This Research topic submitted by Matt Russell and Julie Bayer (email@example.com) on 2/27/98.
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, humans 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 be 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.
Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. Vintage Books, NewYork. 1994.
Goodall, Jane. ¨Through a Window. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,
Pfenning W. and Paul W. Sherman. “Kin Recognition” Scientific
American. 1995, v27n6
Wilson, E.O. “Altruism” On Human Nature
Bergstrom, Theodore C. “On the Evolution of Altruistic Ethical Rules
for Siblings.” The American Economic Review. v85n1, 1995.
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