5. THE GENES DECEIVED
From chapter three on cultural knowledge, the original purpose of the brain was to allow a change of ideas during one’s lifetime with the goal of enhancing the expression of genetic ideas by the addition of new cultural ideas. As well, our inherited genetic ideas have evolved to lead us, by hormonal reward and punishment, along the path of survival and eventually reproduction. Through seeking happiness we survive and reproduce.
Can this bond between happiness and reproduction be broken? The first cultural ideas we had were non-transmittable. These ideas were mutualistic with genetic ideas and so were no threat to this bond. This is still the case for wild animals today. A lion learns the layout of the land, including the best places for hunting, water, and shelter. A hormonal wash and so happiness results when the lion catches an animal, quenches its thirst or lies under a shady tree. These types of cultural ideas help it to survive and so eventually reproduce with none of these ideas subverting the bond between happiness and reproduction. The early cultural knowledge of humans would have also been similarly linked with survival and reproduction.
The modern human mind is different. It contains a substantial body of cultural knowledge, considerably more than in primitive times. With this complexity came new belief systems and so new ways of experiencing happiness. Examples could be flying in planes, reading books, eating tasty foods or playing electronic games. A trip in a plane addresses the genetic idea of curiosity and so is an enhanced exploration of, or movement within, our environment. For those who stay at home, an adventure book can also be exploratory by redirecting the travel or hunting to the experience of others. Elaborate cooking recipes address genetic hunger with the food becoming tastier than in earlier times. Playing a search and destroy electronic game could be a redirected raid on a neighbouring village. All these new cultural ideas address genetic ideas that evolved in primitive times.
There are also new ways of experiencing unhappiness. Decreases in happiness could come from disapproval by one’s society, having ideas against the stream, slants by social institutions, dominating and chastising religions, repressive universities where mediocrity prevents innovation, and dull and repetitious jobs. All can lead to unpleasant hormonal washes with these states being given such names as guilt, melancholy, depression, and boredom.
New cultural knowledge includes a range of contraceptives (such as condoms, diaphragms, and pills) that can prevent fertilisation. Here culturally produced structures (artifacts) have allowed more frequent mating, often with different partners, resulting in greater volumes of hormones released and so increased happiness. Children are avoided. As a result, cultural ideas for the use of these contraceptives have proliferated. Through these artifacts, a person gains the genetic reward (sexual pleasure) without the genetic consequence (children). From a genetic eye-view, the cultural ideas for contraception are no longer mutualistic. The genes that promote the sexual act have been deceived. They have given the brain a hormonal wash but have not increased their chance of reproduction. While the body still opts for maximum happiness, in this case happiness and reproduction no longer go hand in hand.
Another example could be a Catholic priest’s celibacy. A cultural belief system has deceived a person into helping others rather than having and helping his own children. The reason a church might give for this enforced celibacy is that it avoids the distraction of family duties. The priest, now unencumbered, can devote more time to his parishioners. From a genetic eye-view, these celibacy ideas break the bond between reproduction and happiness by preventing reproduction. But the priest is not necessarily made unhappy by avoiding reproduction; he is rewarded by the satisfaction of helping his parishioners. The priest’s genetic ideas for nurturing have been redirected by religious cultural ideas into helping members of his flock, which have become, in his mind’s eye-view, his offspring. From this redirection, the priest gets a similar hormonal wash to what he would normally have received if he had helped his own children. His happiness may even be greater as he now has more ‘children’ than he could normally have had with a family. However, from the eye-view of the parishioners his actions are not selfish. His help assists in their survival and so reproduction, and this help need not be returned (although contributions will be made for his own and the church’s upkeep).
The Confucian and later Christian idea of ‘love your neighbour’ also exploits the genetic nurturing belief system. This idea is startling because it goes against what one would expect from evolution with its system of reciprocal mutualisms. It seems against genetic law. Its message is essentially to redirect one’s love, normally given to children, relatives and friends with whom there are genetic and cultural mutualisms established, to unknown people. By helping others where there is no chance of this help being returned, energy and time are lost and so these acts are wasteful from a genetic eye-view. Resources that could have been directed towards kin and friends are redirected to unknown people. However, the person can receive from this redirection a similar hormonal reward as if kin had been helped. Again, cultural ideas have broken the bond between happiness and reproduction.
These ‘selfless’ acts are encouraged by societies but not all people perform them (see note 5 on altruism). I think a lot depends on inherited genetic ideas as well as the cultural ideas sown in the mind at an early age. For example, for people who inherit strong nurturing ideas, one family might not be enough. After their children have grown up and gone their own ways, such people might care for other non-related children, possibly on behalf of some charity. By doing so they further satisfy their strong nurturing ideas and so continue to enjoy happiness. If the inherited nurturing talent is weak, there may be relief when the children have left home, or the couple may choose to have no children at all. A society often calls further nurturing acts, such as helping at an orphanage, selfless, but really they are still redirected genetically derived acts aimed at maintaining nurturing pleasure.
Other genetic ideas, such as those for socialisation, can also be redirected. A prisoner of war refusing to divulge the names or whereabouts of comrades (who are unlikely to be his kin) may suffer death as a result. As adults, these comrades hardly need nurturing but they still form part of a prisoner’s social group, even though absent. Much the same as villagers band together to defend themselves from attack, soldiers band together to protect their own kind. For a village, many people would be related and so it would be in one’s own genetic interest to combine with other villagers to fight an invader. However, from a genetic eye-view in an army of many thousands, it is questionable whether there is any reason to fight. Here cultural beliefs installed by army doctrine, such as ‘one should not betray friends’ or ‘be loyal to your unit’, have aligned with genetic ideas for socialisation to defeat strong will-to-live genetic ideas. The training of soldiers with their similar uniforms, haircuts, salutes, and so on, is a way of creating the village feeling of ‘we are all in this together’. Surprisingly, the prisoner may even perceive a net increase of happiness by this non-cooperation even though death is a reduction in happiness. It is the least negative outcome. The cultural ideas instilled in the prisoner’s mind would cause greater unhappiness had s/he lived with the knowledge that friends were betrayed.
