Friday, June 30, 2017

Evolutionary Psychology and Kin Selection Don't Refute Ayn Rand's Ethics

Modern Man Must Evolve Beyond Stone-Age Moralism

Stuart K. Hayashi




Over the past decades, it has become popular for boosters of evolutionary psychology to proclaim that discoveries pertaining to primatology and anthropology disprove Ayn Rand's ethical theories regarding the peaceable pursuit of one's self-interest. These boosters, such as Michael Shermer, Eric Michael Johnson, and Frans de Waal, say that Rand's ethics is unworkable. Even the few evolutionary boosters who have tried to depict Objectivism honestly and accurately (that excludes Eric Michael Johnson, David Sloan Wilson, Paul Bloom, and well, most of them) will say that no matter how much a peaceably self-interested person sincerely tries to refrain from harming anyone else, that person's pursuit of happiness will not pan out. The reason for that, say these boosters, is that Rand's ethical theory veers too far from what can be plausibly expected of a person who behaves according to a vague ethical standard that has been built into him but which he still not always follow.

I should clarify what evolutionary psychologists mean by this. Evolutionary psychologists proclaim that human beings have been programmed, since the Stone Age, to regard altruism, collectivism, and self-sacrifice to be the ethical ideals, or at least to be aware that most people in one's society will regard those as the ideals. That is not to say that everyone is programmed to choose to behave in a manner that is altruistic and self-sacrificial; if that were the case, then evolutionary psychologists would find no need to attempt to browbeat fans of Ayn Rand's in an effort to make them conform to the evolutionary psychologists' wishes. Rather, what is programmed into you, articulate these evolutionary psychologists, is that you will recognize that the norm is for most people in your society to regard altruism, collectivism, and self-sacrifice as  moral perfection. That is, you are physiologically capable of choosing to prioritize your own peaceable self-preservation and happiness over everything else. However, add the evolutionary psychologists, if you embark upon this course, you will do so with the recognition that most people around you will disapprove and, at least in terms of their distaste for your choice, this will make life much harder on you than it needs to be.

In other words, evolutionary psychologists are not saying that every person is programmed to act according to the altruist-collectivist ethics. Yet, they advance, every society, as a whole, is programmed to regard the altruistic-collectivist ethics as normal and desirable -- and to regard any deviation from it as an abnormal aberration deserving of social recrimination.

When evolutionary psychologists
say we ought to have the same
moral standards as our caveman
ancestors, it's as if we're being
held hostage by those
caveman ancestors.
Gorille Enlevant une Femme 
(Gorilla Kidnaps a Woman),
1887, by Emmanuel Frémiet;
source: Wikimedia Commons.


Yes, it is true that many a society will regard other societies as immoral on account of their customs. However, explicate the evolutionary psychologists, those disagreements are over specifics. We can imagine U.S. society during the 1930s under the New Deal; we can imagine the Soviet Union; and we can imagine the Islamic theocracy of Iran. Each of these societies could look upon the other two and notice many customs they find immoral. Still, say the evolutionary psychologists, the bickering over ethical standards is over particulars: what all three societies have in common is that they regard the moral ideal to be that a person recognizes that what is good for his society as a whole is of greater importance than his own personal benefit, even if he has not harmed others to obtain that benefit. It is true that the Islamic theocracy and the Soviet Union put more emphasis on forcing that model onto people than did the U.S. federal government during the New Deal. In all, though, their disagreements were over (1) how the altruist-collectivist ideal should be implemented specifically (is "the public interest" served by forcing women to cover their hair in public, or is it not?), and (2) how heavy-handed the society's leaders should be in pressuring everyone else to conform to that moral ideal (Stalin was heavier-handed about this than was President Franklin D. Roosevelt).  Whatever the particular customs, what remained constant and indisputable was the general ethical ideal.

Then, declaring victory, such evolutionary psychologists proclaim that this tendency -- to hold the general altruist-collectivist ethos as inarguable -- is baked into human nature permanently, and therefore anyone advocating Ayn Rand's ethics of peaceful self-interest should shut his or her trap already.

This has been of concern to me, due to my interest in both Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy and in the nascent (soft-science) discipline of evolutionary psychology. There are many observations and experiments within the evolutionary psychology discipline that I judge to be valid and of use in the future. I ascertain that what evolutionary psychologists say about the phenomena of "the selfish gene" and "kin selection" are largely correct, though evolutionary psychologists usually apply those ideas inappropriately when they attempt to invoke them to derogate Rand's ethical theory.

 I think that evolutionary psychologists are incorrect in their dismissal against Rand's ethics not so much because evolutionary psychologists are all wrong about the facts, but because they have misinterpreted many of the facts before them. For that reason, I shall attempt to explain how, if evolutionary psychologists took the implications of their own findings to their logical conclusion -- particularly with respect to the phenomenon of gene-culture co-evolution -- evolutionary psychologists would have to concede that the phenomena of "the selfish gene" and "kin selection" are not sufficient to preclude a family line that follows Rand's entrepreneurial ethics from successfully propagating both its genes and its interpretation of ethics over multiple generations.

Before getting into that, I must clear up a misconception that persons unsympathetic to evolutionary psychology frequently hold and disseminate. It is commonly stated, "Evolutionary psychology is one-hundred-percent biological determinism; evolutionary psychologists argue that every conscious action you chose to take, you chose to take because your genes biologically programmed you to do so, and you ultimately had no conscious choice in the matter.." That is a straw man. Only a few self-proclaimed students of evolutionary psychology, such as Satoshi Kanazawa, go that far in trying to attribute every single custom as the direct consequence of biological programming. Most scholars in the discipline of evolutionary psychology recognize that most customs are not the direct result of some inborn, innate behavior, but are instead invented and chosen and are a rather indirect method for addressing biological needs. Yet while a custom is invented and chosen -- not biologically programmed directly -- that custom can play a role in determining whether or not you successfully transmit your genes to future generations.

For example, two twenty-year-old fraternal twin brothers might behave differently with respect to how they drive. One of them frequently drives drunk and, consequently, dies before having any children. By contrast, the other brother might abstain from alcohol entirely and live long enough to have children and grandchildren. Whether or not someone drunk-drives is chosen, not directly biologically programmed, and yet this choice can influence which person transmits his or her genes and which person does not. Moreover, if you do have children and grandchildren, that gives you the opportunity to teach them the very same custom that helped you live so long and procreate so successfully.

 Therefore, if practicing a particular custom helped you have children and grandchildren, that custom helped you transmit both your genes and that very same custom to successive generations. In that respect, although customs are not directly biologically programmed into any person -- in contrast, say, to the fact that a chameleon can focus its two eyes in opposite directions simultaneously is directly biologically programmed into the chameleon -- customs still count as evolutionary adaptations. (Of course, one different is that directly biologically programmed trait is one that you can only pass to your progeny and to your progeny's progeny; a human custom is something that you can teach to someone who is not closely genetically related to you.) This phenomenon is what Edward Osborne "E. O." Wilson and Charles Lumsden call gene-culture co-evolution. Note that that is not "all genetic determinism."

Later in this essay, I will explain further how customs, though not directly biologically programmed, do count as biological adaptations, and also the reason why, if this idea is taken to its final conclusion, one should not assume that the general altruist-collectivist ethos being the norm of most human societies necessarily precludes Ayn Rand's ethics from becoming normalized in a consistently successful and sustainable human society.

The rest of this essay will follow this format.

  1. I will explain the case that evolutionary psychologists make against Ayn Rand's ethics. That is, I will go over, step-by-step, the thought process that leads them to conclude that an ethics of peaceable self-interest cannot and should not ever become the norm in a human society.
  2. I will explain why, if the strongest theories within evolutionary psychology are taken to their logical conclusion -- particularly that of gene-culture co-evolution -- acceptance of the most valid aspects of evolutionary psychology cannot preclude Rand's ethics from being a norm in a successful and sustainable human society.
  3. I shall provide an example of an academic anthropologist citing evolutionary psychology specifically in an attempt to ridicule Ayn Rand, and I shall explain how his argument fails by the standard of one who takes the evolutionary psychology theory of gene-culture co-evolution to its logical conclusion.
As you know from the blog entry directly preceding this one, both Ayn Rand and I use the word altruism as it was used by the French philosopher who first coined it -- August Comte.  That refers the specific belief that you are morally obligated to consider sacrifices on your part, for the ostensive benefit for parties other than yourself, to be the moral ideal, whereas what you do for yourself peaceably is amoral at best and evil at worst.  As my previous blog entry clarified, evolutionary psychologists are usually equivocal in their use of the word altruism, sometimes conflating it with "anything you do that can benefit anyone else," and thereby including customers and employees benefited by a businessperson's actions.  They refer to actions you take that benefit others, even as you hope for or expect some benefit to be reciprocated to you, as "reciprocal altruism."  That might be confusing because evolutionary psychologists approve of both "reciprocal altruism" (which, as I explained in the previous entry, is something Comte would not consider to be true altruism) and the demand for self-sacrifice on your part.  Evolutionary psychologists' strong support for the latter is the reason why most of them support forms of political collectivism, such as the regulatory-entitlement state.

Although evolutionary psychologists often grudgingly concede that that voluntary trade on a small scale is benign and mutually beneficial, because they still mostly favor the heavy-handed, government-inflicted version of altruism that Come peddled, I should clarify that when I say that evolutionary psychologists approve of how cavemen followed an altruistic ethos, by altruistic ethos I mean the expectation that people sacrifice their own interests for the ostensible gain of the social collective.


