Det danske Fredsakademi

Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 12. september 2012 / Timeline September 12, 2012

Version 3.5

11. September 2012, 13. September 2012

John Scales AveryBy John Scales Avery
At first sight, the willingness of humans to die defending their social groups seems hard to explain from the standpoint of Darwinian natural selection. After the heroic death of such a human, he or she will be unable to produce more children, or to care for those already born. Therefore one might at first suppose that natural selection would work strongly to eliminate the trait of self-sacrifice from human nature. However, the theory of population genetics and group selection can explain both the willingness of humans to sacrifice themselves for their own group, and also the terrible aggression that they sometimes exhibit towards competing groups. It can explain both intragroup altruism and inter group aggression.
The idea of group selection in evolution was proposed in the 1930’s by J.B.S. Haldane and R.A. Fischer, and more recently it has been discussed by W.D. Hamilton and E.O. Wilson. If we examine altruism and aggression in humans, we notice that members of our species exhibit great altruism towards their own children. Kindness towards close relatives is also characteristic of human behavior, and the closer the biological relationship is between two humans, the greater is the altruism they tend to show towards each other. This profile of altruism is easy to explain on the basis of Darwinian natural selection since two closely related individuals share many genes and, if they cooperate, the genes will be more effectively propagated.
To explain from an evolutionary point of view the communal defense mechanism, the willingness of humans to kill and be killed in defense of their communities, we have only to imagine that our remote ancestors lived in small tribes and that marriage was likely to take place within a tribe rather than across tribal boundaries. Under these circumstances, each tribe would tend to consist of genetically similar individuals. The tribe itself, rather than the individual, would be the unit on which the evolutionary forces of natural selection would act.
According to the group selection model, a tribe whose members showed altruism towards each other would be more likely to survive than a tribe whose members cooperated less effectively. Since several tribes might be in competition for the same territory, successful aggression against a neighboring group could increase the chances for survival of one’s own tribe. Thus, on the basis of the group selection model, one would expect humans to be kind and cooperative towards members of their own group, but at the same time to sometimes exhibit aggression towards members of other groups, especially in conflicts over territory. One would also expect intergroup conflicts to be most severe in cases where the boundaries between groups are sharpest, where marriage is forbidden across the boundaries.
With the rise of the nationalist movement in Europe following the French revolution, the printing press was used to appeal to the primitive emotions of tribalism and to create a quasi-religious loyalty to the nation-state. Fanatical nationalism still exists today, for example in Israel and the United States.
The relationship between these two countries is interesting. Ordinarily, within the framework of nationalism, it would be considered to be treason to put one's own country into danger in exchange for payments from a foreign power. But that is exactly what politicians in the United States are doing when they slavishly follow every command from Israel because they are influenced by payments from the Israel Lobby or because they feel that they need support from Israel's media assets
At the moment, Benjamin Netanyahu is shrilly commanding US politicians to support Israel in an illegal attack on Iran. Any US involvement in such a war would not only be a violation of the UN Charter, but it would also put the United States into grave danger. Such a war would have completely unforeseeable consequences, and it might develop into World War III. Why are the politicians in Washington, who follow Israel's insane leadership, not accused of treason?
We should see this question of loyalties within a larger framework: Today the world urgently needs a new global ethic, an ethic where loyalty to family, community and nation will be supplemented by a strong sense of the brotherhood of all humans, regardless of race, religion or nationality.



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