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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is a film critic for The New York Post and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

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    Conquest’s Law (Cont.)

    By Kyle | September 19, 2011

    It’s kind of hilarious to read all about how evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is an insistent statist, Obama fan, etc. Because on the subject on which he is actually an expert, it’s a different story:

    Professor Dawkins’s voice slides playfully into High David Attenborough style as he mimics the mellifluous tone of BBC documentaries of the time: “The dung beetle is the refuse collector of the natural system, and where would we be without them? And male deer fight but take care not to kill each other.”

    He stops. “That sort of thinking was pretty dominant in the culture.” Artful pause. “And it’s plain wrong. I wanted to correct that ubiquitous misunderstanding.”

    Genes, he says, try to maximize their chance of survival. The successful ones crawl down through the generations. The losers, and their hosts, die off. A gene for helping the group could not persist if it endangered the survival of the individual.

    Such insights were in the intellectual air by the mid-1960s. But Professor Dawkins grasped the power of metaphor — that selfish gene — and so made the idea come alive. Andrew Read, a professor of natural history at Penn State, recalls reading “The Selfish Gene” and feeling his world change.

    “Gone in a stroke was the intellectually barren ‘it just is’ hypothesis,” he wrote in an essay. “ ‘The Selfish Gene’ crystallized it and made it impossible to ignore.”

    Not everyone bought the argument. The moral implications proved deeply troubling, suggesting that altruism disguised selfish, gene-driven behavior. “Many readers experienced the book as a psychic trauma,” wrote Dr. Randolph Nesse, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. “It turned their moral worlds upside down.”

    Prominent scientists and intellectuals cast Professor Dawkins as the herald angel of a selfish culture, accusing him and his fellow sociobiologists of setting the cultural stage for the “I got mine” age of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

    Dawkins knows ruthless competition and individualism are the way the world works, always and forever, yet he votes for politicians who hold the opposite philosophy. As Robert Conquest said, “Everybody is reactionary on subjects he knows about.”

    Topics: Philosophy, Politics | 5 Comments »

    5 Responses to “Conquest’s Law (Cont.)”

    1. K Says:
      September 19th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Fellow worker, it depends on the dominant organism, doesn’t it? The hive protects itself ruthlessly as an organism but the individual bees are totally screwed.

      The more people in the world, the more like a collective organism we become. An excellent libertarian argument for population control.

    2. Sherlock Says:
      September 19th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      It’s not as if there’s nothing selfish or egoistic about rent-seeking, socialism, lobby groups, welfare payments, union payoffs, government jobs, sinecures, monopolies, subsidies, tariffs, bailouts, sweetheart deals, cash-transfer programs, and all the other varieties of government-assisted greed. But it’s the very definition of selfishness and self-interested behaviour to enrich yourself at the expense of society. Society at large is poorer for every example of rent-seeking.

    3. kishke Says:
      September 19th, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      It’s not as if there’s nothing selfish or egoistic about rent-seeking, socialism, lobby groups, welfare payments, union payoffs, government jobs, sinecures, monopolies, subsidies, tariffs, bailouts, sweetheart deals, cash-transfer programs, and all the other varieties of government-assisted greed.

      Sure there is, but their proponents don’t admit it, which is Kyle’s point.

    4. yankeefan Says:
      September 21st, 2011 at 10:06 am

      ” ruthless competition and individualism are the way the world works, always and forever”

      The vast majority of human history, over tens of thousands of years, has been defined by tribalism and some sort of community identity. Competition between tribes, yes. But individualism is a relatively new concept, a relative blip thusfar in human development. Could ultimately prove to be a blip. And Western individualism isn’t even as individualistic in practice as advertised.

      Competition among groups has been a constant. But so has cooperation. As for evolutionary biology, altruism and selflessness have survival value, in addition to selfishness.

    5. Jay Says:
      October 31st, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      “But individualism is a relatively new concept, a relative blip thusfar in human development.”

      Correction: conscious individualism is a relatively new concept. Unconscious individualism has been part of human nature since the beginning.

      It’s not a blip, either. It’s only a blip when you’re looking at time in reverse. The evolution of intellectualism and brain growth has progressively established stronger self-consciousness i.e. the individual, and with this comes the decreasing need to rely on the tribalism that primitive man required for protection; this is unconscious individualism.

      Conscious individualism i.e. the recognition of the division of labor and it’s according free-market is the now and future of human evolution.

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