PART ONE OF THREE: THE EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGISTS' CASE AGAINST INDIVIDUALISM


The Organism Isn't Selfish, But Its Genes Are?
The evolutionary psychologists are correct in their implicit rejection of a particular claim by philosopher David Hume. I mean Hume's claim that you cannot properly derive good ethical rules from the facts. You can read my examination of Hume's supposed Facts-Versus-Ethics Divide over here. Unfortunately, the evolutionary psychologists derive entirely invalid ethical rules from the facts. They misinterpret the facts. Implicit in much of their writings on the evolutionary basis for humans developing such an idea as ethics -- such as in Michael Shermer's book The Science of Good and Evil -- is that the fact organisms can and usually do reproduce evinces that they have some kind of implicit duty to ensure that members of their community are able to reproduce themselves.

This implicit conclusion is influenced by the idea that the main unit whereby evolution takes place is not the individual organism. When one believes that the individual organism is not the true main unit in evolution, it is not a far leap to conclude that the individual organism's own well-being cannot and should not be the main focus of ethics.

Evolutionary psychology revolves around Richard Dawkins's theory of "the selfish gene." Contrary to what the name of this theory might imply, Dawkins is not saying that some gene programs an organism to be selfish. Nay. Dawkins's theory is that no organism is truly selfish. However, to employ a highly anthropomorphic metaphor, the gene itself is "selfish." The gene "cares" about the well-being of its host organism no more than the extent to which the organism's well-being maximizes the gene's chances for replicating itself beyond the next two generations of spawn. Once the gene's long-term genetic legacy is secured, the gene "considers" the host organism to be expendable. According to this metaphor, the gene is not "selfish" in the way that Ayn Rand uses the term -- peaceably pursuing one's long-term well-being at no one else's expense. Rather, the gene is "selfish" according to how that word has conventionally been employed -- the gene will cruelly abandon the organism for the gene's own ostensive gain.

To use a familiar example, if a male praying mantis was "programmed" by his genes to be consistently self-interested and look out for his own survival always, he would refrain from mating. Naturally, this would prevent the male mantis from endowing any future generations with his "pro-self-preservation genes." With each successive generation, "selfish" male mantises continually dwindle in number until they are no longer found. By contrast, what of a male mantis programmed by his genes to prioritize mating above his own survival? The unselfish male will mate and die. The genes that programmed that self-sacrificial mantis to prioritize procreation over his own selfish survival are genes that will be inside that mantis's sons as well. Thus, every male descendant of the original male will continue the family tradition of self-sacrifice. To employ Dawkins's metaphor, the "selfish gene" selfishly sacrifices the host organism for its own sake.

Some zoologists point out that the mantis might not be the best example of this phenomenon because, when mantids are observed in the wild, there are occasions where the male mantis will be able to escape from being devoured by the female. The zoologist Carin Bondar provides an example that might be more apt -- that of the Iberian tarantula. In this species, females are far larger and more aggressive than the males. A female will try to eat any male that approaches her for mating. If a male spider of this species were programmed by his genes to be selfish and place his own survival above all else, he would avoid the female altogether. He would not mate, and the very same genes that programmed him to be selfish will not be transmitted to the next generation. By contrast, if a male's genes program him to prioritize procreation above his own survival, he will risk his life and attempt to mate with the female. In the cases where the male is able to inseminate the female's eggs prior to being devoured, whatever genes that programmed the male to be "unselfish" in this manner will also show up in that male's sons. And the process shall continue.

Note that in the case of many mammals, transmitting your genes to future generations requires more than simply begetting offspring. When a baby sea turtle hatches from its egg, it is left to fend for itself. Baby mammals, though, are seldom able to survive if they are left alone completely by their parents upon birth. This is because, as mammals evolved, they were born with larger and larger brains, which, in turn, meant the babies kept being born with larger heads. It got to the point where the fetus's head was so large, it could not fit though the birth canal. In many cases, it reached the point where, during childbirth, because the fetus's head could not fit through the birth canal, both the mother and fetus died. Yet, amidst this tragedy, a mutation occurred. Some mothers had a mutation that allowed them to give birth to their babies prematurely; the baby would leave the womb as a still-defenseless fetus. These mammal babies could not fend for themselves.

 Fortunately, another mutation took effect. Some mammals were born with what are called "baby responders" -- when they observe an offspring with a disproportionately large head and large eyes -- indications of immaturity -- the mammal, now grown up, feels emotionally tempted to protect that baby from harm and to feed it until it becomes mature enough to survive on its own. If a female mammal was born without the gene that motivated her to care for her babies, she would leave her babies unattended, and they would die prior to reaching sexual maturity -- thus ensuring that mammals that were genetically programmed not to raise their babies would go extinct. By contrast, mammals born with the genes that motivated them, as parents, to take care of their young and raise their young into adulthood, were the ones who were able to ensure that their own offspring would have offspring as well. And that is how, from one generation to the next, the genes that motivated parents to care for their children were passed on.

Note that human beings raising their own children to adulthood does not conflict with Ayn Rand's ethics of rational self-interest. Parents who are particularly nurturing and adept at raising their children to become strong adults are competent int this area precisely because they enjoy it -- they are doing exactly what they want to do, serving their own values for the long run.

At this point, someone who doubts the evolutionary psychologists' case -- such as the anti-evolution writer Dinesh D'Souza -- will say, Okay, we know the evolutionary reason why you would want to care for your own children. But what would be the evolutionary basis of your wanting to extend compassion to a stranger who is not a close genetic relative of yours?

The most astute evolutionary psychologists have a twofold answer to that. (1) Kin selection, and (2) our genetically-programmed emotional predispositions were shaped in the Stone Age and, back then, both "family" and "community" were the same; as far as our ability to transmit our genes and customs was concerned, there was no need to make a major distinction between "family members" and "members of our community," and therefore the bias in favor of helping one's family members was largely the same, emotionally, as the bias in favor of helping members of one's own community in general.



Human Kin Selection and Its Relationship With the General Altruist-Collectivist Ethos
For Stone-Age human beings, natural selection did not mostly consist of one individual competing against all other individuals to propagate his genes to future generations. Rather, natural selection mostly consisted of one family unit competing against all other family units to propagate its own set of genes to future generations. This is what William Donald "W. D." Hamilton called kin selection.

The vast majority of members of a forager clan in the Stone Age were genetically related. A person lived among his or her aunts and uncles and cousins. For hunter-gatherers, "family" and "community" were not very discrete.  Therefore, to assist one's community in such a way that at least some of its members can procreate and raise their children into adulthood, is necessarily to assist someone's family.

Consider an example from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species: an ant colony or a beehive. Worker bees and worker ants do not reproduce; from the beginning of their lives, they are sterile. It does not follow from this, though, that they do nothing to contribute any genes to future generations. It is the queen of the colony that lays eggs and therefore transmits the colony's genes to subsequent generations. The queen also lays eggs, out of which hatch the sterile workers. A worker's genome is not exactly the same as that of the queen -- if their genomes were exactly the same, they would be clones. Rather, the worker is a genetic relative of the queen and, therefore, although the worker is not genetically identical to the queen, the worker does share many of the same genes with the queen. The worker is programmed, by her own genes, to engage in behaviors that contribute to sustaining the queen's life so that the queen can eventually lay eggs that will hatch another queen. Insofar as the worker contributes to sustaining the queen's life, and also enables the queen to spawn the next generation's queen, the worker indirectly contributes to transmitting her own family's genes to the next generation. As Darwin phrases it,

...selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and thus may gain the desired end. ...the slight modifications of structure or of instinct, correlated with the sterile condition of certain members of the community ["community" and "family" are the same unit], have proved advantageous: consequently the fertile males and fertile females have flourished, and transmitted to their fertile offspring a tendency to produce sterile members with the same modifications...which we have seen in many social insects.
William Donald Hamilton argues that a similar principle was at work in Stone Age humans. Imagine I am a Stone Age human in a hunter-gatherer clan. Also imagine I am sterile. I, as an individual, would be unable to transmit my genes directly to future generations. But suppose I help raise my nieces and nephews to adulthood, and then my nieces and nephews have children of their own. Those nieces and nephews, being genetically related to me, share genes with me. Therefore, insofar as I assist in the effort to help other members of my family have children, and insofar as I enable those children to have their own children, I contribute to propagating my family's germline beyond my own generation.

Because most members of a human forager clan were genetically related to each other, that created the risk of the community becoming too incestuous. If the community was too incestuous, that made the community more vulnerable to being wiped out by disease. Naturally, if everyone is genetically similar, then it follows that if one person can be killed by a pathogen, probably everyone else in the community will be killed by that same pathogen. Conversely, if there is a lot of genetic diversity, then it happens that if one person dies of a pathogen, there may still be other people in the community who remain immune to the pathogen. Those immune people are the ones who survive, procreate, and rear their own children into adulthood.

Although reducing the risk of incest was not their conscious reason for adopting such customs, the clans that were able to persist throughout the ages were those that adopted customs that indeed reduced the rate of incest. One custom that mitigated against incest was that of inter-clan wife swapping. Different clans would form alliances and then trade. They did not only barter goods; a high-ranking member of a clan would also exchange wives and other sexual partners with high-ranking members of other clans. Clans that engaged in this exchange were better-protected against pathogens, and therefore propagated both their genes and their customs to subsequent generations. Clans that refrained from this practice left themselves more vulnerable to pathogens, and therefore probably died out.

The conscious reason why clans formed such alliances and exchanges was that they were at war against other clans. If Clan A formed an alliance with Clan B and traded with it, it was probably not primarily on account of Clan A having an immediate appreciation for Clan B. Rather, it was that Clan A had a longstanding rivalry against Clan C that had gone back for centuries. Clan A hated Clan C more than it hated Clan B, and therefore sought favor with Clan B so that both Clans A and B could gang up on Clan C.

