I guess since I first read Darwin as a late teenager I have assumed that group selection was the case, that organisms that successfully bonded together would thrive against those that did not. I guess this was my Welsh mining valley up-bringing and social solidarity of the mining villages in adversity at work. But this view, although originating with Darwin was deeply unfashionable for the last 40 years because it was felt it would be undermined by free riders, and the free riders genes would dominate the gene pool. This always seemed nonsense to me, but now a new wave of evolutionary studies are demonstrating that group level selection is possible and indeed has happened in major instances in evolutionary history, such as the creation of the modern version of the cell, in social insects like wasps that started solitary, and in human cultures.
My friend Jon Haidt of the University of Virginia makes the case for the role religion plays in overcoming the free rider problem, and allowing us to experience transcendence as members of a group, in this fascinating TED talk. Thanks Jon! There is far more in his forthcoming book ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Differ on Politics and Religion‘ published March 16th 2012, which I was asked by Jon to review in manuscript, and I can confirm is really interesting, and changed my views on a lot of conflict issues too.
Also look out for E O Wilson’s new book on the subject of Group Selection: ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ which I will be reviewing as soon as it is published. We are indeed living in interesting times for conflict studies!
Here is the clip as I promised in an earlier posting:
And this is Jon: