The Moral Animal

Why we are the way we are:  The new science of evolutionary psychology

By Robert Wright



Darwin (D) and us

Differences boil down to genes, but not differences in our genes.


Evolutionary psychologist see certain knobs that are turned in each culture: a thirst for social approval, a capacity for guilt.

They don’t make the “naturalistic fallacy” what is in nature should be our values.  Is=ought.


In 1859 D published origin of species and mill On Liberty.


On liberty was against Victorianism, but he thinks Victorian England had a surer grasp of human nature than we.

Political liberals tend to take a rosier view of human nature than conservatives.


Part one:  Sex, Romance, and love

Ch – 1  Darwin Comes of age


His family was strict evangelical.

He was going into drift and his father (who didn’t believe in god) said he should join the church.

In those days church and zoology were close as animals were part of god’s creation to be studied.

It has taken only 5,000 generations to turn awolf into a Chihuahua.

Once all parents have the XXL gene, it gives no parent an edge in the ongoing contest to create the most viable and prolific offspring.  The arms race moves.

A feature that is adaptive today may not be so tomorrow.  Back trouble.


Darwin’s sex life

Darw left England when 22, flooded with hormones.

Prostitutes were available, but university proctors prowled the streets.  His brother warned him never to be sen with girls.

We reject such values now, but we shouldn’t scoff at them.  The double standard has waned, but it still stands.

“Sexual psych.” To an evolutionary psychologist, includes everything from an adolescent’s fluctuating self esteem to the aesthetic judgement men and women make about each other, and, the judgements they make about members of their own sex.



To say something is natural is not to say it is unchangeable.


Sencond, to say it is natural is not to say it is good.

But if we want to choose values against nature we should know what we’re up against.


CH – 2 Male and Female.

D saw that men are the woowers, and that female reticence left males competing with one another for scarce repreoductive opportunities, and explained why males so often have built-in weapons. (horns, jaws teeth)


Also, womens being able to choose gives big weight to their choice.

This explains garish male colors that nearly say “kill me” to a predator.


Men can reproduce hundreds of times a year.  Women once.

Men can improve in quantity, women in quality.

Each child is very precious to the woman and needs it to survive.

We aren’t aware of this.  But most of our species development took place before we thought..

Natural selection has had tremendous inflouence on the the spigots that turn on and off for attraction, fierce passion and swoon-inducing infatuation.  A woman doesn’t think about genes,  she just feels attracted.  Natural selection has done all the thinking.


The advertisement by a male of how fit he is.It is to the advantage of the  female to spot false advertising.  Men are skilled salesman and women discriminating shoppers.  And men should be show-0ffs.


Theory of parental investment has some confirmation.  Prostitution, sex with someone ou don’t know, is largely sought by males. 

The double standard seems to be universal. 

The universality cannot be explained culturally.

Also, in species after species, males are dim in their sexual discernment.  Among some kinds of frogs, mistaken homosexual courtship is so common that a “release call” is used by males.


Male snakes, for their part, have been know to spend a while with dead females for moving to a live prospect.

And male turkeys will avidly court a stuffed replica of a female.  They will , in fact, court a replica of a female turkey’s head suspended 15 inches from the ground.


People complain that the Darwinians find proof after the fact. 


There are a few odd species where male parental investment exceeds female.  And the females take a n active role in courtship.

In birds where this happens the females are larger and more colorful.  Females compete for males.


Apes and us:

Our fork with chimps was 8 million and 16 for orangatangs.

Males are larger and stronger than females because that’s who they mate with cause that’s who will protect them.

And the female will be forcibly subdued.  Often this is shown in that they fail to impregnate.  She chooses the big one.  Retinence would pay off by getting you a tougher male.


Also, being coy proves his willingness to stay around.

Animals and the unconscious:

We laugh that a turkey mates with a head  But males get aroused by 2-D models.

We are under conscious control. We can decide not to look. 

But our mind doesn’t make us lessin a D trap, but pursueing it more efficiently.


CH  - 3 Men and Women


In every human culture on record, marriage – whether monogamous or polygamous, permanent or temporary, is the norm, and the family is the atom of social organization.


Why we’re high in mpi:

The vulnerability of offspring.  Running around seducing a lot won’t do a male any good if his offspring get eaten.  Probably why so many birds are monogamous.  When mom gets a worm, the chicks will be eaten.   Walking upright implied a narrow pelvis, and thus a narrow birth canal, but the heads of babies are larger than ever.  Human babies compromise a mother’s food gathering.  For many months, they’re mounds of helpless flesh:  tiger bait.  The investment value has been codified into feeling: love.


Monogamy is more common among carnivorous mammals than among vegetarians.  Male does the long term hunting food gathering.

As the brain got bigger, cultural programming got more important.  Children with two parents had an educational edge.


Males should cheat if the cost of the offspring is minimal.  It is especially good if some else thinks that the kid is his.


What do women want:

The “nuptial offering” which technically is a timy investment, is seen in a variety of species.

It is a measure of what the male can bring after birth.


But if all males are about the same in wealth (apes and tribal) then status is important.  It tells who will get the biggest portion of the hunted meat.

In modern societies, wealth and status together make a good package.


And all promises by males weren’t untruths.  It just would be good to exaggerate your potential and commitment to get access.  And back then it was hard to leave the villiage.


Back then virtually every woman is married by the time she’s fertile.  There was no singles scene.  So you had to seal the deal.  The modern male slut is not what happened in evolution, its just what happens when you put the male mind in a modern situation.


In a high mpi species a females’ ideal is to monopolize her mate.  Females have evolved to compete for scarce male investment.


What do men want:

There is a male Madonna whore dichotomy.

“ the distinction was nicely drawn by a study in which both men and women were asked about the minimal level of intelligence they would accept in a person they were “dating.”  The average response, for both males and females, was: average intelligence.  They were also asked how smart a person would have to be before they would consent to sexual relations.  The women said: Oh, in that case, markedly above average.The men said: Oh, in that case, markedly below average.  For steadily dating/ marriage, both wanted smart and smarter.”


The younger a woman, the more children she can bear.  In every one of 37 cultures studied, males preferred younger and women older mates.  Also, women can afford to be more open about looks.  Men like big eyes and a small nose, both symptoms of youth.


When people see a beautiful woman with an ugly man they assume he has money or status.  Usually it’s true.


The woman fears that he will leave.  The man that the baby isn’t his. So male jealousy should focus on sexual infidelity and female emotional.

When men imagined sexual infidelity ,their heart rates took leaps of a magnitude typically induced by three cups of coffee.


What else do women want:

A woman might want to copulate with several men to leave the idea with all of them that they might be the father.  Across species there is a correlation between the males kindness to youngsters and the chances that he is their father.


In two societies studied men have been known to demand the killing of a woman’s past children before marriage..

Hidden ovulation can help the woman trick a loser male into raising a good man’s child from adultery.


Women are more sexually active around ovulation.  And they wear more jewelry and makeup when they are and are going out.  And they have more contact at such times.  Chimps genitals swell.


The ratio of average testes weight to average body weight is a good indicator.  Species with high relative testes weights have “multimale breeding systems”  When females commonly breed with many different males, males can profit by producing lots of semen.  We fall between chimps and gorillas.  Our females are more adventurous than some, less than others.


The quantity of ejaculation depends on the amound of time a man’s mate has been out of his sight.


As men grow more attuned to the threat of cheating cuckoldry, women should get better at convincing a man that their adoration borders on awe.  And to convince themselves that they don’t care for sex would help to convince the husband.


The Madonna whore dichotomy:

The speed a woman gives into a man tells a lot about her likelihood of being true.  The male may actually encourage the early sex to test her.  If she gives in he will punish her, by excluding her from the serious pool.


Victorian samoans:

Margaret Mead said that the concern with purity was a western pathology.  It is hard to exaggerate the influence of Mead’s findings on 20th century thought.

Revisits found  brothers who would beat up a male who had designs on a girls virginity.  They did marriage virginity tests.  All over the world the good girl/bad girl dichotomy s seen in culture.


Fast women/slow women:

As a rule, two extremely different alternative traits will not both be preserved by natural selection.  That’s why almost all genes are shared world wide. 

The value of a trait declines as it becomes more common.

One can imagine a situation in which neither coy nor fast women, cads nor dads, have the monopoly on the ideal strategy.

One person can be a con artist and it’s profitable.  But if all are.


The best genetic program would give plasticity according to situation.

There are genetic differences for nervousness and extroversion.  The “heritability” of these traits is around .4; that is, about 40 percent of individual differences can be explained by genetic differences.  Height is .9.  .1=nutrition.


Evolutionary psychology can help us see the knobs and the factors that tune them.

Attractive girls can marry up and thus mothers tell them be chaste.  Ugly girls cannot and thus might be looser.    But there aren’t studies on this.


If warriors invade a village and kill the men she cannot secure a man of her own anymore (too many women) so she should become more competitive for the.  Here again flexibility is important.  Women who see men as not committing dress sexier. They may naturally not feel that commitment is important.  If market conditions improve, they might change.


Men with high esteem might see market conditions as good for them and seek short term conquests.  The handsome football star is a stud.  Women value looks more in a short term relationship.


Men who have extremely low self esteem, might rape.  That might be a good strategy.                              


Women who see men unable to support much might have looser values.  The poor have always been seen as promiscuous.


The family that stays together;

A husband who rises in status and wealth will strengthen his incentive to desert the wife.  He can find another. 


In hunter gatherers men might take a second wife, not abandon the old one, and that would be okay.


Husband dissatisfaction is the highest  predictor of divorce.  Women can have enough money to divorce, but there is no biological force driving them to it. 

Men are much more likely to remarry than women.  Emotions are evolution’s executioners.


Pair bonds revisited:

In highly polygynous species the contrast in body size between males and females is great.  One male must dominate many females and fight off many males.  Gibbons are monogamous and about the same size.  Gorilla males are 2x fem sizes.  We are between.


We might not be as good as we seem as our competition (human and prehuman) has been as mental as physical.


980 of the 1,154 past or present societies for which Anthropologists have records, have permitted a man to have more than one wife.

In 43% of the 980 it is described as occasional.

And here its usually just for the rich.  Most marriages have been monogamous even though most societies haven’t.



How to explain this?

The world is run by men, but in most of the world polygamy is illegal. 

Sometimes this gets explained as a compromise between male and female natures.

When you’re living on the edge, having two can mean neither survive.  And why would a woman go for ½ a man when she could get her own? 


The answer seems to be that economic equality tends to short circuit polygyny.  

More than half of the known monogamous societies have been classified as “nonstratified” (equal)


What really demands attention then are the six dozen societies in the history of the world, including the modern industrial ones that are stratified and yet monogamous.

One explanation is that polygyny lurks underneath.

Dowry – a transfer of wealth from the bride’s to the grooms family- is found almost exclusively in stratified monogamous societies.

Wealthy men in a monogamous society are a prize.  The brides family must pay for that.


Winners and losers:

Poor women, married to poor men would rather have polygyny.  She could have ½ of a rich mans money. She goes up, all the men below the guy with two are going to have inferior women.  And one dude is stiffed.


Married women living in poverty (or women without a husband or child, and desirous of both could be excused for wondering just which women’s rights are protected by monogamy.  The only underprivileged citizens who should favor monogamy are men. It is what gives them access to women.  Women gain more options with polygyny.


Upper classes hoarding women became politically untenable.

Extreme polygyny often goes hand in had with extreme political hierarchy and reaches its zenith under despotic regimes. Zulu chiefs would have more than 100 women.  Inca had more women the higher the rank.


What’s wrong with polygyny?:

Low level men without wives compete fiercely.  Violence, rape.