The reason for the constant warfare was that, insofar as you define "sustainability" as "a society's ability to survive and flourish without having to make war against other societies to obtain one's wealth," the hunter-gatherer economic model was not sustainable. Hunter-gatherers, being pre-agricultural, really did face constant Malthusian crises in which an increase in population size meant there was a smaller share of wealth-per-person. Hunter-gatherer clans hunted fauna to extinction and also depleted much of the vegetation. Consequently, once some piece of land was used up, a hunter-gatherer clan had to move on to some other plot of land. It became inevitable that hunter-gatherers would fight over territory.

Societies in warmer, much-more-stable regions, found that they could mitigate the Malthusian crises somewhat if they changed their basic economic model -- if their primary source of food was farming rather than hunting-and-gathering. When particular societies ended up having farming as their main source of food, they indeed faced many harsh consequences that hunter-gatherers did not immediately have to face. Smallpox spreads much more easily among sedentary agrarian communities with large populations than it does among nomadic hunter-gatherer clans. Those who talk as if the switch from a hunter-gatherer model to an agrarian model produced a net loss for societies such as the Sumerians, though, overlook something important: the agrarian model was, on a net balance, much more sustainable than the hunter-gatherer model. Had the Sumerians refrained from making the switch to sedentarism and long-term agriculture, they would have gone extinct much earlier.

Of course, human customs, in their most complex form, are not inborn -- they are not programmed by genes. Rather, if you practice a custom, it is the case that either you invented it yourself or you learned it from other people who culturally conditioned you into practicing the custom. But note that, as I said above, whether you do or do not practice some custom can actually affect your likelihood of (a) having children and (b) being able to raise those children into adults. Therefore, invented human customs actually play a role in determining who propagates genes to subsequent generations, and who does not. Therefore, as I mentioned above, E. O. Wilson and Charles Lumsden consider invented human customs to be evolutionary adaptations. That is, a human behavior does not have to be biologically inborn to count as an evolutionary adaptation. Anything you do that affects your ability to propagate your genes to subsequent generations -- this includes your own choice to practice specific customs -- counts as an evolutionary adaptation.

To wit, nurture and nature affect one another in a positive feedback loop. Whether a hunter-gatherer clan practiced particular customs (such as the inter-clan spouse-swapping) played a role in determining which genes got transmitted across generations. Moreover, the generation that came into existence on account of some custom being practiced, would learn that custom from the previous generation and then inculcate that same custom into the next generation. That is gene-culture co-evolution.

As we know, evolutionary psychologists argue that the notion that, morally, the individual must subordinate oneself to the community, was propagated throughout the Stone Age through gene-culture co-evolution. Evolutionary psychologists usually say that this general altruist-collectivist ethos was propagated both through inborn genetics and through cultural conditioning. Here are the two ways.

  1. Some people had combinations of genes that made them emotionally predisposed toward prioritizing their own community above their own individual lives. (The evolutionary psychologists' explanation as to why this would not drive a whole clan to extinction, I will soon explain.)
  2. Even if someone did not possess an emotional predisposition toward valuing the community above the self, the community's customs probably would have inculcated the general altruist-collectivist ethos to each person. The evolutionary psychologist says that when a hunter-gatherer acted in accordance with such a custom, he would be indirectly assisting other clan members in raising their own children to adulthood. In the process of raising those children, something besides genes would be inherited by those children -- those children would also be taught the same general altruist-collectivist ethos that allegedly brought them into existence. Hence, the custom would propagate across generations.

Recall the prevalence of inter-clan warfare among hunter-gatherers.  As Lawrence Keeley explains in War Before Civilization, most adult men were mobilized for warfare. Suppose that there is a recessive set of genes that motivate someone to prioritize his community above his own life. It may be the case that a minority of such men, as a consequence of having this inborn emotional predisposition, find themselves willing to die in warfare. If this occurs in Clan A, then many adult men in Clan A might contribute to Clan A defeating Clan C in battle. That so many people in Clan A are self-sacrificing, will not completely destroy Clan A if, after Clan A proves victorious in war, Clan A still has a large enough number of members surviving to have their own children. And recall that the surviving members among Clan A will probably be carriers for whatever recessive genes that may exist to motivate "dying self-sacrificially in warfare on behalf of the clan." Moreover, the surviving members of Clan A will likewise try to hammer the altruist-collectivist ethic into their own children. Thus, although these hunter-gatherers are not really conscious of the process, they transmit the general altruist-collectivist ethos through two routes: (1) insofar as there are genes that tempt people to be altruist-collectivist, they carry those genes, and (2) they try, often successfully, to brainwash their children to accept the general altruist-collectivist ethos.

Now let us return to the topic of agrarians forming large cities and reducing the death rate, thereby forming large populations. These agrarians were the first people who began to make a cognitive distinction between "family" and "community." However, they had still inherited genes from their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Recall that those hunter-gatherers made no emotional distinction between "family" and "community," and therefore, regardless of whether those hunter-gatherers consciously realized it, anything they did to help their community would, in turn, help their family propagate its germline. Also remember that the phase in human history where everyone was a hunter-gatherer was much longer, by hundreds of thousands of years, than was the rest of our history -- longer than the period, which starts from where humans developed agriculture and lived in cities, to where are at this point in time.

 Evolutionary psychologists say that hunter-gatherers therefore inherited, genetically, an emotional predisposition to benefit other people in their community, within their immediate vicinity. Even though the agrarians now made a cognitive distinction between "family" and "community," they did not always make an emotional distinction, as they inherited their ancestors' desire to benefit the people close to them. Thus, even though an agrarian assisting people in his community would no longer necessarily benefit his family directly, the genes he inherited from his ancestors still emotionally motivated him to desire to benefit community members near to him. The more astute evolutionary psychologists say that this is the reason why, as a consequence of natural selection, you may feel emotionally satisfied in improving the well-being of someone else, even if you do not think of that person as a genetic relative of yours.

That is also why people are capable of developing a strong love for children whom they adopt, despite the children not being strongly related to the adoptive parents.   The mortality rate even among adults was high in Stone Age clans. If you, as an adult, lived in a Stone Age clan, and you adopted an orphan from then clan, you would likely be helping to raise someone who shared your genes.  However, in this time and place, there would not be a distinction between raising a child genetically related to you versus raising a child from your own community. Now imagine that, after centuries, human beings lived in agrarian cities where, on a cognitive level, people do make a distinction between "family members"and "members of the community."  Despite that cognitive distinction being made, you would still have inherited the emotional predispositions of your hunter-gatherer ancestor.  On account of your inheriting the emotional predispositions of hunter-gatherers for whom family and community were the same, it happens that if you adopt a child from the community, then, over time, you can easily find, on a visceral, emotional level, you care about that adopted child the same as you would a biological son or daughter.

Recall that our current ways of life -- republicanism, individual rights, etc. -- are relatively new. These ideas emerged in the past three thousand years. By contrast, the hunter-gatherer model of society has existed for over hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, the general altruist-collectivist ethos has had a lot more time to establish itself in human society than has, say, the more individualistic ethic of someone such as Ayn Rand.

The general altruist-collectivist interpretation of ethics, then, should be considered a Route of Procreation (ROP) in the natural selection and kin selection of Stone-Age humans.  By Route of Procreation (ROP), I mean a particular set of behaviors an organism or kin-selected community undertakes to transmit its genes and customs to future generations.  That entire model of social organization -- having a society ruled by altruist-collectivist ethical standards-- counts as a Route of Procreation.

The term I previously used for "routes of procreation" was alternative reproductive strategies, but that expression misleadingly implied that the behaviors an organism undertook to procreate was some sort of conscious plan on the organism's part.  No, a Route of Procreation is simply a norm that has developed that has assisted Stone-Age populations in propagating both their genes and their invented customs across many generations; most of these behaviors -- even among Stone-Age humans -- arose quite randomly and were accepted for arbitrary reasons.  (For example, an ancient clan might have benefited from discouraging incest, but this discouragement would not have arisen from a scientific understanding of genes; likely a clan's leaders would develop some arbitrary rationalization about how incest should be avoided because the forest spirits said so.)   Any norm among humans that helps those humans propagate their genes and customs -- regardless of how good or how horrible those norms are for any individual -- can be considered a Route of Procreation in this context.

Everything I have explained so far, is the theory argued by evolutionary psychologists. Also, I largely agree with most of what I have explained so far, with respect to the evolutionary psychologists' theories. Now I will explain where I part ways with the evolutionary psychologists.

The evolutionary psychologists conclude that because the altruist-collectivst model of society has dominated human kin selection for millennia, it follows that it is the only natural, only correct model of ethics and social organization.

I reject that conclusion for these reasons.

  1. It is possible for hominins (every species under the genus Homo, such as Homo erectus and our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is "hominin") to develop alternative Routes of Procreation (ROP). That is, although a society of human beings will normally go about a particular Route of Procreation when it comes to how they try to ensure the long-term transmission of their genes and customs, there is more than one route whereby one can go about this.
  2. Sometimes, under the pertinent circumstances, what was once the less-conventional Route of Procreation may eventually prove more advantageous than what was once the more common and conventional Route of Procreation.
  3. Having an ethical code of individualism and egoism -- wherein someone aims primarily to pursue one's happiness, one's eudaimonia) peaceably, hurting no one else -- can count as an alternative Route of Procreation. Moreover, having a society based on this ethical code -- a laissez-faire (classical) liberal commercial republic (such as the Night Watchman State championed by Ayn Rand) -- would also be part of this alternative Route of Procreation. This pro-individualism, pro-peaceful-egoism ethical code is what I shall henceforth alternately call the individualist ethic, the egoist ethic, and the eudaimonic ethic.
  4. Both the general altruist-collectivist ethos and the egoist ethic are natural to human beings; neither is less inherently natural than the other. And the logical consequences of following either ethical code are also natural -- the consequence of the principles of Nature. But when you compare the results for societies living according to the general altruist-collectivist ethos versus the results for societies that come closer to living according to the egoist ethic, you find that the egoist ethic produces natural consequences that are much more rewarding than that of the general altruist-collectivist ethos.

