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I’m selfish, I want everyone’s quality of life to improve

April 28, 2013

Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that anyone who thinks The Selfish Gene advocates selfishness has never read past the title. If you haven’t read past the title, I’d recommend that you do – it’s a must read. My (non-scientific) take on it is that genes have been the constant through human evolution and securing their survival and replication is a key driver of our behaviour. In my blog “Progress is the purpose” (click here to read it), I argued that human progress improves the potential for the survival and replication of our genes.

Whether I’m actually selfish or not, I stand to benefit if everyone’s quality of life can be improved. In particular, the probability of the survival and replication of my genes increases if everyone’s quality of life improves. Achieving “Abundance for all” is both a result of progress and a facilitator of progress (click here to read “Abundance for all is within our grasp”).

For example, a girl in a village in Africa today may, if educated, discover the cure for cancer. It is important (not only for this reason) that she receives an education and is connected to the World. If I develop cancer, I will be the beneficiary of her education.

Oppression of her rights reduces her potential to contribute to progress, as well as devastating her quality of life. This is not only an affront to my moral code, it is a direct threat to the survival and replication of my genes.

Others may view their desire to improve everyone’s quality of life in altruistic terms. This would mean that their desire to see improvement cannot be described in the context of “the selfish gene”. I wonder whether this is actually the case. I can’t see how religious motives can be altruistic given the carrot / stick nature of most (all?) such belief systems. Can non-religious motives be altruistic or is the selfish gene at work, perhaps in the background?

I’m in favour of systems that provide motivations for individuals to act in their own interest but result in benefits for all. I may be selfish, which may or may not be directly related to Dawkin’s theory of the selfish gene, but I want everyone’s quality of life to improve.

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