An unmarried man between 24 and 35 is 3x as likely to murder another male as is a married man.


We wouldn’t want to live in a society where lots of low income men are mateless, but we do.


Not in 1960, but in 1990 the % of men not married ever over the age of 40 was way higher than for women.

Probably many homeless and alchoholic men born in earlier times would have found a mate and been calmer.


Darwinism and moral ideas:

Serial monogamy has inegalitarian effects on men and creates violence theft and rape.

Substitute parents will generally tend to care less profoundly for children than natural parents.


In 1976, a child living with one or more substitute parents was 100x more likely to be killed than one with natural parents.

In the 80s it was 70x.

Children under ten way more likely to be abused.

Darwinists call what you give to offspring an investment, that doesn’t mean it can be covered by a child support check.

A young step is a drain on resources and obstacle. 


Pursuing moral ideals:

An irony for conservatives.  One of the best ways to create monogamy is to equalize income.

A single pretty woman will feel les inclined to tempt husband A away from wife A if bachelor B has just as much money.


Women going into the workforce doesn’t change this much as we’re not dealing with decisions, but deep romantic attraction.

Women are shown to put a lot of emphasis on a mate’s prospects and status regardless of her income.


So long as society is stratified, it’ll be hard to maintain monogamy.  That is unless you use heavy pressure Victorian values.



“Like a child that has something it loves beyond measure, I long to dwell on the words my own Dear Emma….”

                                                                                                          -Darwin urging an early marriage/quick engagement.

“Sexual desire makes saliva to flow…curious association.”

                                                                                                        -D in a scientific notebook the same month


In the decade of Ds marriage the number of british couples filing for divorce averaged 4 a year.  Part of that is that it required an act of Parliament.


Women of Ds class often spend their 20s putting on a sex display to catch a man while in their prime.  Men spend their 20s trying to get enough professional status/money to attract a woman in her prime.  In Ds day there was no rush.  It was normal for older men to marry younger women.


He showed no designs on Emma early.


Back from the beagle he had a lot of status. He could have gone into  a social whirl. 

“I am very much obliged to you for sending me cards for your parties, but I am afraid of accepting them, for I should meet some people there,…”

With time saved he went on a remarkable burst of accomplishment.


Choosing marriage:

He made a document with two columns, one labeled “marry” another “not marry”


Children constant companion, (&friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, - object to be beloved and played with”  He modified the previous sentence “better than a dog anyhow.”  He continued: “Home, & someone to take care of house – charms of music and female chit chat – these things are good for one’s health.- but terrible loss of time.”



“Freedom to go where one likes – choice of society & little of it.- Conversation of clever men at clubs – not forced to visit relatives, & bend to every trifle – to have expense & anxiety of children – perhaps quarreling – Loss of time. – cannot read in the Evenings – fatness and idleness – Anxiety and responsibility – less money for books etc – if many children forced to gain one’s bread.”


End of marry column:

My god, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working , working, & nothing after all.


Choosing Emma:


Thoughts of mortality drive men into AND, ironically, marriage.

He may have decided to marry and come up with natural selection in the same week.


In the notes where he first gets natural selection, he mentions malthus.


Darwin didn’t emerge from adolescence feeling like an alpha male.  In many gather hunter societies hierarchy is decided by early adulthood.  There aren’t career ladders to climb.

And his low opinion accurately reflects his ability to get a good gene mate.


She was unsure of her choice.  That helps to reinforce his need to please her.

He was sure that she would reinforce his good behaviors.

Darwin gets excited:

His feelings accelerate rapidly.  Why?

Pre-sex a woman’s genes say slow down.  A males say speed up.  He must say things to melt the woman’s reserve. 

The Victorian postponement of sex until marriage should theoretically have shifted power towards women during the engagement.  The man had cause to be eager for the wedding date (unlike today).  The woman had cause to pause and reflect (unlike today).


Emma complied with theory.  She asked to put off the marriage.  He went into romantic hyperdrive.


After the honeymoon:

A man may not say anything to a recalcitrant woman, he may also believe it.  If the Madonna whore switch is real, it may include I want to be with you forever.

The Victorians were women worshipers.

The courtship’s elongation helps move the woman into the “Madonna” part of a man’s mind.


Contraception is complimented by  breast feeding’s suppression of both sexes sex drive.


After there is less and less of the woman’s potential to be harvested, it is natural for a man to want to move on.


Charles Dickens left his wife after she passed her prime.  D stayed devoted.  Why?




In his pursuit of a long life relationship he had the advantage of chronic ill health. 

He also lived two hours by coach from female distractions.  Male fantasies are visual in nature.  One evolutionary psychologist found that men shown pictures from playboy later describe themselves as less in love with their wives. 

Women shown playgirl had no such adjustment.


Marriage tips for men:

Darwin’s 3-step approach to marriage:

1)       Decide, rationally and systematically, to get married.

2)       Find someone who in most practical ways meets your needs.

3)       Marry her.


Lasting love is something a person has to decide to experience.  Lifelong devotion is not natural.  The ardor willl fade.  Then the marriage will live or die on determination.

Whether or not deeper or more spiritual, it is a more impressive love.


Many get divorced.  The glimpse of lasting joy the second time around was just another delusion sponsored by genes, whose primary goal is to make us prolific (not to make us happy).


Divorce then and now:


Today an unmarried man can get sex, with or without love, regularly and respectably.

The  American divorce rate doubled between 66 and 78 then stabilized.


Easy divorce creates a population of formerly married women, easy sex creates a population of never-married women.

Between 70 and 80, the # of American women between the ages of 35-39 went from one in 20 to one in 10.


Divorce brings the average man an increase in wealth, while the woman and kids suffer the opposite.


The divorct Act of 1857 was welcomed by many feminists, including John Stuart Mill.


“Gladstone opposed in and said, “A woman voting for divorce is like a turkey voting for Christmas.”