First I will give an example of how two different, competing Routes of Procreation may be employed in the same hominin species. Then I will go over how ethical egoism, being the alternative Route of Procreation, is the route that yields better results for you (even if you, personally, never have children).  In the third and final section, I will provide a case study of someone, anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson, citing evolutionary psychology in attempt to disparage Rand's ethical theory; I shall take Johnson's critique apart using several arguments that evolutionary psychologists have themselves plausibly presented in other venues.



PART TWO OF THREE: THE ETHICAL EGOIST'S CASE -- RECONCILING PEACEABLE SELF-INTEREST WITH EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

Monogamy Becoming a Dominant Route of Procreation Among Our Ancestors
In the next two discussions, I shall talk about hominins I identify only as Males A, B, C, and D, and Females A, B, C, and D.  I shall talk of them being "genetically programmed" to perform particular actions.  Here I am not saying that modern Homo sapiens are programmed by their genes to perform in ways similar to the characters in the following scenarios; the characters in the following scenarios are apelike ancestors to modern Homo sapiens and therefore are not as strongly volitional as modern Homo sapiens.  Technically, our apelike ancestors were more volitional than most organisms that came before them.  Thus, it might make more sense, say, for me to say that Male D is not genetically programmed to choose monogamy but, rather, his genes program him, on an emotional level, to be a bit more biased toward monogamy than promiscuity.  But, for the sake of trying to simplify my phrasing in an already-complex subject, I will say he is "programmed."  Again, the "Males" and "Females" in the next few scenarios are not modern humans with as developed a level of volition that modern humans possess.  The point of this exercise is just to explain how different members of the same species might behave in vastly different ways and, in both cases, the behavior might help that organism transmit its genes to successive generations.

I do think that, based on one's genetic programming, a modern human being can be "programmed" to be tempted or inclined to experience a particular emotional reaction to particular stimuli.  For example, I think a man can be "programmed," by his genes, to be vulnerable to experiencing sexual jealousy when another man flirts with his wife.  But that should not be taken as negligence, on my part, to recognize free will in human beings. Just because someone might, by default, experience a particular emotional reaction, it does not follow that he is programmed to act on that emotion.  If a man experiences sexual jealousy, he need not let that control him; he can remind himself that he trusts his wife's loyalty and judgment, and he can refrain from expressing hostility when his wife seems to be flirtatious with another man.

On the topics of sex and mating, here is the generally accepted theory for how monogamy developed among hominins -- among our apelike ancestors. Earlier I spoke of how hominins went through kin selection, in which successfully propagating your genes had more to do with propagating your family's genes, as opposed to just your own genes. According to that understanding, even if you had no children, you could be considered successful in propagating your genes if you contributed to other people in your clan being able to raise their children to adulthood. That principle still applies, but I should mention that alternative Routes of Procreation can occur on multiple levels. That form of kin selection which I described may have been the main Route of Procreation in the wider context, on the macro level. On a more specific level, though, natural selection still might have, to some extent, encouraged the individual male to compete against other individual males (even those in his own clan) in propagating his own genes. And also remember that, at this time, pre-agricultural hominins faced genuine resource-depletion crises. There were not enough resources for everyone; this seemed to be a zero-sum game. Therefore, it became a Route of Procreation for some hominin males to kill the babies of other males. If Male A killed the babies of Male B, then the fact that Male B’s babies are dead means that Male B’s babies are no longer able to consume resources that otherwise might have gone to feed Male A’s babies. It might seem that it is in the interest of Male A to kill babies that are not his own. Eventually, though, male hominins developed tendencies to protect their own babies from being murdered by Male A.

Now consider Male C and Male D, both of whom have babies vulnerable to being murdered by Male A. Following the whims that his genome programmed him to possess, Male C is not monogamous; he is a lothario. Once he impregnates a female, he moves on to another female for sex, and leaves all of his babies unattended. By impregnating as many females as possible, Male C seems to be maximizing his chances of transmitting his pro-promiscuity genes to future generations. But this route of procreation has a weakness -- Male C leaves his babies vulnerable to being murdered by Male A. As Male C leaves his babies unguarded, Male A is able to come along and kill all of Male C’s babies; the mothers of these babies are not strong enough to fight off Male A. Thus, none of Male C’s babies survive long enough to reach sexual maturity. No one is left to propagate, to a third generation, the genes that emotionally predisposed Male C to be promiscuous in the first place.

By contrast, suppose Male D is born with genes that emotionally predispose him toward desiring to be monogamous. He impregnates one female and stays with her, helping her guard their babies. As Male D always guards his babies, he is able to fend off Male A when Male A attacks. Therefore, Male D’s babies survive long enough to become adults and have their own babies. And each descendant of Male D -- both male and female descendants -- possesses the genes that make them, too, emotionally inclined to desire monogamy. Over generations, monogamy becomes the norm.  That is, monogamy becomes dominant as far as Routes of Procreation go.

Yet, that monogamy becomes the norm does not require that monogamy become the sole route of procreation. Contemplate this theory of how, even if the norm is for females to desire monogamous relationships, they might also develop an alternative route of procreation -- adultery.


The Temptation to Infidelity as a Possible Alternative Route of Procreation
The common theory is that female hominins generally prefer monogamy because of the “investment” they have to put into having babies. They have to carry around this fetus in their wombs for many months, leaving themselves vulnerable. Suppose there are two females -- Female A and Female B. Female A is programmed by her genes to feel indifferent if a male impregnates her and abandons her. Indeed, a male does impregnate and abandon her, and she does not try to stop him from leaving; she does not care. As a result, during the final stages of her pregnancy, she is weak and vulnerable. No one helps her find food, and she does not care. She dies before giving birth. Thus she is unable to propagate, to future generations, the genes that programmed her to feel indifferent about being abandoned by the males who impregnate her. By contrast, Female B is programmed by her genes to desire long-term commitment from any male that impregnates her. Suppose a male impregnates her and desires to abandon her, but Female B, following the emotional inclinations her genes programmed her to have, emotionally pressures the male into staying with her and helping her protect and rear their children. The male, who otherwise would have left Female B, stays. Thus, they raise their children and their children grow up and have their own children. This allows for future generations of females to be born with genes that program them to desire long-term commitment from a male.

Now here is an explanation for why, even if the dominant route of procreation for female hominins is to seek out long-term committed relationships, it need not be the sole route possible to them. There is always the risk that the female’s long-term male life partner might carry inferior genes -- genes that will make it difficult for the children to survive. Therefore, it might be advantageous for a female to engage in “reproductive hedging.” Consider two more females -- Female C and Female D. Female C is programmed by her genes to be unwaveringly monogamous. Female C finds a male that commits to her and her children.  But that faithful male transmits, to their children, genes that make those children physically weak. Thus, most of those children die. Female C’s male life partner was a winner in terms of practicing fidelity and loyalty, but he was a loser in terms of ensuring that his children would be physically strong enough to survive into adulthood.

By contrast, imagine that Female D’s genes are a bit different. That is, her genes program her to feel an emotional desire for “reproductive hedging.” What this means is that she will seek out a male life partner to commit to her, care for her when she is pregnant, and help raise her children. Simultaneously, Female D will seek out sex with a male who can provide the genes for the physically strongest children -- and this male sex partner does not necessarily have to be the same male as Female D’s male life partner. Sure, Female D’s committed male life partner -- her husband -- might be a winner in terms of being affectionate and caring and protective. However, he might be a loser in terms of providing genes that will go into the making of children that are strong enough to survive into adulthood.

Therefore, unbeknownst to her husband, Female D has sex with other males -- ones who might provide better genes. Female D has many babies from extramarital affairs and her husband, being none the wiser, raises these babies under the pretext that he is their father. He is a cuckold. It turns out that the babies that resulted from the extramarital affairs did indeed inherit genes that make them physically strong. They are physically stronger than they would have been had they been created from the sperm of Female D’s actual husband. They thus survive into adulthood and have their own babies, both males and females. The genes that motivated Female D to engage in “reproductive hedging” in the first place, then, happen to propagate themselves across generations. Thus we see that even if monogamy emerged as the dominating route of procreation in the Stone Age environment, alternative routes can emerge as well.

Above, I spoke about those differing routes to procreation as if they were instinctual among our ancestors.  From this point forward, I shall speak of contrasting routes of procreation among modern human beings that are chosen.  Remember, because human customs count as evolutionary adaptations, it is the case that when people choose a particular set of customs -- even a whole social system, such as capitalism or communism -- that set of customs counts as a route of procreation.

Thus, it is my theory that in the Stone Age, as clans and tribes formed, the dominant route of procreation under kin selection happened to be the general altruist-collectivist ethos -- collectivism reinforced both by genetically-programmed emotional dispositions and by conscious cultural conditioning. Phrased differently: considering that most people in a hunter-gatherer clan are genetically related, the altruist-collectivist model of hunter-gatherer society should, as a whole, be considered a route of procreation for hunter-gatherer family units under kin selection. Moreover, among pre-agricultural peoples, the altruist-collectivist model of the family-unit/community is the most frequently-taken route of procreation.

And the second part of my theory is that the individualist ethos -- the peaceful egoist ethos -- first developed as an alternative route of procreation. Some individualists emerged in Stone-Age clans and sometimes these individualists did have their way enough to propagate both their genes and individualist ideas to successive generations. And then there came a “tipping point” in history where, in some Western societies, the individualist ethos came, to some degree, to eclipse the general altruist-collectivist ethos.


The Emergence of Reason As the Emergence of the Individual
Although early hominins had collectivist tendencies, they evolved, increasingly, to make use of their rational faculty. And the rational faculty holds properties that are inherently individualistic. Thus, the more that hominins exercised their rational faculty, the more that psychological individualism -- as, a later consequence to that, the egoist ethic -- emerged as an alternative route of procreation.

