretells population patterns. From this analysis it appears that we are now in the second major "rise and fall" pattern of innovation rate and population, the latter pattern being displaced a few centuries after the first.I attempt to survey some possible population crash scenarios in Chapter 20. However, I conclude that the future is so difficult to predict that it is prudent to only present possibilities.
In Chapter 21 I begin my "call to arms" for individuals to emancipate themselves from the genetic grip. All previous chapters are preamble to this one and those that follow. My appeal must be qualified by some nitty‑gritty facts of genetics, such as pleiotropy and polygenes. Nevertheless, I present a litany of "genetic pitfalls" that any emancipated person should wish to avoid.Because any reader will expect a book such as this to give specific suggestions for how to use insight to live wisely, I feel obligated to present in Chapter 22 my attempt to address the subject. All such attempts will be feeble, so my bold attempt is meant to indicate a direction, not a destination. My list attempts to describe ways that an individual may live wisely in a world wracked with defects caused by outlaw genes. Some genes are our enemy because they lead to dysfunctional human societies (e.g., war-promoting religions), while other genes are our enemy because they lead us as individuals to want the wrong things (e.g., sex, violence, fame). The individual's task is to liberate himself from the genes, and choose wisely. The IQ form of intelligence allows insight, and this insight must be placed into the service of an enlightened "emotional intelligence" to arrive at new personal values to live by. The questing person will understand the wisdom in the saying, which applies to the unthinking person: "If you get what you want, you deserve what you get." However, I readily acknowledge that my attempt to realize this chapter's goal is feeble, and the reasons for this are developed at the end of the book.
Chapter 23 follows naturally from the previous chapter, since an individual who wishes to pursue an individual‑emancipated life must do so within the constraints of living in a society where individual liberation is difficult. When a sufficient number of people awaken to their enslaved condition, thoughts may turn to a way for them to coalesce in a shared search for a winning place. I describe utopias and prospects for isolated enclaves as a path toward a stable community where individual liberation may be sought. However, I warn that the world is becoming too "small" for enclaves to remain safe from meddlesome outsiders. Since the door of feasibility for creating isolated space communities has shut, and since the earth is already "too small" for self‑sustaining communities to remain secret, there are no feasible refuges for utopias. I conclude that today's world will not tolerate the formation of an enlightened society of liberated individuals, and that those who might wish to live in such a society must be content with learning how to live a good life as individuals with secret dreams while being surrounded by an ever‑increasing number of primitive hoi poloi. The "society of the cognoscenti" will remain dispersed, and may only occasionally recognize each other during normal encounters.Chapter 24 is supposed to be a surprise, but the subtitle sort of gives it away: "Repudiation of the Foregoing." I will say no more.
Chapter 25 is an annotated version of the best essay ever written: Bertrand Russell's “A Free Man's Worship.” It is an excellent example of how a liberated person thinks, and I use it to illustrate the point of the preceding chapter. Namely, once a person is liberated from genetic enslavement and free to choose values to live by that are compatible with the cognoscenti's insights, the best that one can hope for is an aesthetic and poetic attitude toward "existence" that respects the plight of those not fortunate enough to share these insights. The existentialist need not be a sourpuss, nor must he become a passive esthete. The thoughtful existentialist may end up a compassionate humanist with a lust for existence!
So now dear reader, if you exist, do take the
following speculations with a light heart; hopefully your thoughts will be led
in directions that are as congenial to your inherited ways of thinking as the
following are to mine.
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