Two types of respect 1) as worthy co-worker 2) Not a sex object.  Women have no. 1.


The two traded off.

Women could now sleep around without guilt.  Women were just like men.

Lawmakers took equality to mean that women needed no special protection.

Divorce resulted in rehabilitative payments for her to get her career back on line.

Attempts to stop one kind of exploitation of women led to another.


Unhappily married women:


Some women don’t want to get married, but the single biggest obstacle to life long monogamy is the male mind.

Communal mothers can work andhave kids.

Modern women must choose. Monotony of home or work.


The generic suburban habitat of the 50s was more “natural for men.

Tribally, a woman’s emotional disconnect from a man has not meant divorce as easily as the father’s.  Why?  Seeking a new husband once there were children was seldom a genetically winning proposition.


People weren’t designed to be happy, just not driven crazy.


The Emma Plan:


Perhaps women are a better avenue for marriage reform.  If you want to hear vows of devotion of your wedding night, be chaste. 

This may smell ugily of “trapping” a man.  Or you can say it shows women have self-restraint.


A better complaint is that it doesn’t work.  As the man can just go get another.  It would take a number to make a dent.

And some like the one woman austerity crusade.  If a man isn’t interested enough to endure two months of friendly affection before contact, why waste your time (which is more precious for women than for men).


A theory of moral change:


The combination of women who see men not being long term in general wearing more promiscuous clothes, causing men to not want to commit, and therein being a viscious cycle.

Naked women being all over our society may even push this.


Mutual reinforcement could also push things towards MPI though.


Victoria’s Secret:

High status male desertion for a younger model is the single greatest threat to marriage.

But if infidelity is tolerated it needn’t.

Wife’s committing adultery is much worse than men.

In the 50s extra marital was just an outlet.  Now, it leads to divorce.


Where do moral codes come from?:

People tend to pass the sorts of moral judgments that help move their genes into the next generation, (or would have in prior times).


Men’s moral code may encourage him to have a double standard.


Parents of young pretty girls encourage chastity so that she can marry up.

Happily married women consider sluts as evil.  But there is tolerance for male cheating.


Sugarcoated science:


People say go with caution. D social theories are more dangerous than others.  Why?  All incorrect theories are bad.

People , individually defy the norm.  Yes, but half do away from in each direction.

Men don’t have to philander




We all like to think of ourselves as selfless.  But we are pigs compared to social insects.

Kin selection theory sees selection not taking place at the level of the individual or the family, but, at the level of the gene.

William D Hamilton of Britain came up with this in 1963.


The only potentially immortal organic entity is the gene.


Genes for brotherly love:

A gene inclines a mammal to produce a warning call when its relatives are threatened.

This could also apply to inclining human beings to sense early on who their siblings are and who to share food with and defend.


First cousins share, one eighth of your genes.


Heroism would happen in small populations where most of the children were fairly near relatives.

People have the warmest feelings for those who share their genes.Genes telling mothers to love their kids, and telling babies to listen.


Love of children by males is important to for this scheme of MPI to work.


The new math:

Sister ants share ¾ of their genes by common descent, not just ½.  So altruism is magnified.

Slime mold is like a single organism of many identical cells.  It is hard to tell whether to classify it as many or one.  It has the same DNA through and through.


All cells in the human body are the same and so work in cooperation.


The limits of love:

The divergence of genetic interests between siblings creates an exasperating, paradox.  They compete for the affection and attention of their parents.


Each child should, in theory ,se themselves as twice as important  as its sibling.  But the parents should view each as equal.

Conflict over weaning is part of mammalian life.


We can get parents to sacrifice by emphasizing our sacrifice for our siblings.  Kids do conspicuous caring and over emphasize their hurts for extra nutrition.


They have a sense of justice and entitlement that expresses itself in temper tantrums.  Fairness is very important!


Parent can play on guilt, as kids have a conscience to take care of their sibling.


Mom always liked you best:

If both the parents aren’t the same.  Then the natural ratio of me to sibling care should be 4:1. 

Parents should be very scrupulous in equity for max prolif.

Therefore, siblings will say Mom liked you more.


Girls who are pretty marry up.

In tribals, many men proliferate a lot and some males not at all.

Fertile females can always get a partner.


Pack rat mothers will, if fed poorly, shove weak males off her teat.

Rich people may kill daughters and pass their wealth onto their sons.


High status families spend more time with their boys.  Low status with their girls.

More than half the daughters born to low-income women were breast fe.  Few than ½ of sons were.

60% of rich daughters were.  90% of sons were.


Low income women have another child within 3.5 years of having had a boy and 4.3 of a boy.


Rich women, had another 3.2 after daughters.  3.9 after sons.


Natural selection works underground.


Older women , much more than older men, should show care towards kin.


Patterns of grief:

A parent should besadder about the death of an adolescent than a baby or a forty year old.

If it is due to unlived life, why is the death of the teen sadder.

As we get through adolescence, we should care less and less about our parents.

By the time they’re old…


Obviousness is not a sign of non-truth.  It is a sign of success for the genes.


Darwin’s grief:

His young retarded son didn’t bring much grief “He often made strange grimaces & shivered , when excited….” (that’s part of the memorial to his son.

The daughter annie was ten and they never got over it.




Darwin came across a tribe that ate woman.  But they did share some values with England.

The recognition of unity of humans is the fist step to becoming an Evolutionary Psych.  Step two is seeking to explain via natural selection.


Sterile insect was problem for Darwin.  Why do people have trouble walking past a beggar without cringing? 


Morality genes?:


Morality has diversity.

Humans are sensitive to public opinion.

Chimps have friends.


Group selectionism:


He succumbed to group selectionism,  This is an intellectual error.

It is hard to imagine natural selection choosing the group over the individual.

One should postulate adaptation at no higher a level than is necessitated by the facts. 



Game theorists assume we are looking for happiness rationally.