Here, some people might say that the dominant theory as to how human beings evolved this rational faculty was through cooperation during hunting, and they view this as inherently collectivist.  Still, that does not hold.  First, trade and reciprocity are forms of cooperation.  You might perform a service for me and negotiate how I am to reciprocate later.  Trade an reciprocity are exercises in cooperation that are actually individualistic.  Moreover, an alternative theory is that adopting a fruit diet altered human physiology and ultimately had more to do with building up the rational faculty than the cooperative hunting did.  You can read an article about that here and the academic journal paper on it here.

A person is fundamentally alone, always, inasmuch as one’s own thoughts retain their privacy; other people are unable to read your mind telepathically. People can exchange rational ideas by means of volunteering to communicate these ideas. Nonetheless, the actual ratiocination process -- whereby one takes in sensory data, induces therefrom, and logically deduces from the inductions -- must be done independently by each individual person in the privacy of his mind.

The expression independent thinking is therefore, on a literal level, redundant. Even when someone passively conforms to agreeing with some authority, the decision to do so is, by default at least, made in the privacy of the conformist’s own mind. On a literal level, he made the decision on his own, but the decision is still shameful on account of it being a rather passive, careless approach that will likely have poor consequences in terms of the conformist’s level of eudaemonia throughout life.

The rational faculty then developed, also as a consequence of natural selection, that helped human beings make more complex, long-term decisions -- decisions that might result in negative long-term consequences for humans if made solely on an emotional basis. The rational faculty is what enabled -- and enables -- humans to formulate plans for the future, and then to imagine the possible outcomes of every decision. Encompassed in rational long-term decision-making is imagination and logic. To the degree that someone is consistent in satisfying his eudaemonia through his long-range decision-making, that person’s thinking process can be judged to have a record of strong adherence to inductive reason and logic.

As rational decision-making is an intensely personal activity that takes place in the privacy of one’s own mind, it follows that the more that early Stone-Age humans concentrated on thinking for themselves about their long-range plans, the more they grew psychologically independent from one another.

As this psychological independence grew more prominent, so too did independent inquiry and the individualistic ethos. In short, the extent to which a society’s individual members, in aggregate, exercise their reason is likewise the extent to which that society consequently becomes more individualistic. Although John Dewey was wrong to denigrate the morality of individualism and selfishness, he was correct to observe that for a girl to think a lot, in the privacy of her own mind, reinforces the girl’s tendency to psychological independence. That is, though people still interact on a frequent basis, the intensive functioning of their rational faculties leads them to pursue their own autonomous, personal goals -- goals that are often detached from, or indifferent to, any overarching “societal agenda” that the community’s chief executive may wish to impose. Contrary to nineteenth-century economic collectivists like William Godwin, the society that makes rational thought a high priority is a society that grows not more collectivistic, but more individualistic and peaceably egoistic.

And, indeed, however much ethologists like to play up the collectivist aspects of early human societies, there was always an underlying individualism still present.  As you can read here and here, there is evidence that mammals have long had a visceral, pre-conscious recognition of private property.  A cat is intensely territorial and defend its territory violently, for example.  As cats are not conceptual beings, they definitely don't have the same grasp of private property rights as do modern human beings who advocate a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State.  Still, that territorialism was already present, even in early hominins' forager clans, and that visceral territorialism could later be developed into a formalized and codified system wherein private property rights over a value that human has created can be recognized and respected.

As that psychological independence gradually developed, so too were thinking individuals increasingly willing to disagree privately (or even publicly) with the consensus of the tribal authority. Individuals gradually became more willing to act peaceably in accordance with their own interests against the arbitrary dictates of the tribe. As time went on, and as more independent thinking was encouraged, the freer humans were to disagree peaceably with each other, geographically separate themselves from one another, and become more selective over which individuals they would and would not spend their time around. Throughout history and in every society, there has always been that tension -- between traditional, tribal collectivism and the individual’s psychological independence. The reigning philosophy of the society determines the extent to which individualistic decision-making is tolerated or favored within that society. Insofar as human knowledge and liberty advance in a civilization, its members increasingly shed the old collectivist traditions and implicitly develop a more psychologically independent, individualistic mindset.

Ayn Rand agrees with my assessment. She, too, notices that archaeological evidence conveys “that man began with a collectivist society” and that every contemporary hunter-gather band “leads a tribal, communal, collectivist existence.” By contrast, the “whole progress of mankind,” as it went from a foraging subsistence economy to an industrialized market-run one “has been away from the collective toward individualism. Toward the independent man.” Yes, in our day and age, we are much more psychologically independent of each other than were most Stone-Age peoples.


How Some Cultures Slowly Began to Tolerate Psychological Individualism -- And, to a Limited Degree, Ethical Egoism
Cultural acceptance of individualism slowly began to emerge in that of ancient Greece. Although they did not hold a true appreciation for political individualism, the Greeks did gradually come to accept an important idea that serves as the necessary precursor to political individualism -- recognition of psychological individualism. University of Hamburg philologist Bruno Snell (1896–1986) observes innovations made by early Greek lyrical poets such as Sappho, Alcaeus, and Anacreon. Prior to these three, poetic recitations always involved matters deemed collectively important to the society as a whole, regardless of what the poet him- or herself thought. Before the Greeks, Anthony Storr, writes “the function of the artist, whether the painter, sculptor, musician, or story-teller, was to serve the community by giving expression to traditional wisdom...” The artist’s “skills were valued, but his individuality was not.” That changed, Bruno Snell observes, with the ancient Greeks. Poets such as Sappho pioneered in using the medium of lyrical poetry to express their own personal feelings and opinions -- to express their own personal selves. This marked the beginning of autobiography. These poets did not explicate their individualism, but the implicit individualism of their choices reveals itself in how these poets distinguished themselves from their predecessors.

And insofar as it was more liberal than most of the other societies existing at the same time, Athens fomented the rise of formal philosophy, science, and increasingly sophisticated methods of commerce. The Greeks were the first to separate church from State, and to recognize that rather than have the military set the rules for civilians, the civilian population should instead set the policy for the military. The ancient Romans, though not as liberal as the Athenians, were liberal enough to continue the Greeks’ best customs for centuries. In the Athenians’ most laudable traditions, Marcus Tullius Cicero proved himself Rome’s greatest orator and possibly its most liberal thinker. Sadly, in an effort to co-opt the Christian movement that had often found itself in conflict with the Roman state, Emperor Constantine decreed that Christianity be Rome’s official religion. Constantine allowed for other religions to exist, but his successors, including his own sons, increasingly used government authority to favor Christianity, culminating in Emperor Theodosius outlawing any ideological rival to this religion. The suppression of free thought corresponded to the suppression of economic liberty. Shortly before Constantine’s rule, Emperor Diocletian eroded important liberties in Rome, and his successors -- Constantine, Theodosius, and the rest -- failed to restore the liberties that Diocletian had destroyed.  (Emperor Julian contemplated some liberalization in terms of freedom of thought and freedom of religion, but was ultimately unsuccessful.)  With every succeeding ruler, the level of freedom in Rome diminished until it collapsed into the theocratic Dark Ages.

Fortunately, documents of Aristotelian philosophy survived. Upon defeating the Eastern Roman Empire, Muslims discovered long-abandoned Aristotelian texts, translated them into Arabic, and disseminated them throughout the Middle East. During the Middle Ages, Middle-Eastern philosophers like Averroes, Avicenna, and Al-Razi kept Aristotelian philosophy alive. That the Middle East was more liberal than Christendom at this juncture, allowed the Middle East to pull ahead in terms of economic progress. The engineer Al-Jaafari produced numerous innovations. As philosophers in the Muslim world studied Aristotle, Christendom languished. But during the Crusades some Christian warriors discovered the Arabian Aristotelian texts and brought them back to Europe, where they would be translated into Latin. Thereafter, various Christian monks took interest in Aristotle, though they did not yet have free reign in studying him; they had to approach the matter delicately.

For a considerable duration, the Augustine-influenced church considered Aristotle’s writings heretical; in A.D. 1277, the University of Paris banned his works. Once the ban was lifted, European theologians began to make real strides. However much they bowdlerized Aristotle’s teachings in a futile attempt to reconcile them with church doctrine, the scholastics at least made some practical progress in examining and applying the ancient Athenian’s ideas. Most prominent among medieval Europe’s interpreters of Aristotle was St. Thomas Aquinas. Saint Thomas was not a fully consistent Aristotelian; his thought remained saturated with Christian rationalism. To the degree that Saint Thomas advanced Aristotle-influenced practical reason, however, he correspondingly sparked a relative increase in freedom of thought. This trend, beginning in the high Middle Ages in the 1200s, flowered into the Renaissance, the seventeenth century’s Scientific Revolution, and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The growing, implicitly Aristotelian, explicitly pro-epagoge trend encouraged ambitious individuals like John Locke to try their hand at worldly theorizing. In this pursuit of reason, Locke’s secular disciples succeeded in their quest to inform the West of its need to create a more liberalized social milieu. With the eventual gains in freedom of thought and expression, commercial freedom went ahead in baby steps. Though it would remain illegal, for a few more centuries, for upstart entrepreneurs to open businesses in competition against cartels known as guilds, commerce and the finance industry won more freedom than they had during the early Middle Ages. The Enlightenment philosophy of Lockeanism, in turn, built a more congenial biological habitat for human beings. More and more peaceful business competition was legalized. More and more restrictions on money-lending and usury were lifted, albeit grudgingly. It was this liberalization that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. Although people still verbally denounced commerce, they became more tolerant of it in practice. And, by implication, they became more tolerant of practical exercises in ethical egoism, even as they refused to admit this explicitly. Consequently, profit-motivated industrialization in the more-liberal republics of the First World improved living standards, cut the infant mortality rate, and raised the average life span from 47 years to 77 years by the year 1988 A.D.

