Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Theft, Slavery and Rape Explained By Selfish Gene Theory

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 20, 2009

In The Selfish Gene, the reader was encouraged to consider how seemingly altruistic behaviors are actually selfish. I will now examine this for the cases of theft, slavery, and rape. That is, why do people consider these actions to be wrong?

We live in a community of people and we know each other’s personalities. If Edward Evil starts stealing from people, he will get a reputation as a thief (if people find out, that is, which they likely will). He will be pushed away: it is in the selfish interest of every other member of society to not be anywhere near a thief. Thus, the thief will then not get the benefits that come out of living in a society, such as an easier time getting food and finding a mate.

This one is easy. Sure, you may be able to propagate your genes. But it won’t matter, since no woman will ever want to sleep with you again. It is against a woman’s self-interest to be raped; so if someone is a known rapist, other women will avoid him. (This is all assuming that the males are the ones doing the raping, but it works the same if you flip it around.)

As we have seen in the past, many people do not believe that slavery is wrong. Today’s ideas are largely cultural. However, it is still a relatively wide-spread belief. Why? This one’s tricky. Perhaps slaves tend to rebel and harm their masters. I don’t know. What do you think?


One Response to “Theft, Slavery and Rape Explained By Selfish Gene Theory”

  1. phynnboi said

    It’s possible that some of the slavery thing may come down to kin selection as a consequence of some masters procreating with their slaves. I presume that most people, even masters, will be reluctant to make slaves of their offspring. Those offspring are then likely to champion of their slave parents, weakening their master’s resolve to keep using them (or anyone else) as slaves, a sentiment that will tend to spread to other masters.

    Just a shot in the dark, there; slavery doesn’t really interest me, so I haven’t read much about it.

    All three things seem to largely depend on how different we perceive our victims to be. For instance, for much of our species’ history, it seems to have been perfectly acceptable to murder and pillage enemy tribes/cities/cultures/etc. Many civilizations had no problem with the raping part, either; heck, even the god of the Old Testament seems to have been hunky-dory with it as long as the assailants performed the proper rituals (e.g., “marrying” the women/girls). In contrast, it has generally been seen as bad for people in a society to perform such acts on other members of the same society. This may simply be because societies that allowed those things were unlikely to remain societies for long.

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