The prisoner’s dilemna:

Two partners in a crime are being interrogated separately and face a hards decision.   The state lacks the evidence to convict them, but can convict them of a lesser charge .  “I’ll let you off if you testify.  If you don’t, but your partner does, you go to prison for ten years.  If you both confess, you both get three years.


It seems like you should confess to hedge your bets.


Non-zero sumness:


If you give your fellow chimp hunter 5 ounces of meat you lose 5.

He might rationally agree to pay you 6 next week.

Both players are then better off.


If hunters cooperate, they all eat.  If they don’t they both die.

Division of labor is a non-zero-sumness.


Division of labor wasn’t great, and therefore, information was big in small knit communities.


Where is a great stock of food?, Where is a snake, who is angry with whom..  This can help you maneuver for sex and other vital resources.


The sort of gossip that people in all cultures have an insatiable thirst for adds to fitness and maybe the reason friendship exists.


Since info is shared without loss, both win.


If you don’t pay back the meat, you can win by cheating people.  If all exploit all, then reciprocal exploitation is the way to cut your losses. 


A competition to see which computer program would win if strategies were run against eachother.  The winner was called, TIT FOR TAT.  If the other computer tends to cheat, it cheats. If the other is friendly it is friendly.  It beat out more sneaky complicated programs.  It for went one-time gains, but in the long run was self-serving.


How tit for tat feels:

It doesn’t.  What feelings would natural selection have to program into an animal to make it do tit for tat?

Overall sympathy (willingness to try), gratitude and obligation, anger and dislike (to cut off from exploiters)  And forgiveness, to erase counterproductive hostility towards those who have changed to helpers.


Friendship affection trust (reciprocal altruism) doesn’t exist for the group.


A key feature is feedback between the macro and the micro.


A couple of meanies can’t undermine TFT.  Conditional cooperation is more infectious than unmitigated meaness.  But if all are mean a couble of reciprocals can’t get a footing.  What ratchets up the initial goodness?  Sibling and familial reciprocal altruism.

(Trust in kin and guilt for not helping).

But is it science?:

Reciprocal altruism is fudamental to life in all cultures.  Vampire bats are the most so because blood is perishable and there are no refrigerators.

Chimps form alliances for food and groom each other. 


The meaning of reciprocal altruism:

People don’t like that their noble feelings come from selfish genes.

The size of righteous indignation is startling.  It can start feuds that dwarf the alleged offence.  Why risk death for honor?


Indignation is more valuable if publicly observed.


Righteous indignation could become a pose that cheaters use.  Guilt could prompt preemptive confessions of cheating that redeems status.


Test subjects who believed they had broken an expensive machine were more nclined to volunteer for painful experiments.


Guilt is a way of getting everyone happy with your level of reciprocation.

That explains guilt at passing a homeless person.

Seeing their eye makes it a public event.

Beyond one on one, we may be able to form reciprocal bonds with a larger association.


If you sacrifice for the group , others might be expected to also.  In such a situation the best way for control is to affect reputations.  The impression that we’ve helped is very important.

We thus have the basis for hypocrisy, The pressure to grieve others and brag about ourselves.



Darwin was full of self reproach and severe depression.

Natural selection doesn’t want us to be happy, it wants us to proliferate.

Kin selection has ensured that people everywhere feel deeply guilty about harming a relative.

Reciprocal altruism has done the same with strangers.


“Conscientiousness” is beween .30 and .40 heritable.  That is: about 1/3 of differences in people can be attributed to genes.   Two thirds is due to environment.


Genetically endowed knobs. Empathy and retribustion.

Darwin’s sister took care of him after 8. He owed her much.  He worked furiously for his father’s approval.


“Moral guidance” is a euphemism.  Parents are designed to steer kids toward “moral” behaviors only in so far as those behaviors are self-serving.


A young concscience tells how much cheating would be profitable.  The tendancy to tell lies is spontaneous and universal.


Children will keep lying unless strongly discouraged.  Children without parental supervision do this the most.


The Victorian conscience:

The Victorians are famous for their emphasis on “character”.  We have replaced that with “personality”. 


“Character is power” was more than “Knowledge is power” Said Samuel Smiles.

The surest, if not the quickest, way to power. 


Victorian England lived in the rough equivalent of a small town.  Darwin lived in the small town of Shrewsbury.


“civility” costs nothing and buys everything.


Now a reputation for integrity matters less.

Telling a child to lie some may help.  Meaner strategies grow if you allow in and out migration from the tit for tat program.

Nyers are rude.


The conscience of poor children is hemmed in by the environment.


Darwinists , oddly, believe criminals are victims of society.


One likely source of crime profitability would have been contact withnearby villiages.  In group requires consideration, out group exploitation.


Judging the Victorians:

Victorians believed in a social contract where all would come back indirectly.  They are called hypocrites, but had much higher standards.


Darwin prosecuted a farmer for letting sheep starve.  Good PR.


We’re less “fitness maximizers” than “adaptation executers”





Between the time that he discovered natural selection and published, 20 prolific years went by.  Why?

He wrote extensively on barnacles.  Why? 

Many folks say religious conviction.

Darwin’s father Erasmus wrote a theory of evolution that he wanted to be published posthumously.  Lamark was denounced as immortal. 


Sick and tired:

Darwin’s non-diagnosed illness is a mystery.   He started with heart palpitations a couple of months after opening his first evolution notebook.


He also didn’t solve insect sterility until 1857.



He was troubled by how equal the tribes of S. America were.  He saw it as a sign of retardation.  Of course, they never were far from starvation.  But without outward displays of differences, status can be a difference.

Franz Boas; student was Margaret Mead.  There is a Boasian bias against human nature.  It is good in that it allows us to think humans can be changed.


The best hunters have more illegitimate children and their offspring survive more.

Why lend your energy to a system that leaves you with less than your neighbor?


The modern theory of status hierarchies:

Pecking order defers the cost of endless battles.  Once established it holds.