Recall that, according to the standards of kin selection, your society experiencing a reduction in its child mortality rate should be considered an evolutionary success for your society -- and thus, a success for the route of procreation and model of societal organization that helped bring it about (the individualistic, peaceably egoistic model of the constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State).  Recall that all this applies even if you and your siblings, personally, never have children of your own.

Although there were many starts and stops in the process -- and ups and downs -- the overall trend in the more-liberal republics of the First World has been that of a positive feedback mechanism between (a) growing acceptance of the individualist ethos and (b) growing political liberalization. Despite the many periods in between where there were temporary losses of freedom, the West has seen a net gain in liberty between 1600 and the date of this writing. And with both growing acceptance of individualism, and net gains in liberalization, comes improvements in living standards.

I cannot argue that natural law morally obligates anyone to procreate. As Ayn Rand says, "The capacity to procreate is merely a potential which man is not obligated to actualize. The choice to have children or not is morally optional." But I can tell you this much: if you want to live a comfortable existence and have healthy children and grandchildren with whom you can share your experiences, you will have much greater opportunities to accomplish such goals under free enterprise than under any of the alternatives. Again, compare the infant mortality rates under the different political systems. It is not by a mere random coincidence that Adam Smith stated that productive entrepreneurs contribute to “the multiplication of” the human “species.”

Conducting oneself in accordance to laissez-faire liberalism is the form of morality that best serves an individual’s rational self-interest, but there is even more to it than that. It may be true that collectivism was encouraged more than individualism in the tribes of early primates. Still yet, as natural selection encouraged the propagation of human beings who made the most logic long-term plans for future tribal survival, so too was the rational faculty pushed to the forefront as the humans’ most significant evolutionary adaptation. As rational decision-making became the dominant survival characteristic of humans, the individualist element, by necessity, grew more prominent as well. Rationality, individualism, and peaceable egoism are fundamental corollaries.

Therefore, the individualist ethos has proven itself a viable alternative Route of Procreation in contrast to the old general altruist-collectivist ethos of the Stone Age. Moreover, the individualist ethos has been better for man.




PART THREE OF THREE:  THE TWO RIVAL THEORIES GO HEAD-TO-HEAD

How the Evolutionary Psychologists' Obsession With Hunter-Gatherers Is a "Frozen Abstraction"
As they have committed themselves to arguing that the ethical theories of altruism and collectivism have logically resulted from kin selection, various evolutionary psychologists purport that any code of ethics based on peaceable self-interest happens to countervail against human nature itself. Among the evolutionary psychologists who explicitly disparage Rand and Objectivism is anthropologist-cum-historian Eric Michael Johnson, who writes for the Scientific American magazine website and for Slate magazine. In a Slate piece from 2012, Johnson relates a tale that he purports to reveal immutable human nature as it truly is. The tale is a first-hand account of anthropologist Colin Turnbull, who lived among the Mbuti pygmies and recorded their normal daily interactions. The Mbuti pygmies routinely go on hunts for civets -- small, catlike mammals -- to eat. The hunt is considered a team effort. The hunters net as many live civets as they can, and the catch, up to this point, is considered the collective property of the clan. By the end of the hunt, the clan patriarch distributes the catch among the various clan members.

Eric Michael Johnson would have us believe that the tribal leader distributes the meat among everyone in an equitable manner. But a common practice among hunting hominin groups is for the group’s leader to dispense a disproportionately large share of the meat among clan members who curry his favor -- males who grovel to him and females who provide sexual favors -- and simultaneously deny such large shares to those who annoy him. In any case, in Turnbull’s story, one nonconformist male hunter named Cephu decided he would not be a team player. His plan was to set up his own net right in front of nets that his fellow clan members had already set up -- so that his net, and not theirs, would bag the catch -- and then he would skulk off to enjoy his entire catch all by himself. Other hunters witnessed Cephu sneakily setting up his own net and catching the civets, and they caught him before he could slip away unnoticed. Horrified by this nonconformity, the clan brought him before their equivalent of a tribunal -- they had a public meeting in which Cephu faced his accusers and then found himself subjected to public harangues by everyone in the clan who resented him.

At first Cephu stood up for himself with bravado, asserting that because he was one of the oldest and most experienced hunters, whose skills had conferred many a benefit upon the rest of the clan in the past, he had earned the right to be the sole beneficiary of his own actions -- actions that had not deprived any fellow clan member of what they already had. Unimpressed by this rebuttal, the clan leaders threatened Cephu with banishment. Finally recognizing the seriousness of his situation, Cephu became conciliatory and handed over the meat. When someone is banished by his hunter-gatherer clan, this is not merely a peaceable parting of ways. Should the outcast attempt to reestablish contact with specific individuals remaining in the clan, and should those specific individuals secretly attempt intermittent contact with the outcast, violent retribution can be meted out against the outcast and these other rebellious individuals.

Johnson gloats, "He clutched his stomach and moaned, begging that he be left with something to eat. The others merely laughed and walked away with their pound of flesh.” To Eric Michael Johnson, this is justice and a happy ending -- the forces of righteous collectivism triumphing over a selfish, pro-privatization individual too stuck-up to acknowledge his moral duty to share. As far as Eric Michael Johnson is concerned, the public humiliation that Cephu suffered should be duly meted out against anyone who fails to prioritize the social collective above the individual’s peaceable self-interest. Johnson sarcastically drubs Cephu as a “rugged individualist” whom Atlas Shrugged’s author “might have felt a bond with.”

The implication is that if you agree with Ayn Rand and laissez-faire individualism, it follows that you are a cheat who would set up your own civet trap in attempt to sabotage, deliberately, the hard work of others, and then hog all of the loot that you had already implicitly agreed to share with everyone else. In fact, Johnson asserts to us, the general altruist-collectivist interpretation of ethics is the true human nature. According to Johnson, altruist-collectivist ethics was human nature in the Stone Age, and it follows from this modern human beings are biologically programmed to regard the general altruist-collectivist ethos as the desirable norm. Johnson cites the work of anthropologist Christopher Boehm, who has, for four decades of his life, studied contemporary forager societies that he calls LPA -- late Pleistocene appropriate. The idea is that the forager societies still existing today live in a manner that is similar to that of our own hunter-gatherer ancestors from the Pleistocene -- at least similar enough to conclude that if some custom is the norm among the presently-existing LPA societies, it follows that the custom was also the norm among our own Stone Age ancestors.

Johnson states triumphantly that “in 100 percent” of the 150 LPA societies Boehm studied -- “ranging from the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean archipelago to the Inuit of Northern Alaska -- generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values. Of course, this does not mean that everyone in these societies always follow these values. In 100 percent of LPA societies there was at least one incidence of theft or murder, 80 percent had a case in which someone refused to share, and in 30 percent of societies someone tried to cheat the group (as in the case of Cephu).”

Notice that equivocations. When Rand says that a peaceable entrepreneur should be able to keep the money that his customers voluntarily provided him, in exchange for his services, rather than have the State confiscate this money, this is an attempt to “cheat the group” à la Cephu.  As Peter Foster recognizes in Canada's Financial Post, Johnson equivocates "between a thief and a entrepreneur."  Also note that Johnson insinuates that homicide is the logical consequence of someone asserting that some item is his exclusive property, as opposed to being the loot of the entire group. Here, it is not even clarified whether it was the individualist who killed the collectivists trying to nab his goodies, or the collectivists who killed the individualist as punishment for his insubordination.  None of these conflations on Eric Michael Johnson's part are honest mistakes; they are equivocations that make it more convenient for him in pushing a particular political message, one that opts to scapegoat "the laissez faire capitalist" for creating a "growing class of urban poor."

Anyhow, Johnson’s argument is that the altruist-collectivist interpretation of morality is inherent to mankind. It always was there, it always will be there, and, frankly, it always should be there. Johnson’s argument is that the general altruist-collectivist ethos is not an innate behavior, but it is an innate norm. That is, individuals are not programmed to subordinate their own interests to the group, automatically -- indeed, if it were automatic, that would obviate what Johnson judges to be his need to moralize to his readers. That the behavior is not automatic, results in the minority of cases where the individual flouts the group’s norms. However, according to Johnson’s argument, what is automatic and unavoidable is that the general altruist-collectivist ethical credo will always be the norm for every human society. In effect, it is not inevitable and foregone that any one person shall subordinate himself to the social collective, but it is inevitable and foregone that every society will consider the subordination of one’s own interests to be the ethical ideal. Therefore, says Johnson, the Objectivist ethics is “wrong about altruism” -- contra Rand, holding the altruist-collectivist ethic to be supreme is inherent to human nature; deal with it!

Johnson says his putdown of Rand’s viewpoint “offers a warning to those who would construct their own political philosophy on the back of an assumed human nature.” Johnson’s insinuations are (1) that Rand held an entirely fallacious understanding of human nature and (2) Rand deduced from this faulty understanding a heinous rationalization for ethical egoism.

Johnson’s putdown is ironic, as Johnson is the one making assumptions about human nature in order to rationalize his own viewpoint. It is indeed true that every hunter-gatherer clan presently existing holds the general altruist-collectivist ethos as its norm. It is likewise true that this was the norm among our forager ancestors. Moreover, the altruist-collectivist ethos has remained the default, most-commonly-accepted ethical view, on the general level, throughout history. But, again, observe that, despite how the West’s modern inhabitants still insist on giving lip service to the altruist-collectivist perspective, the extent to which people take that ethical credo seriously, and enforce it through violent retribution, has been greatly diluted.

