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Nice Guys Finish First, Part 1

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♪♪♪ ♫♪ ♪♪♪♪ ♫♪♫ ♫♪♫♪ ♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪ ♫♫ ♫♫ My name is Richard Dawkins. I am a zoologist from Oxford. ... Some people think I’ve provided the biological justification for that bleak, ruthless, competitive, selfish world - because they have completely misunderstood what’s implied by a book I wrote 9 years ago called The Selfish Gene. Too many people read it by title only – and in particular, people on the extreme left and the extreme right of the political spectrum. On the right, we have various writers from the National Front and French equivalents who saw the idea of “the selfish gene” as chiming in very much with their own rather nasty political philosophy. They liked the idea of what they saw as a biological justification for the kind of cutthroat competitive world, which they advocated. I was also approached by various right-wing American economists who were equally attracted by the idea that in the economic sphere a completely free capitalistic market economy could be justified on biological grounds. On the left, on the other hand, we had people reacting very strongly, as you might expect, to these right-wing responses and I remember being blamed in a magazine article by one influential left-wing writer – almost personally blamed – for the election of Mrs. Thatcher [elected leader of the British Conservative - “right-wing” - Party in 1975 and elected as Prime Minister in 1979 and serving in that office through 1990] in the last general election. The right-wingers thought that my idea of the selfish gene always meant survival of the strongest, most competitive, most selfish. But I didn’t mean to suggest that the the selfish gene approach precludes cooperation. Even within this brutal red and tooth and claw encounter, there’s a great deal of sophisticated social cooperation among the hyenas. ... These adult wildebeests are devoting valuable time and energy to protecting some other individual’s baby from the marauder. ... Some years ago it was popularly believed that such selfless behavior could be explained away because it was for the good of the species. The trouble is, we no longer believe that evolution can act on whole species. It’s the individual that counts - and immortality of its genes, which can only be carried to the next generation thanks to an individual’s reproductive success. This sounds very selfish – each animal looking out for number one, but it isn’t necessarily so. I’m going to explain how selfish genes can give rise to altruistic, cooperative behavior – to stop this idea [from] being misinterpreted. ... We can explain many forms of cooperation thanks to a lot of work, for instance, on the social insects. The ultimate act of altruism [is] a bee from one colony giving its life in a battle to the death with a marauder from another colony. But the workers of each colony [although not reproductive themselves] are all highly genetically related to the reproductively active individuals – the young queens and drones. So this sacrifice makes sense if it will protect the colony and improve the chances of the same genes living on in future individuals. ... But there’s a great deal of cooperation in nature where genetic relatedness cannot be the explanation... where the individuals concerned aren’t even of the same species. The relationship between the Clown Fish and the Anemone is mutually rewarding. The fish are immune to the Anemone’s stinging cells, so they’re protected. In return, obtains scraps of food from the fish - reciprocal altruism; you do me a favor and I’ll return it. But it’s not enough simply to observe that there’s something in it for both. We have to explain how animals get to binding agreements like this. ♫ The cooperation here – ants milking aphids and repaying the favor with protection - will be favored by natural selection if the selfish genes on both sides are benefiting from the association; But to explain how it comes about and remains mutual and effective, biologists have employed a concept more common to human interactions – the idea of strategy. We’re all familiar with the ordinary human sense of a consciously worked out strategy for achieving some desired goal where we actually sit down and think to ourselves, “How can I best behave in order to get what I want?” But evolutionary biologists use the word strategy in a rather different sense. They use it to mean a prewired program, rather like a computer program or a program that’s controlling an unconscious robot, where the program is written, not by a human programmer, but by natural selection. Both these senses of strategy, the ordinary human consciously worked-out strategy and the evolutionary prewired program strategy, have a lot in common. They share some of the same principles. Both of them are about achieving some desired goal. ... ... For years, strategic human interactions, like these games of chess, have been modeled in mathematical terms. It’s called, appropriately enough, game theory. And biologists have borrowed the technique to analyze animal behavior too. Chess is so complicated, we may never work out the infallible winning strategy, but we do know that the object of the game is to win. Each player carries around with him a mental baggage of offensive and defensive moves he can employ at any given point in the game. ... If neither player ends up winning, it won’t signify an agreement between them to cooperate – simply a stalemate. ... The trouble is, far too many of us see life, in both the human and animal world, , in terms of competitive games like this – where if black is winning, white must lose. ... ... Check mate. ... ... ... The idea of football being anything else but competitive is ludicrous... It just wouldn’t be football. The whole game is constructed in order to reward one team for sticking the ball in the other team’s net and the payoffs reinforce that – 3 points for a win, only 1 for a draw and nothing for the losers. But, although the framework is competitive, decisions as to whether to compete or not are made inside human heads. They can make nonsense of the whole idea of the game. It happened back in 1977, in the English 1st division. ... The match was between Coventry City and Bristol City and both teams were fighting to stay up in the next season. The bottom of the table looked like this – Tottenham and Stoke were already relegated [out of the play-offs]. One of the other 3 had to join them [to be disqualified from the play-offs]. Sunderland, who were playing their last game [somewhere else], would stay up on goal difference, even if they lost, providing there was a loser at Coventry [the match you are viewing – between Coventry City and Bristol City]. Coventry and Bristol played the game like a "cup" tie [with a furious competitive spirit] into the second half and Coventry was already 2 up [2 points ahead]. ... ... Bristol looked doomed. But late in the game they fought back - 2 all [to a 2 to 2 tie]. The Coventry [versus] Bristol game was running 5 minutes late. So, at that point news came through that Sunderland had lost. The Coventry manager had the [Sunderland versus Everton match result... the score] flashed up on the electronic scoreboard. Now both Coventry and Bristol were saved if only they could keep their score 2 all [tied]. The game turned into something like this – farcical football. The side in possession made no attempt to score. To do so was to invite retaliation. ... ... In reply, the other side amiably shadowed them for the rest of the game. The players had decided, consciously, to cooperate, not compete and the draw [the tie] was not stalemate, but the cooperative solution. In this case, it was easy for the players to know when to switch from conflict to cooperation. But there is a particular game, which we’re going to explore where the possibility of mixing conflict and cooperation presents a real dilemma.

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 40 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: BBC
Views: 1,350
Posted by: hotforchina on Mar 5, 2009

A BBC documentary featuring Richard Dawkins illustrating the case for one of the themes in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene - evolution promotes a large dose of altruism and cooperation.

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