Put a bunch of children together and they differentiate.  One year olds do this.

Some rise via toughness, others by cooperation.

Our relative species are hierarchical and so is every society.


Some methods of expressing status hold across cultures, “scorn , disdain, contempt and disgust, holding head and body erect.”  Dominant chimps strut expansively.


Status, self-esteem, and biochemistry:

Dominant males have more serotonin than subordinates.

Officers of fraternities have more serotonin than lesser.


Serotonin encourages you to bid for leadership and keep it.  It relaxes people, makes them more gregarious, socially assertive and raises self esteem.


Artificially lowering peoples’ self esteem makes them cheat on subsequent card games.  People with lower serotonin levels are more likely to commit impulsive crimes.


Ambition and competitiveness pay off .  Male chimps seem more in the thrall of these sorts of forces than females.


Men, women , and status:


For men, conversation is “primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order”


A man named “Bloodthirsty” has the world record for most children.

Competitiveness can come from society also, and captive chimps with no males, create female alpha females that defend when a man does show.


Our hierarchy is subtler than chickens in that we have reshuffling and social context plays into it.

Status assistance is, perhaps, the main purpose of friendship.  The evolutionary fusion of hierarchy and reciprocal altruism accounts for a good part of the average human life.  Many, if not most, of our swings in mood, our fateful commitments, our changes of heart about people, institutions (choice of university or corp), even ideas, are governed by mental organs that this fusion wrought.


Chimpanzee politics:


Status for chimps depends on more than ambition and raw strength.  It takes strategic savvy.


One learned to scare others through banging a kerosene drum.  He tried other things.  They were submissive and groomed him as such.  Alphas arrange a regular wource of support.  Often a single strong lieutenant.


When a challenge happened one alpha spent a lot of time with adult females.


One chimp sided with the downtrodden.


What is it like to be a chimp?:

When a baby hears a loud noise and retreats to its mother, it is logical, but it probably isn’t aware of the logic.


Our motives are often subrational.  De Waals studies this and attributes chimps unwillingness to back down to a sense of honor.  Is this anthropomorphizing?

It makes evolutionary sense to defend your honor, more for men than women.


Might and Right:


Conduct among chimps includes a sense of moral rightness and justice.

There is a “sense of fairness”.

TIT for TAT, An eye for an eye, seems to be their code.


Human coalitions competing for status often feature avague sense of moral entitlement, a sense that the other coalition deserves to win.


War might be natural.  When males spend time together a hierarchy must appear.

Communism has failed.

Ape colonies can be democratic, in that the alpha male has trouble ruling without the consent of the governed.


On ruler without the common touch was chased up a tree by the entire colony.  Politicians always seek alliances for power, and status for their people.


The zuni way:

Expert corn growers and expert singers make for attractive mates for Zunis. One shows intelligence and material well being.  The range of things that can bring status in different cultures and subcultures is astonishing.


How flexible is it?  Things that made for status in tribes carry more weight.  Strong men and beautiful women.  Stupidity isn’t good. The command of resources is good.



Truth in advertising isn’t a rule of natural selection.  Quite the opposite.

Many species pretend to be other species for hunting.

They present themselves as whatever it is in their genetic interest to seem like.


Men and women mislead each other.


Leaving a good impression:

If you don’t feel even some urge to disseminate new of your triumphs, however subtly, and have some reluctance to talk about your failures, you’re not functioning as designed.

There are small lies that are hard to discredit.  The famous “one that got away”


Such distortion may be initially conscious , or, at least, half-conscious.

The assignment of blame and credit is a green pasture for self-inflation.  We chalk up our losses to the luck of the draw and our success to ourselves.

Everyone thinks that the other person threw more doubles.

And the best way to trash talk others is to believe it.



Humility boasts ones’ credibility for boasting. 

Humility may be an accurate assessment of your ability to take on the alpha male.  Behave submissively and you won’t accidently be seen as a threat and beaten up.

Women build their husband’s self-confidence by playing ignorant.

GSR shows we realize a voice is ours even when we don’t


When they fail on a task it gets worse.


Humiliations are remembered for ever.  Darwin got busted bragging when he was young.


Strong, yet sensitive:

Modern society is permeated with myths about how good we are.  Teachers care about students; we’re all law abiding altruists.


Subjects who deliver shocks to people tend to derogate them.  That is unless they are told the reverse will happen.

You may find reasons to why you cheated someone.   Still you’ll claim to be a good person.


When walk is flashed to the right side of the brain, subjects get up.  When asked why, they make stuff up.

When shown disturbing images they may lash out at investigators.

Language is merely the “press agent” for other parts of the mind.

An organ of impression management.

The feeling of being “consciously” in control may also be an illusion too. Neural impulse then the reason.

We believe in free-will because we feel it to be so.


Dubious Accounting:

Central to reciprocal altruism is the monitoring of exchanges, who owes what to whom.

Darwin selectively remembered debts of an intellectual sort.  He put his grandfather in a footnote and spoke disparagingly of him.

Wars routinely involve a deep and sure sense of grievance on both sides.

Was there ever a culture where people in arguments about conflicts didn’t think they were right and the other wrong?

Axelrod’s Tit for tat didn’t cheat people.  But there is a range in which people bargain and they both need to feel like winners.

Convince people that you cannot move without great sacrifice and then say they won in the bargaining.

The brain is a machine that convinces the owner that he is right.

People remember arguments that support their view and forget arguments that don’t.


Friendship and Collective Dishonesty:

People took part in a team effort.  If told it was a success, they said they had a big role in it.  If told it was a failure…

Huxley and Hooker were Darwin’s allies.  They told him stories that would seem to leave him in their debt.

We increase the stated contributions of others if they have high status.

Being a person’s true friend means endorsing the untruths he holds dearest.

You’re also supposed to adopt your friend’s enemies as your own.

We convincingly say bad things about others (we must believe it to make it believable) .

