This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
First Web Paper
On Serendip

The Civilized Altruist

Fritz Dubuisson

The evolution of man as a species can be traced with limited fossil evidence, but the development of the mind takes a different course of investigation. "Unfortunately, no hominoid fossils- nor such of a fossil chimpanzee- are as yet known for the period between 6 and 13 mya. Thus there is no documentation of the branching event between the hominoid fossil and the chimpanzee lineages" ( What 239).
Ernst Mayr, a staunch supporter of humans as the current supreme species sheds little glimmers of light onto this subject. Though his main goal in What is Evolution is to provide a biological narrative, it also works to illustrate the evolution of the brain and the emotions. In between these lines lie the broader questions. These questions delve into the realm of the cognitive and emotional. They ask the how and the whys which can not be so readily answered by biology or other means of scientific proof.

One such question arises from what seems to be man's innate need for grouping. Initially these groups were created as a means of protection from predators, of any form, but soon they evolved into complex socio-emotional support systems. "For tens of thousands of years- the period of recent human evolution- humans lived in groups ranging from 50 to 200 people. To survive they had to raise their offspring until they reached social and biological maturity" (Law 4). In these well maintained social structures there were rules and regulations, which worked to ensure the survival of the group as a whole. In time these groups became larger and extremely complicated civilizations.

Altruism is the driving force behind these constructions. By creating these codependent infrastructures, humans must depend on one another. The us against the (natural) world mind set is takes over. Altruism fosters an environment where ideas as well as behaviors can be recycled into society and time. As an altruist, an individual may or may not be rewarded for their contribution to the human species. But he or she has a lasting trickle down effect on society , humanity and civilization.

It would seem against animal nature, even that of the human, to be altruistic. Survival of the fittest does not leave room for such socially learned behaviors. Or does it? Survival of the fittest has now moved from the physically fittest to that of the adaptable. Through socially learned behaviors and adaptations evolution of the human species has become less about nature and more about the civilization's ability to nurture.

Since civilization is a product of altruism it is fitting that those best able to maneuver its pits and falls be altruists. They exist in a sustained environment built to their specifications. The prototype of civilization calls for humans to develop a high level of sociability. In the evolution of the species and their structures altruism has come to replace the archaic divisions between hunters and gatherers. Now, due to civilizations those lines have become less distinct, but still exist. The altruist is the ultimate hunter. By going into realms which are unattainable to the average man, either financially or mentally, they hunt in the unknown. They then return to the folds of civilization to disperse what they have attained. The hunters take risks as the gatherers wait. As the recipient of the altruist action the rest of civilization become the gathers. But as Mayr questioned: Can there be any real altruism?

The conception and maintenance of civilizations answers this question with a resounding no. Civilization is a survival mechanism. Pure altruism is unattainable. The closest humans could come to pure altruism would be act of animity, but even these are questionable as the person who acted still has some knowledge as to what occurred. The knowledge of having done something "good" or "beneficial", makes true altruism impossible because this knowledge will incite some for of emotion or reaction on those who "know". " The idea is as follows: A invests in (e.g., assists, helps) B because, at some future time, B will reciprocate A's assistance" (Law 35). Acts of perceived kindness and other such behaviors have an effect which is wide spread and deeply socially penetrative.

First there is the person who commits the initial behavior. They may or may not feel good based on the reaction of the civilization which they inhabit. Then there is the recipient of the action. This reaction can be observed on several levels, depending on who the altruist is and who their target is. The target, through rules and regulation set up by the civilized society, must then act accordingly. The target may then be guilted into duplicating this behavior. Others who may or may not wish to receive the benefits of being an altruist in their society also model the behavior. By this means the survival of man is ensured.

The fittest in this environment are not necessarily those who would have ben deemed the fittest of the past. Civilization creates a large population in a smaller amount of space to increase to possibility of offspring and the species survival. In this space natural selection becomes less relevant as the options have been significantly increased. It is man's interpretation of a "controlled" environment. Since it is a world of human creation built by and for humans, they can not but thrive in it as a species. In this environment, the human species can reign supreme. This was not an option in the "uncontrollable" world of nature were man was not the best equipped or adaptable species.

Works Cited
Gruter, Margaret. Law and the Mind: Biological Origins of Human Behavior. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, Inc. 1991.
Mayr, Ernst. What is Evolution. New York: Basic Books. 2001.

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:51 CDT