In all these cases so far, people who redirect their actions are still acting to maximise their own happiness, even if this may no longer maximise their reproductive success. Their genes have been deceived. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is much better to have as your friends people with redirected nurturing ideas such as ‘love your neighbour’, or redirected socialisation ideas such as ‘support your comrades’. Your life will be happier in the company of these friends. They will help you for the sake of helping you, rather than for any expected return. Their actions are still to maximise their own happiness from redirecting genetic ideas, but from your eye-view, their actions result in an increase in your happiness.
It is interesting to look at some of the extreme actions that humans take, such as suicide and martyrdom in terms of the interplay of genetic and cultural ideas. After all, these acts hardly seem likely to benefit the person taking them. Roman soldiers such as Brutus and Mark Antony committed suicide because of loss of face when their armies failed. The Essenes of Qumran committed suicide by jumping over a cliff to avoid the humiliation of capture by the Romans. The Japanese samurai was capable of suicide if he failed in his allotted task. In 1978 about nine hundred people in Jonestown, Guyana, committed suicide by poison, most in the expectation of going to a better life after death. Love for a ruler can cause attendants to clamour to be buried alive with him (James, 1962). Today, religious martyrs happily drive trucks full of explosives into buildings killing themselves in the process, and so securing themselves a place in heaven.
These acts represent the extremes to which cultural knowledge can affect genetic knowledge. From a genetic eye-view, nothing could be more destructive. Normally, ideas for suicide will not survive in their struggle with will-to-live genetic knowledge. People lost in a desert or marooned in a life raft can undergo extraordinary hardships just to stay alive. Another genetic idea that will struggle against suicide ideas is the fear of pain. It is usually not easy to kill oneself, and the pain in doing so might be reason enough not to attempt it.
What struggle of ideas in the mind results in these acts? The first thing to note is that all these people had a reasonable stock of cultural ideas. I can’t imagine that suicide existed in primitive times because the amount of cultural knowledge was much lower. The cultural knowledge of non-human animals is also insufficient for suicide. In all the above examples, it was cultural knowledge that drove suicide and martyrdom, not genetic knowledge (I exclude here people with genetic errors of birth such as insanity, schizophrenia and so on). Remember that the original reason for the evolution of cultural knowledge was to increase the chance of reproduction of one’s genes, not to destroy them. The cultural knowledge learnt by the wasp, the fish, and the lion all increased their chances of survival. For cultural knowledge to now destroy the genes is a new turn of events.
One cultural belief favourable to suicide is that of life after death. These ideas will placate will-to-live genetic ideas. The person sees him/herself as not really dying, but going from one place to another. Many of the people of Jonestown genuinely believed that they were not really dying, but going from a painful earthly life to a blissful heavenly one. Greater happiness in heaven was the motive and so the act was still one of maximising happiness. Or else in the case of the Japanese samurai, the loss of face would result in a life too painful to bear. He thinks his pain will be less through suicide. Today many people suffer depression from overwork, financial crises, failed relationships and so on. Here genetic ideas have been depressed to the extent that their ability to struggle against invading cultural ideas for suicide is decreased. The will to live can be practically non-existent. In the case of the failed businessman, suicide is still the act of greatest happiness, in the sense of it being the act of least pain. Whatever the reason for suicide, from a genetic eye-view, any cultural ideas that cause death are disastrous. This is particularly the case if the person has not yet reproduced. An early death guarantees that the genes will not be passed to the next generation.
Another interesting type of suicide appears different from the ones above. If a spell is cast upon a person through witchcraft, all hope of living may be given up and the person might fret to death (Denton, 1993, found that the heart is voluntarily stopped by the brain). The person believes death is inevitable. Here the cultural ideas acquired in childhood are so strong that once people know that they have been bewitched, these cultural death ideas will win over will-to-live genetic ideas. The person sees no choice but death and, should death result, the genes will have again been deceived by cultural ideas. Often the only way to recover, as the condemned person’s mind sees it, is the removal of the spell by the same or another witch doctor. Removal-of-spell ideas then enter into the mind and align with genetic will-to-live ideas. The outcome is now survival.
Drug taking is another form of redirection that circumvents genetic ideas. Successful drugs, such as the opiates, chemically mimic various hormones that produce happiness in the brain. Through drugs a person can get a hormonal reward without addressing any genetic ideas. An externally produced ‘hormone’ rather than an internally produced one is used. The person’s acts are often redirected towards obtaining more of the drug rather than reproduction. Therefore, drugs can also break the bond between happiness and reproduction.
Modern cultural belief systems, such as fast cars, good restaurants, and holidays on tropical islands, all produce happiness, but, due to their cost, they can be at the expense of a large family or, in some cases, any family at all. The pleasure of these activities is placed before the pleasure of families. Evidence of this widespread gene deception lies in the decrease in the number of children per family in most western societies, where, coincidently, the volume of gene deceiving cultural belief systems has grown to be the highest. By rough correlation, the greater the volume of a society’s cultural knowledge, the more chance there is that ideas can invade to allow increased happiness at the expense of genetic reproduction.
But while cultural ideas that reduce reproduction are detrimental from a particular person’s genetic eye-view they are not necessarily detrimental to societies. There are already too many people in the world so a cultural redirection away from reproduction is a good thing. People can continue to be happy through redirection with less children being produced.