We feel grateful to those that help us.  We begrudge those who harm us and grudges can expand into networks or people that don’t like each other.


Interest Groups:

Friendships also rest on common interests. People agree about who should lead a tribe, how meat should be divided.  An affinity of common interests.

Both scholars may feel tired of being ignored or attacked by the academic establishment.



D was buried in Westminister Abbey, not far from Isaac Newton, Alpha-male territory.

D’s humility was tactical.  Carlyle was probably right to say that hero worship is an essential part of human nature.  And it probably isn’t a coincidence that it grows when people are beginning social competition in earnest.


He had a life of strategic alliances.  At Cambridge, he was known as “the man who walks with Henslow”.   He reverenced those above him who could do him favors.  When they were below him he wasn’t as hot on them.


When he got his first reputable praise he said, “that a man who dares to waste one hour of time, has not discovered the value of life.”


Loving Lyell:


Once D had endorsed Lyell’s view of geology, both men’s status would rise or fall with its fortunes.


Darwin said of him “You cannot imagine how good-naturedly he entered into all my plans. What a nice man!”


We tend to like people we can influence and we like them even more if they have high status..  We don’t think it out.  Natural selection has done the thinking for us!


Darwin’s Delay Revisited.


D was drawn towards fame, but afraid of infamy.

A good or whole part of a person’s mental activity consists in imagined communication to audiences imagined or real.  This has a great effect on what you recall. 

During the barnacle detour Darwin strengthened his argument. 

Also, credibility increases with prestige.  He was a well respected expert on barnacles.

And he marshaled potential social support.

The vexation hit on June 18th 1858 Wallace sent D his letter. 

The biochemical reaction was a trigger to action.  The old trigger was threat to status.

He said he would rather burn his book than have someone think he stole it.  He fretted about competition and had his friends introduce both papers together the next day without asking Wallaces’ permission.


Loyalty brings resources that can be called upon.


Postgame analysis:

His conscience bent just a little at the right time when his posterity needed a moral lapse.

Conscience is a savings account in which moral reputation is stored..



Ch 15- Darwinian(and Freudian) cynicism


We are all self-promoters and social climbers.  Our generosity and affection have a purpose.  They’re aimed either at kin, who share our genes, at nonkin of the opposite sex who can help package our genes for us.


 Or at non kin of either sex who seem likely to return the favor.  What’s more , the favor often entails dishonesty or malice;  we do our friends the favor of overlooking their flaws, and seeing (if not magnifying) the flaws of their enemies.  Affection is a tool of hostility.  We form bonds to deepen fissures.

                In our friendships, we’re deeply inegalitarian.   We value especially the affection of high-status people, and are willing to pay more for it.  Fondness wanes if status slips. 

                Neither D or Freuds cycnicism is bitter, because both view man as a victim of their subconscious (not intentionally bad).  Worthy of compassion as well as subterfuge.

                Freud thought of himself as a Darwinian.  But he said many things that sound nonsensical to today’s Darwinians

“thanatos” “penis envy” The Oedipal complex.  Genes that encourage any of these things wouldn’t spread.  The son and father are fighting over the mother’s time.  And it is in the siblings interest to delay the second child (by extended breast feeding).  Attention, not sex is what they fight over.

[People fight for status to help their children.  But I’m not going to have any.  So why try]


Darwin’s knobs and tunings:

The knobs are: love, lust, compation, reverence, ambition, anger, fear, pangs of conscience, of guilt of obligation, of shame and more all towards one goal.


What turns the knobs? Cues in the  environment that are likely to get the genes spread.

The situation and the liabilities.


One condition that may resist comprehension  because psychologists deem it unnatural is insecurity.

Those who couldn’t make it to the top through brute force have used reciprocal altruism-

That is a sensitive, painful conscience and chronic fear of being unliked.


Children to whom status doesn’t come naturally may work harder to become rich sources of information.


We will come to learn how these things are linked to the degree and nature of parental love, the number of parents, early romantic encounters, friends enemies.


Freud used Darwin in proving repression.  But humiliations are more remembered, not buried.

We also remember grievances and forget facts inconsistent with our theories.


The best of Freud:

What is good is his playing off of our being social and yet libidinous.  The superego does inhibit the id.

We may repress the memory of a friends transgression, especially if they are valuable to us.  But it may resurface if their status plummets.


The postmodern mind:

The commonsense way of thinking about the relation between our thoughts and feelings, on the one hand, and our pursuit of goals, on the other, is not just wrong, but backward.

“we” decide who is nice and then befriend them.  “we” figure outwho is wrong and oppose them. “we” decide who is upstanding and applaud them.  “we” figure out what is true and abide by it.

What is in our genes interests is what seems “right”.  For Darwin moral discourse, political discourse, academic discourse come down to raw power struggles.  And the truth isn’t always the winner.


Critical legal studies takes this view.  Human communications as “discourses of power”


Ironic self consciousness is the order of the day.  Cutting edge talk shows are massively self-referential.  Jokes about cue cards written on cue cards.

Architecture is now about architecture.

The modern mood is absurd, and mocking, but playfully.




If we were in other species (bees for example) our morals would be totally different.

All morals (sympathy , empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt remorse, even justice, can be seen as vestiges of organic history on a particular planet.


And we, unlike D, can’t take solice in the belief that these things evolved for the greater good.  Our intuitions about what is right and wrong are weapons.  A moral code is a political compromise.


Doomed rivals:

Darwin saw the voluminous pain in the world as working against religious belief.  Proof is that a cat should play with mice.

The ethic of Darwin and Mill:

They tried to save morality with utilitarianism.

The author backs it.

Natural selection “wants” us to believe that our individual happiness is special.Organisms act as if their happiness was more important than others (unless they can spread our genes).


In 1788, Darwin’s maternal grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, made hundreds of anti slavery medallions showing a black man in chains under the words “Am I  not a man and a brother?”

