Why are people nice to each other? What are the reasons for altrusim? Matt Ridley explains how the human mind has evolved a special instinct for social exchange, offering a lucid and persuasive argument about the paradox of human benevolence.
Matt Ridley does not deny that individuals can act out of selfishness bu he argues that harmony generally prevails over selfishness. This book explains the paradox that our minds have been build by selfish genes to be social, trustworthy and co-operative. He says we owe our success as a species to these social instincts. He explains that morality is the stuff society is made of. In short his argument goes like this:
1. Society is important because is allows for divison of labor. It allows for people to specialize. And the sums of all our specialized efforts are greater than they would be if we all had been generalists. In other words: society is synergy between specialists.
2. In order to have a harmonious society, we have to be well-connected to each other. This requires us to be co-operative, social and trustworthy.
3. Being social, co-operative and trustworthy is a way to thrive and thereby an evolutionairy advantage.Read more ›
Matt Ridley argues that, even though our genes and evolution ensure that we are selfish, what has made our species so successful is our inclination to trust and co-operate with each other. We don't only co-operate with members of our own family (looking out for our own genes), we also help and co-operate with other members of our community and even total strangers. He examines the reasons for this apparent selflessness and his reasoning is very convincing. The main thread that runs through the book, upon which all the explanations of our apparent altruism and frequent treachery hangs, is "Game Theory" and, in particular "The Prisoner's Dilemma". According to this theory, we carefully weigh up (not necessarily consciously) the pros and cons of situations where we have something to gain or lose by co-operating, pretending to co-operate, or not co-operating with others. In these situations certain strategies work better than others, depending on the strategies exercised by the other participants in the group.Read more ›