An Unhappy Accident

An Unhappy Accident.


Richard Dawkins’  ‘The Selfish Gene’ was published in 1976 and Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979.  Unfortunately, the way the book was often interpreted played into the hands of Mrs Thatcher’s doctrine that economic self-serving behaviour is good and benefits the whole of society by making everybody else rich, whereas altruism does not. Old fashioned teachers who cared for the less tractable of their pupils were not wanted, instead they were put into competition with each other and judged by measurable results.  Hospitals now had to meet targets.  “We need more of that Dawkins’ selfish gene” was a cry at Tory party conferences.   Bu this was not what Dawkins meant.  He was talking purely scientifically about the function of genes at the molecular level, albeit using a colourful metaphor.   In fact, he thought it important that human beings do not behave as their genes do.  “We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth” (The Selfish Gene p. 215) he wrote.  But the damage was done.  The Tory hijacking of Dawkins’ idea was, of course, all rubbish.  Far from everybody benefitting from some peoples’ selfish behaviour, we now find ourselves in a situation where 1% own more wealth than the poorest 50% of the world population.  And indeed, even scientifically there has been a reaction against the selfish gene idea.  More and more, biologists are realising that the genes that do best are not those that trample over other genes but those that are best at co-operating (See Denis Noble’s ‘The Music of Life’).   But people who do not wish to behave as humans are meant to always want validation, usually in the past from a false interpretation of religion but usually now from a false interpretation of science.


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