This was in line with utilitarianism. Darwin, apparently, didn’t worry too much about the clash of ethics and his theory.  If nature was cruel, so much the worse for nature.


Darwinism and Brotherly Love:

“Selfishness seldom presents itself to us in the naked form, belonging, as we do , to the only species that justifies the actions morally.  That illusion is now harder to buy.

But it shows us that we are wrong when we say, he deserves to be treated coldly.  It doesn’t mean that retribution is bad.  Just the reason we’ve been thinking of it as good are open to question.  The aura of reverence around the impulse is gone.  It isn’t due to a higher ethereal truth.  It too is selfish.

Couldn’t we then discount all love, even the love of family?

Actually, the opposite is the effect.  We see that what feels good is the best thing to do genetically.  Love actually makes the sacrifice feel good.  Thus magnifying total happiness all the more.


Engaging the enemy:

Huxley said that ethical progress doesn’t depend on imitating the cosmic process, but running away from it, in combating it.

The moral feeling of “rightness” is something natural selection created so that people would employ it selfishly. Morality, you could almost say, was designed to be misused by its own definition.



Brotherly love is great in theory.  But unconditional compassion without harming anyone is undoable.


But once you see the forces that govern behavior it’s harder to blame the behavior.

Businessmen can’t help but exploit, but neither can criminals.  Genetic determinism is no less unpalatable than “cultural determinism”

Darwin’s diagnosis:

Because men cannot analyse his motives, they think they have none (darwins response to determinism)

He saw that determinism takes away culpability and threatens morality.  But he said that wouldn’t do harm because only a few intellectuals considered such things.

The masses are now infected.

Neuropharmacology is telling us that we are all machines.

We are pushed by what we don’t understand.

A young inner-city thug is pursuing status by the path of least resistance.  The motives are the same ones that have made you who you are.  Just as subtle.


[there but for the grace of god.  No but for the grace of me.  Are we, Jews, just reinforced examples of a successful genetic proliferation model in culture?]

Women have used the premenstrual syndrome as a legal defense.  High testosterone made me do it.  Action Addiction is due to endorphins that the killer craves.

Defense lawyers are making a great job of it.


Two strategies emerge to combat this:

1)       The criminal still has free will.  Cause if he doesn’t, none of us do. And we do. Don’t We?!

2)       The second is complete surrender.  No one deserves blame or credit for anything.


None of our hatred and revulsions or wars are fought for an intellectual foundation. That is just in service of a practical foundation.


Darwin’s Prescription:

Punish criminals solely as a deterent.  It isn’t due to evil or wrong or right.

If we get rid of volition we can still use utilitarianism, or we can artificially restore it.


Jurors will still mete out punishment vaguely due to a feeling of justice.

Thoroughly Postmodern Morality:

Axelrod finds  that people don’t only dissaprove of criminals, but those who don’t disapprove of criminals.


We needen’t worry about creeping determinism muting a victim’s rage.  But we could come to accept that philandering is natural. 

Life – becomes a movie that we watch with bemused detachment.  It is like robots bumping into eachother.


The paradox is that there is no intellectual grounding for blame, but a practical need for it.

On the one hand, you don’t want to encourage divorce, on the other hand, you don’t want people to blame themselves for their failed marriages.


Mill as a puritan:

Morality makes us mindful of the welfare of people other than family and friends to the betterment of all society.  It is the cheapest and least creepy way to get this accomplished.


A person who shows rashness, obstinancy, self-conceit must expect to be lowered in the opinions of others.


Darwinism and ideology:

By showing that moral codes aren’t naturally deployed, it suggests a strong moral code may be needed.

Determinism highlights the urgency of erasing the social conditions, such as poverty that lead to punishable behavior.



Having lost his Christian faith he held to a vague theirsm.

But he always had the austerity of an evangelist.

The theme of strict self-governance, the control of animal appetites appear again and again in religions.


Jesus, Lao-tzu and Hinduism all went for brotherly love.

Religions give us hope and control us.

Religions have a harmony with the brain, but that doesn’t mean their good for them.  Some ideas are parasitic to the brain.  Dawkins calls them “viruses”


Besides if an idea does serve long term needs of a people, it could be the needs of the buyer, not the seller.  Religious leaders have high status.



Jesus said if you look at a woman with lust in your heart , you have committed adultery.

Drug dealers know that just a little temptation will lead to downfall. 

When Buddha tells us dig up the root of thirst, he sometimes puts it in battle terms.

They all tell of leaving the things of this earth behind.

The idea of the sages are a call to mutiny against the creator.


Sensual pleasures are the whip that natural selection uses to control us.

There is a more cynical explanation than rising above, such philosophies help reconcile people to their plight.  Material pleasures aren’t fun anyways.  Jesus said in the afterlife, The first shall be the last and the last, first.


The sages have been right on about the moral bias towards self.

We do not view non-kin with the same charity we view kin.


Theories of brotherly love:

We long ago got in the habit of justifying our actions.  But, says singer, it now takes on a logic of its own and extends beyond the bounds of the group. 


The most cynical explaination for the 10 comandments is that they made the flock easier to control.  But this code pays off for the sheep too.


These codes are pre judicial system.  The retributive thing runs deep.

Urban civilizations get more into curbing desire. 

The benefit of leaders stoking intolerance against others is no more.


Today’s sermonette.

A saint is someone who understands that everything he does is egotistical “martin Luther”

Suspicion towards your motives is the first step towards correcting moral bias.

The second is to keep cynicism from poisoning your view.  Pair harshness towards self with leniency toward others; relax the ruthless judgment that often renders us conveniently indifferent to and hostile to others.


Another thing that Martin Luther said was that chronic moral torment is a sign of god’s grace.


Some worry that Darwinian will strip us of all nobility.  One antidote is to be more moral than natural selection requires.  This rescues free will.

The second is gratitude.  What if natural selection  inclined us to not have sympathy or love.