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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Radical Theory of Evolution That Explains Democrats and Republicans | Larrie D. Ferreiro, The Atlantic

Eminent biologist E.O. Wilson says competing altruistic and selfish impulses govern society. That seems true of politics around the world, too.


Ferreiro begins by asking this question (emphasis added):
Why does the United States have two political parties that espouse such opposing philosophies? The Republicans fight for the conservative ideals of "individual rights -- and the responsibilities that go with them," from which flows the belief in limited government and few regulations. Democrats argue for the liberal notion that "we also rise or fall as one nation ... I am my brother's keeper, my sister's keeper," from which derives the support for social-assistance programs and universal access to health care.
He writes that the answer is found in a new "groundbreaking" book by Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth. Ferreiro calls it "a radical and magisterial theory of evolution." He writes:
Greatly simplified, his argument is that two rival evolutionary forces drive human behavior: first, individual selection, which rewards the fittest individuals by passing along their genes; and second, group selection, in which the communities that work best together come to dominate the gene pool. ...
And the genes resulting from those forces prompt some people to think like Democrats, who favor altruism, and some to think like Republicans, who favor individualistic behaviors.

But Ferreiro writes:
If this theory is correct, it should be applicable not simply to Democrats and Republicans but to political parties around the world -- that is, the general political structure of nations should split roughly into the "individualistic" versus "altruistic" models. ...
He concludes:
Democrats and Republicans are not two sides of the same coin, but rather different parts of the same genome. One cannot dominate the other, nor can either live without the other. Like it or not, the two parties are condemned to coexist with one another.

This article doesn't mention Wilson's book, but it covers the same territory: The Science of Compassion, from the Huffington Post and   The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. It begins:
Why, in a country that consumes 25% of the world's resources (the U.S.), is there an epidemic of loneliness, depression, and anxiety? Why do so many in the West who have all of their basic needs met still feel impoverished? While some politicians might answer, "It's the economy, stupid," Based on scientific evidence, a better answer is, "It's the lack compassion, stupid."
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