Genes compete with one another on the basis of which of their designs adapt their host best to its environment. How to acquire the energy necessary to succeed is embedded in that competition. The selfish gene--a metaphor for survival as the imperative--chooses between the cooperative gene--a metaphor for divisions of labor based on merit where all share in the product--and the outlaw gene--a metaphor for exploiting the labor of others.
This thesis explains relationships otherwise incomprehensible. The Civil War provides a dramatic example. Few Confederate soldiers owned slaves. Yet, they were willing to give their lives that others may own slaves. The issue went beyond slavery. The outcome of the war would greatly influence which template would govern the culture of America. Lincoln would not have fought the war for a less significant cause: would the country be ruled by elites given the right to exploit other people's labor or would all be free and equal to develop their abilities? Few issues create as much hatred and division as this one. Few issues have written as much history or will continue to do so.
As always, Lincoln said it best: "It is the eternal struggle between these two principles--right and wrong--throughout the world. They are the two principles that stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other is the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.'" In the modern world, corporations and the very wealthy have replaced kings.
And the shapes have been many. We fought WWII to prevent the outlaw gene, in the form of fascism, from shaping relationships of race, sex, and ethnicity into justifications for extreme means of exploiting other people's labor by a new militarily- created elite. Terrorism continues as a tool of both states and the stateless for forcing people to accept exploitation.
There are much more subtle ways of repressing people. Lincoln did not indulge in hyperbole. Without a construct of right and wrong--good and evil--the market and the excuse that everything is relative will sanction a plethora of means for stealing other people's labor. It is perfectly alright for a senator to take campaign contributions for legislation relieving the rich from paying taxes while millions have no health insurance. Lumber companies once built little towns for their workers and made them buy their needs from company stores at outrageous prices and paid workers slim wages. People who use the Internet to acquire the creative works of the gifted, whose copyrights are often avoided thereby, steal from the artist. The market can function as one apology for greed. Women were probably the first to suffer the institution of second-class citizens.
Examples are endless. Nothing increases profit margins like the ability to extort. Only people of little imagination need to break the law. Congress spends much of its time deciding who can get away with extortion, such as drug companies that may charge whatever they please. Congress has even forgiven the negligence of drug companies after courts have found it.
From the beginning of American history, great presidents, like the Founding Fathers, held America up as the place where exploitation of labor would come to an end. The success of democracy would produce that result. America carried the torch of equality. That narrative has all but disappeared, replaced by an ethic of consumption and making it big. Evan liberals no longer question the excesses of the market, which does not, and cannot, consider anything but profit. Loss of the vision of equality accompanied considerable propaganda belittling empathy.
Without empathy, concepts of inequality may appear as mere excuses of the losers in the games people play for money. The religion of money consolidated arguments for survival of the ruthless as the strategy most compatible with biological evolution. God is who or what we think we have to obey to survive. Since technology has literally replaced work that once promoted self-sufficiency, money appears to provide the only means of survival.
The central role that ethics and morality play in survival arises out of natural selection's paradox. Natural selection does not make judgments. It is an algorithm that favors no one. You adapt or you die. If short-term adaptations use up the resources necessary for long-term adaptations, you die. Without a dedication to survival of the species, short-term (particularly under the religion of money) adaptations preempt the survival of our children. Without morality, like so many other species, we will become extinct.
Short-term profits often rely on short-term adaptations made attractive by the outlaw gene--a short-term strategy. We are what we adapt to. We adapt mostly to our own inventions rather than the natural world that designed our genes. Adapting to the wrong thing does not design a future. Take water, the most critical resource, as an example. We were once limited to rainfall stored in rivers and lakes and shallow wells. Now we have pumps that go down thousands of feet to collect water that has been stored for millions of years. When those aquifers dry up, the annual rainfall will not suffice. We adapt to the pump instead of the annual rainfall.
Human life exists within a narrow spectrum of temperature, oxygen, acidity, and a host of other elements. Our genes can only function within those limits. That is the absolute. Human genes evolve very slowly. Changes in temperature beyond our narrow limits will alone overwhelm us. Philosophies, like capitalism, cannot design the on-the-ground adaptations necessary for sustainability. Science, technology, and politics must assimilate the ethics required to advance the requirements of life, not the short-term benefits gained by earth-devouring machines.
In answering the question I asked myself: why modernity continues to employ adaptations that cannot be sustained, I searched many fields, from science to religion to politics. The results are reviewed in Natural Selection's Paradox: The Outlaw Gene, the Religion of Money and the Origin of Evil, by Carter Stroud.