Richard Dawkins main idea is that, we as ‘survival machines’ are designed to preserve and also designed by selfish genes (Dawkins,1989). In the book he described selfishness as altruism and unconscious purposive behavior. This means that there is no thought behind a gene’s action is just genetic. He also describes selfishness as as a behaviour that increases another person’s survival of genes in one person at the expense of another (Dawkins,1989). So therefore the genes behavior increases and/or decreases some genes survival.
In this book, unlike with Lorenz, he uses genetics to explain this along with economics (Dugan, 2004) . He does this rather than assuming certain things that drive some genes more than others. In the book Dawkins disputes Lorenz in their use of evolution by natural selection (Dugan, 2004) . Dawkins focus on genetics and takes a reductionistic view on things. Dawkins states that it’s the good of the gene instead of the good of the group in evolution. He states that natural selection acts on the individual’s genes instead of the affecting ht group as a whole (Dawkins,1989).
All genes build survival or individual organisms. Genes are in the word selfish in that they build several of these machines to increase the number of copies of themselves. Therefore survival tends to be, in itself, a selfish thing. He states that organisms form groups in act of their selfish genes, this is where we get the term safety in numbers (Dawkins,1989). An individual may act as if it cares for others but in their subconscious only do so to protect themselves. Dawkins stated three properties that show this type of selfish gene: longevity, copying-fidelity, and fecundity (Dawkins,1989).
These properties are always considered when one tried to understand how the replicating selfish genes survive sense life is based on replicators. Replicators are also in a way unconscious and blind to upcoming events in time, and there is no thought directing their actions. These kinds of selfish genes are selected based on the location and environment that their organism will be habiting. These replications can change or mutate causing variation (Dawkins,1989). This kind of variation is, to Dawkins, is what leads to evolution.
Genes can have multiple effects. Dawkins brings up the idea that a gene, theroretivaly, can influence behavior in addition to some physical biological functions (Dawkins,1989). Genes can not only just have multiple effects they can work together in an individual. In the book Dawkins uses a ‘rowing team’ to describe his point. Gene complexes or whole genomes may be responsible for certain patterns in behavior, whereas other genes code only certain components of the behaviour (Dawkins,1989).
In Dawkins view there is only one slight issue with his reasoning on this matter. There has never been much research on this topic so this statement can only be described as a theoretical argument. This however does not mean that genes don’t have behavioral effects. Genes environments must also be taken into account when studying this topic. An ESS (evolutionarily stable strategy) is a strategy that does well against copied of itself (Dawkins,1989). One a behavior dominates an organism or population these genes tend not to change drastically.
This explains the persistence of some behaviors in different societies. Things called cost and benefit can be calculated describe how an individual responds to a situation and if they act appropriately. This test is to be done not individually, and this judges appropriate behavior by studying how they approach certain things whether aggressively or in any other way (Dawkins,1989). This test can explain some discriminative behavior such as acting as if intrested in the wellbeing of others, or killing another person or organism for a specific purpose.
Things such as genetic readiness can explain certain characteristics mention previously, and why to some people or organisms it may be beneficial to behave in such a way (Dawkins,1989). Each of these methods are very useful when describing various aspects of certain and different behaviors. As I mentioned before a gene might program a rule into an organism and this would not just be a true relatedness but a best estimate from said organism that results in creating behavior. From the beginning Dawkins stated in this book he is not advocating morality based on evolution.
He is simply stating that this is what he believes could have happened in the process of evolution. Dawkins states that we should expect selfishness in human nature but that in a parallel to that we must also teach generosity (Dawkins,1989). This does not mean we will not face selfishness in nature, but we will embrace it and try to add traits to organisms to try and out weigh the selfishness that can take over. Dawkins uses a term (meme) as a unit of imitation or of cultural inheritance (Dawkins,1989). Memes can behave in a similar way to how genes do by selfishly trying to compete for space in order to replicate themselves.
The difference is that memes compete for space in organisms brains whereas genes compete for space on chromosomes. One main non-supporter of Dawkins ideas, as mentioned before, is a man known as Konrad Lorenz. Different from Dawkins Lorenz defines aggression in genes instead of selfishness as the fighting instinct in beast and man which is directed against members of the same species (Dugan, 2004). Whereas Dawkins believes that is the ever growing need to change our ways of selfishness that fuels our evolutions. He relates this statement to Darwin’s notion of the struggle for existence (Dugan, 2004).
The struggle Darwin was thinking of and which drives evolution forward is the competition between near relations. According to Lorenz this type of aggressive evolution does so under natural terms (Dugan, 2004). This is because nature always favors the stronger of two rivals that try to take possession over something, and this trait is passed on through the organism’s genes. In this book Dawkins relies perhaps too much on genetics when writing this book. Human behavior can be complicated, sporadic, and rely on organizations.
Human made social organizations may not be reducible to genetics, but they reasons and steps to these organizations might be linked to genetics. In the book Dawkins states that by sexual reproduction the number of genes replicated diminish by 50% (Dawkins,1989). These replicators can be said to be immoral, behave selfishly, but eventually disappear throughout generations. With this information is it even justifiable to describe individuals themselves as selfish if these genes disappear after generations. These replicator genes compete directly fro space within an organism and only sometimes for a spot in the ‘meme pool”.
In the end selfishness can be proved or disproved as an aspect of genes through evolution by many. Some like Dawkins believe that genes are capable of causing selfish personalities and districts whereas Lorenz disagree with Dawkins on the matter because he believes that our main influence of genes instead of selfishness is aggression. Despite these different views each pose their own points. The focus over this book ‘The Selfish Gene’ was about Dawkins perspectives on gene progression through evolution and after this book I highly believe that his theory on the matter is completely justifiable.