Submitted by plusadmin on December 1, 2001
Survival of the nicest?
One of the most puzzling aspects of human behaviour is cooperation, in situations where backstabbing and selfishness would seem to be more rewarding. From the point of view of evolutionary theory, the very existence of altruism and cooperation appear mysterious. The mechanics of evolution seem to imply that rugged competition is the order of the day; that, given an opportunity to benefit by cheating someone, or by defaulting on a deal, we will inevitably do so. Surely to do otherwise would mean relegation to the sidelines of the evolutionary game - and in that game, demotion means extinction.
In fact, as even the most cynical observer must admit, cooperation is rife in human society. Even if you sometimes despair of human nature, you must admit that the "dog-eat-dog" scenario conjured up by the phrase "survival of the fittest" doesn't bear much resemblance to life as we know it. So it must be that, from a purely selfinterested point of view, cooperation can actually be good for us.