THE SELFISH GENE BY RICHARD DAWKINS | ANIMATED BOOK SUMMARY


Let’s go back a long time ago,
and we have man number one with wife number one,
and man number two with wife number two. Now man number one decides
that he’s going to cheat on his wife,
and man number two decides that he’s not going to cheat. So let’s say they both have two kids each
with their wives but man number one also cheated
with three other women and has a kid with each. That gives the cheater a total
of five kids with his genes and the non-cheater a total
of only two. Now let’s say a few lions get hungry and attack
and eat two kids of each of the men. The genes of man number two,
the honest non-cheater will not survive while the genes of man number one,
the dishonest cheater will go on. This is the main idea of the selfish gene.
If there’s a gene that’s not selfish, it will disappear over time.
The cheat on your wife genes will go on and the don’t cheat on your wife genes
will go extinct. Let’s look at another example…
What if you’re walking home to your family and you come across an empty hut?
The people who own the hut are out gathering food
but they’ve left the hut all by itself, and you see that there’s food in there.
And you know you’re not going to get caught if you go in and steal all the food.
Are you going to be selfish and steal, or are you going to be a good guy? Well, let’s look at it in terms of
man number one and man number two again. Man number two decides to be honest again
and goes home with what he has. On the other hand,
Man number one goes in and steals everything, adds it to everything else he has gathered,
and brings home twice as much food. Now famine strikes.
Both families of man number one and man number two are struggling
to feed themselves. But, man number one has twice as much food
because he was selfish. Man number two’s family ends up starving to
death and man number one struggles to feed his family
but they eventually survive and reproduce. Again, we end up with the selfish genes surviving
while the honest genes disappear. Now you might be asking,
“Well, what about all the nice things we do for each other?”
“What about all those altruistic genes?” So let me give you an example of that… I have two brothers…
If someone were to take a gun and tell my mom that
she had to choose between the three of us dying
or her own death, I have almost full certainty
that she would pick her own death. So how does that work then?
Where’s the selfish gene there? A selfish gene is obviously not
going to want that, right? Well, let’s actually take a closer look… My mom’s over 50 now,
so she’s not going to be reproducing anymore. She does have three sons however
who’re all capable of reproducing. So the decision is between
absolutely no chance of reproduction or a very high chance of reproduction and
survival considering three healthy sons.
Keeping this in mind, it now makes perfect sense
for a gene to be selfish and want my mom to sacrifice herself.
She’s not going to sacrifice herself for any random three brothers,
why not? It’s not like we’re the best three brothers
in the world… What’s the difference?
The difference is that they don’t carry her genes.
So the selfish gene’s logic is very clear here…
When you’re a 50 year old woman and you have three sons,
it makes absolutely perfect sense to pick your own death
over the death of your three sons. Let’s look at another example…
Worker bees will sting an intruder and kill it
but in the process the bee’s internal organs are ripped out and it dies as well.
Wow! Now that can’t be because of a selfish gene,
right?! We love looking at social insects
like bees and ants and glorifying them for these selfless acts,
but let’s take a closer look at this kamikaze behavior.
What you have to keep in mind is that the bee is sterile.
There are two ways to help your genes survive. One…
To produce offspring. Two…
To to take care of and protect the organisms with the same genes as you. Well, since the bee is sterile
and cannot produce its own offspring, it now makes perfect sense
to kill itself for the organisms which do carry its genes.
Dawkins says, “The death of a single sterile worker bee
is no more serious to its genes than is the shedding of a leaf in autumn
to the genes of a tree.” So now that we’re not completely naive
about all of this, let’s make one thing clear…
Of course the gene doesn’t have some little brain in it
that knows what to do to survive. The primitive woman didn’t have
a sophisticated understanding of statistics when she decided if it was a good idea
to sacrifice herself for her kids. This is all just based on what they do,
but what they do turns out to be evolutionarily advantageous
and therefore through natural selection they survive.
That’s it. Alright,
now what is the conclusion for all of this? Well, that our genes are selfish
otherwise we wouldn’t be here, and that we’re simply vehicles
for these genes to transport themselves into the future
and they have no problem throwing us away once we’re no longer of use to them. And of course this is not
the happiest conclusion to arrive at, and it makes a lot of people angry!
People get angry at the book and Dawkins himself! Is this what you want Dawkins?
Social Darwinism?! Is that what you want?! I mean some people are probably angry even
at this video! But neither Dawkins nor I want to live in
a society that’s governed by social darwinism.
We’re just simply presenting factual information. Doesn’t matter if you like the fact
that a husband who will cheat as many times as he can
will have a better chance of spreading his genes,
that’s just a fact. But how can we approach this and what can
we learn from it? Well one…
We have to start by facing reality. The reality isn’t pretty.
We’re programmed to cheat. We’re programmed to eat a lot of sugar.
You have to understand what you’re dealing with
if you’re going to go against it. It won’t help you to get angry and yell,
“Well, I’m not programmed to eat sugar,” because you’ll be presented with cookies
and you’ll overeat like everyone else. So one,
face the reality. Two…
We’re so lucky as humans! You can’t expect a bird to honor his commitment
to his bird wife and not cheat on her, because he’ll just go off of what he’s programmed
to do. But we humans have the ability!
We have the ability to go against our programming. That doesn’t mean that most people
will go against it, but it’s definitely possible.
Most people won’t be able to go against the urge to eat sugar when they’re tempted
by it, but I also have plenty of friends
who do go against eating a cookie every time they’re presented with one. Another thing I get asked a lot is
when I’m going to have kids. And my answer is I’m not sure if I want kids
or not. I don’t know if I want to play the game
that I’m programmed to play which is to have kids so my genes can keep
going, or just create my own game and play that.
And to this, most people’s reaction is just pure shock!
How could you possibly not want kids?! What is wrong with you?!
And that’s great that there’s such a strong reaction,
otherwise we would be extinct by now. But, I might have kids or I might not.
I don’t know yet… But I don’t want it to be determined
just by what I’m programmed to do which is why most of us are brought into this
world. So again two things…
One… Accept the facts of natural selection.
Getting angry about it doesn’t help you at all.
Two… Realize that as a human,
you’re extremely lucky. You’ve been programmed for certain behaviors,
but you can rebel against them even if it’s going to be really challenging
because you’ll be up against years and years of evolution. And finally,
don’t take this as an endorsment for being an asshole
or building a family or a society around social darwinism.
It will probably make you really miserable but yes, your genes will be very proud of
you. So to quote Richard Dawkins… “I am not advocating a morality based on evolution.
I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans
morally ought to behave. I stress this,
because I know I am in danger of being misunderstood by those people,
all too numerous, who cannot distinguish a statement of belief
in what is the case from an advocacy of what ought to be the case.”

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