Most American entrepreneurs provide lip service to altruist-collectivist ethics and most of them praise the regulatory-entitlement state. That explains the public remarks of John Bogle and Abigail Disney in favor of the estate tax. But observe that if some American entrepreneur wishes to go his own way and earn more money than everyone else, his neighbors will not come down on him with the same level of ferocity -- not even the same level of moral condemnation -- with which the tribe almost destroyed Cephu. Certainly my First-World society is not perfect in implementing the Objectivist ethics I favor -- if it were, I would not find it urgent to write this essay. But I think that, at this juncture, almost everyone can concede that more-liberal First World republics are more tolerant of my individualist ethos than are hunter-gatherer clans such as the Mbuti pygmies.

The more-liberal First World republics are more tolerant of my individualism on two counts. Firstly, although the more-liberal republics do engage in coercive taxation, including graduated income taxes and estate taxes, the more-liberal republics are more tolerant of nongovernmental civilians gaining immense wealth than are the hunter-gatherer clans. That is, despite their practice of compulsory taxation, the more-liberal republics are less physically punitive toward the private accumulation of wealth among civilians than are forager clans. Had Benjamin Franklin been a Mbuti pygmy, he would not have had an opportunity to become a civilian of such great wealth; he would have been slapped down as Cephu was.

Secondly, quite aside from the governmental use of force, it happens that in the privacy of their own minds, most people in more-liberal republics are more approving (or, at least, less disapproving) of those who implicitly practice the ethos of peaceable individualism. In the United States, there are lots of people who disapprove of me and my philosophy, but I can also find people who approve of me and my philosophy. As for those who disagree with me, they can express disagreement and disapproval without getting violent. By contrast, were I a Mbuti pygmy, my airing such views would result in my being banished or killed.

As I have argued, human beings are capable of going about more than one route of procreation. For most of human history, the entire collectivist hunter-gatherer model of society, itself, made for a route of procreation. And, yes, it was the dominant route of procreation for most of human history. But it follows that it was not the only route of procreation. As human beings used their independent minds to plan ahead, they gradually noticed the psychological independence of thinking private, unshared thoughts in one’s own head. Many people recognized that they could behave in a manner different from what most tribe members demanded of them.

As Eric Michael Johnson said, throughout most of history, any and every deviation from the norm was severely punished, and therefore celebration of one's own individuality, contrary to the collectivist authority, remained rare. But throughout the years, as farming on land became a more significant source of food than foraging, individuals gradually began to notice that someone such as Cephu could indeed work toward maximizing his own self-interest, peaceably, without forcibly encroaching on everyone else. As they made many false starts and groped for solutions, civilizations gradually came to recognize the importance of private property rights -- that if private property rights were recognized and understood, Cephu could have his way in that he could obtain as much property as he could possibly earn on his own, and yet Cephu could go about in such acquisitiveness without forcibly taking that which was the rightful property of others. No longer, then, would Cephu and everyone else have to acquiesce to the arbitrary standards of clan elders and authorities.

Contrary to Eric Michael Johnson, the collectivist distribution of meat among a clan's members -- wherein the amount of meat that someone received had seldom correlated with the degree to which he helpfully contributed to the hunting effort -- was not some sort of equitable arrangement or compromise. Over millennia, people in the West began to realize that the truly equitable arrangement was, “You can peaceably do what you want with your property, and I can peaceably do what I want with my property. And every person can peaceably associate with any other peaceable person he or she chooses.”  And that is the truth that Johnson is trying to bury in his more-recent efforts (from the year 2015 onward) to smear and defame the Industrial Revolution and its unprecedented creation of wealth.

Thus, we find that the peaceable-egoist model of social behavior became the alternative Route of Procreation -- another method whereby someone could live long and well enough to produce children and then prepare them for adulthood. And while no society has been explicit about accepting the ethical code of the peaceable egoist, we find that, whatever internal philosophic inconsistencies people may hold, the societies that would one day become the more-liberal republics of the First World were slowly learning to tolerate the peaceable egoist ethic in practice. That is, an American entrepreneur may mouth the usual slogans about society being more important than himself, but insofar as that entrepreneur peaceably benefits himself, prioritizing himself and his family above his nation, that entrepreneur is implicitly practicing the egoist ethic.

Although the more-liberal republics of the First World are far from being perfect representations of a society based on the egoist ethic, they are much closer to accepting and practicing the egoist ethic than are forager clans. Eric Michael Johnson and other boosters of evolutionary psychology do notice this distinction. Their assumption is that, because the general altruist-collectivist ethos is the default, the forager clans are more “natural” and more consistent in practicing human nature, whereas the more-individualistic republics of the First World are some unnatural aberration. But that is false. The truth is that, as inventing and applying customs is natural to human beings, both models of society are natural. Moreover, each society faces a certain set of consequences from applying one model or the other, and these consequences, too, are natural. The consequences are in accordance with the consistent principles of Nature, and the consequences show to us what sorts of customs -- what model of human social organization -- yield, according to the principles of Nature, the greatest rewards to their practitioners.

Therefore, we can compare and contrast the more-liberal republics against the forager clans, and examine how each model’s acceptance or rejection of the egoist ethic has affected the people within such societies. We know that the populations of more-liberal republics are larger than that of presently-existing forager clans. But what is seldom appreciated is how it is that the more-liberal republics have larger populations than the forager clans. The more-liberal republics are descended from forager clans that were just as small as the ones existing today -- a forager clan, both then and now, seldom holds more than 150 members at a time. The reason why more-liberal republics maintain larger populations is that, insofar as they recognize private property rights and free markets, they are able to incentivize technological innovations that sustain an ever-larger population of people.

Also, the populations are larger as a consequence of their reductions in the death rate -- fewer people dying per year results in a larger number of people remaining alive. The more-liberal republics’ political individualism afforded individuals the freedom to discover and administer treatments to reduce the infant mortality rate. The more-liberal republics have a lower homicide rate than do forager clans -- someone in a more-liberal republic has a lower statistical chance of dying violently, by another person’s hand, than someone born into a hunter-gatherer clan.

As previously explained, the collectivist economic model that forager clans follow actually does much more, than does the liberal-individualist model, to encourage inter-society warfare. Finally, consider the number of lifestyle options that a more-liberal, more-individualistic republic affords, versus that of a forager clan. Should you be born into a more-liberal, more-individualistic republic, and you wish people were more collectivist and obedient to their family, you still have the option of trying to remain close to your family and obeying what your elders tell you. Should being an ethical egoist be the norm in a more-liberal republic, you still have the option of subordinating your own happiness peaceably to that of your family and community if that is what you judge necessary. By contrast, a forager clan does will not tolerate individualism on your part. Finally, forager clans are vulnerable to natural disasters in ways that more-liberal republics are not. And whatever the drawbacks that modern technology brings, we find that, on a cost-benefit analysis, modern technology provides us a net gain in standard of living, not a net loss.

Whether you would rather live in a collectivist forager clan or a more-liberal republic, either model of society would be natural. But, by that same token, the natural consequences of abiding by each of these models has shown that existing in the more-liberal republic, where peaceable egoism is more tolerated, produces natural consequences much more congenial to you.

Existing as a collectivist hunter-gatherer or a more-individualist republican are both natural ways to live, but the latter model of human behavior is the one that natural law has better-rewarded. Strict adherence to the theory of gene-culture co-evolution must recognize that the individualist ethos of more-liberal, more-republican society is no less natural and no less viable a route of procreation than is the collectivist hunter-gatherer model that Eric Michael Johnson extols. As a corollary, individualism is no less a part of human nature than is the collectivist temptation to conform to social pressure. Therefore, Eric Michael Johnson fails to prove (1) that a belief in the moral superiority of altruism-collectivism is inherent to human nature and (2) that Rand’s ethical theory is biologically untenable.

Finally, a point must be made about the implicit premise of many evolutionary psychologists that simply because human beings can and usually do procreate, it means that service to the "society" (and therefore to the cause of procreation) is the true standard of ethics, as opposed to the individual organism's life being the standard.


Procreation Is Good Because It Created the Individual: Me
Again, evolutionary psychologists often make the following observations. 1. You are able to procreate. 2. Even if you do not procreate, you can perform actions that ultimately assist your siblings in their procreating. 3. Ancient clans were comprised of people who were mostly genetically related to each other. Therefore, helping someone else in your community was not very distinguishable from helping your family; there wasn't a need to make a distinction. Even as communities grew larger and were populated by people not very closely related, they continued to transmit genes that made people feel good about helping others in their community (sans the family/community member distinction). It's a consequence of natural selection that helping a community member can make you feel as good as you would if you helped a blood relative (because, remember, to a caveman there wasn't a big difference).

From those observations, evolutionary psychologists conclude that you therefore morally ought to make your main priority the propagation of the genes and customs of your fellow community members. They say that when you do so, you are acting according to your nature as someone who has inherited a legacy of collectivism (a legacy that is not only cultural, but biologically inborn). Hence, they say that the standard of value is human reproduction. The survival and flourishing of the individual are just means to a greater end: human reproduction.

There is a saying that encapsulates this notion that procreation itself, not the individuals having sex or being born, is the standard of value: a hen is only the means whereby one egg produces another egg.

Here is how Objectivist metaethics busts that. I shall explain Harry Binswanger's rebuttal to evolutionary psychologists in his work The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. Human reproduction is not an entity unto itself; it is an action of entities. As such, "human reproduction" has no values. Reproduction doesn't care if you help anybody; reproduction doesn't worry whether you have kids or not. By contrast, the individual organism can care about being helped or helping someone else. The individual organism can worry about whether he will reproduce or not. The individual organism cannot be valued or appreciated by "human reproduction," but human reproduction can be valued and appreciated by the individual organism. Therefore it is only individual organisms, and not their abstract idea of "human reproduction," that can possess values and make choices to obtain or preserve those values. Hence the individual organism remains the most important unit of ethics. It's not "individual organisms are good only insofar as they further human reproduction." Rather, it's: Human reproduction is good because it created me, the individual organism.

