This research topic submitted by Matt Russell and Julie Bayer
(email@example.com) on 2/26/98.
Matt Russell and Julie Bayer
Through our research on kin selection and human altruism we have
decided to support part of the new Darwinian theory, presented
to us in Robert Wright's book, The Moral Animal. The new Darwinian
theory, as expressed by Wright, explains altruism as being an
evolutionary adaptation to benefit the survival of the gene. However,
unlike the new Darwinian social scientists, we believe that when
considering human behavior, the concepts applied to
certain social insects and other organisms in measuring altruistic
behavior cannot be used to explain human altruistic behavior.
After finding many examples of human altruistic behaviors,
we concluded that human altruism has evolved to a different level
than other social organisms which do not have the same abilities
that humans have. These unique abilities prove that
humans do not follow the pattern of other social organisms whose
motivations for altruistic behavior is simply based on survival
of the gene.
The capabilities with which humans are born as opposed to a social
insect vary because of the human ability to reason. Like insects,
humans almost always include close relatives and kin in their
altruistic behaviors. However, humans have religions, cultures,
countries, tribes, ethnicities, close friends and numerous other
things which they can choose to act in the same manner towards.
Many examples prove that humans have been more than willing to
sacrifice, often their lives, to stand up for one or more of these
strong beliefs or relationships. Location is often the determining
factor which influences a person to commit to a certain group,
but the decision is still, most of the time, his/her own. Along
these same lines,
E.O. Wilson stated,"Human social evolution is obviously more cultural
than genetic." This statement accounts for human altruism expressed
outside of the genetic boundary in which other social organisms
without culture are bound.
A second distinguishing characteristic is that not all, but a
number of humans are born into a life in which survival is the
least of their worries. Instead they take the essentials of survival
for granted. In most of the developed countries, the majority
of the people do not have to worry about infant mortality rates,
enough drinkable water, proper shelter either from the sun or
out of the cold, or having enough food to eat. Having these advantages,
can focus more on helping their ideas or beliefs survive, as mentioned
above, instead of solely worrying about their families and selves.
A third difference is that humans are not born with life long
jobs like many social insects. Examples of these life long jobs
include a species of African termites whose soldier unites explode
themselves in battle to defend their kin, and the Honey bee whose
workers leave their stingers in an enemy which results in their
own death. Both the soldier termite and the worker bee are born
without reproductive abilities which in turn determines their
social role(Wilson 152). In contrast, if a human is born without
reproductive means, his/her life is not determined because of
this fact. Their ability in choosing their social role would not
determined by this factor.
Humans are able to make decisions about their life at a more conscious
level, whereas social insects' behaviors are more hard wired without
room for social influences. When a soldier dedicates his/her life
to join the armed forces, it is a choice and not a decision
predetermined at birth like the examples from above.
The main support that we are going to use is by interpreting the
altruistic behaviors of social organism, such as bees and wasps,
and then compare our interpretations to human behavior.
To help prove our thesis, we are presently making up a survey
asking students/teachers to make decisions which would show how
altruistically they act or would act. Many of the questions focus
on who their altruistic behaviors are towards, what groups
they favor and the degree to which they would sacrifice themselves.
Using this survey and the scientific articles which we have about
social organisms, other than humans, we will be able to prove
our thesis. Differences between the two will be evident and will
support the idea that humans have taken a different path than
other social organisms regarding altruistic behaviors.
We have found numerous scientific studies on different social
organisms which have been very helpful. However, we have had difficulties
in finding research on human altruism that relates to our topic.
E.O. Wilson talks shortly about the cultural effects on altruism,
but we have not found much beyond that.
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