Hence, contrary to evolutionary psychologists and their libertarian admirers (like Michael Shermer), while Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene" theory and W. D. Hamilton's "kin selection" theory are both true, neither theory precludes the Objectivist (meta)ethics.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ayn Rand Uses the Term 'Altruism' With the Same Definition As the Man Who Coined It

Stuart K. Hayashi



A charge commonly leveled against Ayn Rand, especially by conservatives and libertarians, is that she uses the term altruism inaccurately.  Ayn Rand says she opposes altruism because the idea behind it implicitly -- when not doing so explicitly -- calls for the individual's peaceable right to survival and happiness to be subordinated to the ostensive well-being of "others."  No, say the conservatives and libertarians, altruism simply means being beneficial to parties other than yourself.  After all, following the lead of game theorist Robert L. Trivers, evolutionary psychologists like Richard Dawkins frequently speak of "reciprocal altruism," sometimes even referring to commercial exchange as one form of it.

Here is an example.  John A. Allison IV, the former president of BB and T bank, went on libertarian Russell Robert's EconTalk podcast in 2007.  As Allison is influenced by Ayn Rand, he explained his opposition to the altruist doctrine.  Every time Allison did this, Russell Roberts insisted on "correcting" Allison: "That's not altruism."

But if the person who coins a term has a role in deciding its definition, then altruism is indeed about demotion of the self to others.

The ideas of self-sacrifice and social collectivism are ancient -- possibly going back to the era of hunter-gatherer clans -- but the expression altruism is relatively new.  The philosopher Auguste Comte coined it in the 1800s to describe his collectivist “Positivism” ethical theory. Altruism, he explained, is about the committed subordination of the self to Society as a whole, abiding by the motto “Live for Others.” As Comte articulates in System of Positive Polity,

Standing in direct connection with the fundamental principle of [Comte's] Positive synthesis [of ethical philosophy], the doctrine of innate altruism alone enables us to establish a systematic morality...  
Thus we see how the altruistic discipline gives completeness and system to the [moral] purification of human nature, begun under the egoistic [that is, primitive humans start off as egoistic and therefore immoral, and then evolve into truly moral beings: altruistic beings]. . . .  
It follows that, from every point of view, the ultimate systematisation of human life must consist above all in the development of altruism.   

Precisely, Comte says that altruism is the general principle that a perfectly moral society would work towards, and social Positivism is his name for the set of specific rules that must be implemented to achieve that.  He is for altruism in general and Positivism in particular. Note that despite his making a rather technical distinction between the terms altruism and Positivism, for the most part, in a more general context, those terms can be used interchangeably for Comte's theory of what constitutes a moral system of society (which Comte would say is definitely not a laissez-faire commercial society).

Comte’s associate, John Stuart Mill, was one of the first persons (if not the first person) to introduce altruism to English-speaking readers. When Mill explained Comte's philosophy to his readers, he wrote very approvingly of it and exhorted his readers to be altruistic in the manner that Comte demanded. Herbert Spencer, who knew Mill but not Comte, also adopted altruism, but was one of the first writers (if not the first writer) to conflate altruism with anything you do that benefits parties other than yourself. Despite their many avowals that they reject Spencer's philosophy -- when it is all too clear they didn't read him first-hand for comprehension -- it was Spencer who paved the way for evolutionary psychologists to  be able to get away with saying that reciprocal exchanges can be exercises in "altruism."

Ironically, the majority of writers who mention Spencer only know him from secondhand sources that stigmatize him as a “social Darwinist,” and thus inaccurately denounce Spencer for rejecting altruist ethics. As an example, this is from Michael Shermer's book The Mind of the Market:
Yet the single most common myth found in objections to both the theory of evolution and free market economies is based on the presumption that animals and humans are inherently selfish and the economy is like Tennyson's memorable description of nature: "red in tooth and claw." After the Origin of Species was published, the British philosopher Herbert Spencer immortalized natural selection in the phrase "survival of the fittest," one of the most misleading descriptions in the history of science and one that has been embraced by social Darwinists ever since, who apply it inappropriately to racial theory, national politics, and economic doctrines. . . . 
It is a matter of balancing these dual currents of selfishness and selflessness, competition and cooperation, greed and generosity, mutual struggle and mutual aid. That this view of life [which Michael Shermer says is the correct view, in contrast to Spencer's] was eclipsed by that of Spencer and [Thomas Henry] Huxley probably has to do with where they were developed: the more competitive economy of the United Kingdom versus the more egalitarian economy of Russia [in which Spencer opponent Petr Kropotkin grew up].
From what Shermer wrote of Spencer, one would get the false impression that Spencer condoned the idea of people being "selfish" and not altruistic. Anyone who bothers to read Volume 2 of Spencer's Principles of Ethics will see Spencer repeatedly exhort the reader to practice "altruism" (using that exact term) and his condemnation of "selfishness" (the exact word Spencer uses). Shermer's mischaracterization of Spencer is deeply puzzling and troubling to me, as Shermer got his Ph.D. by writing about the philosophy of Alfred Russel Wallace, who was strongly influenced by Herbert Spencer (Wallace even named one of his sons Herbert Spencer Wallace).  An accurate understanding of Wallace's philosophy ought to imply an accurate understanding of Spencer's.

Speaking for himself, Comte said that his altruist ethics -- which he formally called Positivism -- precluded any hope for “reciprocity.” Reciprocity is the term that Richard Congreve used in his English translation of Comte. Had Comte heard evolutionary psychologists speak of “reciprocal altruism,” this would have confused and likely angered him, especially when “reciprocal altruism” is used to refer to commercial transactions.

Again, note that when Comte says Positivism, it has the same general meaning as altruismFrom Congreve's translation of Comte's Catechism of Positive Religion:

All honest and sensible men, of whatever party, should agree, by a common consent, to eliminate the doctrine of rights.

Positivism only recognizes duties, duties of all to all. Placing itself, as it does, at the social point of view, it cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service. Where then, in the case of man, is the foundation on which we are to rest the idea of rights? That idea, properly viewed, implies some previous efficiency. However great our efforts, the longest life, well employed, will never enable us to pay back more than a scarcely perceptible part of what we received. And yet only to our condition of complete payment could we be authorized to require reciprocity of services. Rights then, in the case of man, are as absurd as they are immoral [italics are from the Congreve translation of Comte; the boldface is mine].








Congreve's is not a loose translation of Comte. Laure Olmedo, a philosophy student in France, found the original French text for me. In the original French, it says "réciprocité [reciprocity] des [of] nouveaux [new] services." That is, in the original French text, Comte says réciprocité, the close French equivalent to the English reciprocity. Comte stated, in the original French, that one cannot expect réciprocité if one is trying to be altruistic.

Laure Olmedo took this screen shot and highlighted "réciprocité des nouveaux services" -- "reciprocity of new services."



According to what he wrote in A General View of Positivism, had Comte been alive today he would especially object to those who say that voluntary trades constitute "altruism" -- "reciprocal" or otherwise:


Morally, the contrast between the [proletarian] workman and the capitalist is even more striking.  Proud as most men are of worldly success, the degree of moral or mental excellence implied in the acquisition of wealth or power, even when the means used have been strictly legitimate, is hardly such as to justify that pride.  . . .  
The life of the [proletarian] workman, on the other hand, is far more favourable to the development of the nobler instincts.  ...it is in the exercise of the higher feelings that the moral superiority of the working class is most observable. . . . It will hardly be disputed that there are more remarkable instances of prompt and unostentatious self-sacrifice at the call of a great public necessity in this class [the working class] than any in any other [italics mine]. 

As far as Comte is concerned, altruism cannot be reciprocal; it consists of services that must be performed unilaterally.  That does not mean that other people may not provide their own services to you; you need not reject every gift.  But it is to say that for your actions to be altruistic, you must serve others without any expectation or yearning for them to return your favors.  Hence, in Comte's writings, "altruism," "Positivism," "morality," and "self-sacrifice" go together.

By Comte's standards, Ayn Rand is using the word correctly -- Comte's writings demonstrate that he intended for the idea of altruism to be associated with self-sacrifice, and that that is what Comte considered the moral ideal. If the person who coined a term has any say in what its definition is, then “altruism” precludes a desire for reciprocity. For Comte, "reciprocal altruism" is a contradiction in terms.

Yes, what scientists such as Dawkins call "reciprocal altruism" is a very real phenomenon. It commences not only between separate human beings but also in the wilderness among separate species.  One instance is of large predatory fish allowing much smaller "cleaner shrimp" to go into their gaping mouths and pick off parasites.  The large fish could easily close its mouth and swallow the shrimp.  But in terms of cost-benefit, it is more to the large fish's benefit, health-wise, to allow the cleaner shrimp to live, and that is what happens most often.  Both the cleaner shrimp and the predatory fish receive a net gain from this relationship.  But given that Comte's use of altruism placed the emphasis on self-sacrifice, a more accurate term for these natural exchanges is not reciprocal altruism but one that Ayn Rand employed: mutual profit.

Cleaner shrimp working on the mouth of a moray eel; image from Wikimedia Commons.


On June 20 and June 21, 2017, I continued revising this piece subsequent to publishing it, including the block quotation in the beginning where Comte says "...the ultimate systematisation of human life must consist above all in the development of altruism." On June 21, 2017, I added the part about the original French text and I added Laure Olmedo's screen shot of it. On June 21, 2017, I also added the section about cleaner shrimp and "reciprocal altruism" in the wilderness.  On September 18, 2017, I corrected some grammatical mistakes and linked to my post about evolutionary psychologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy misrepresenting Herbert Spencer.