Evolution: Survival of the ... Nicest?

New research suggests that selfishness is a bad strategy: David Brooks
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2011 12:42 PM CDT
It pays to be nice, in terms of evolution.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Our notion of "survival of the fittest" has long held that self-centered aggressors dominate the world and that being an ethical do-gooder is a losing evolutionary bet, writes David Brooks in the New York Times. But that notion is shifting, he argues, and he rounds up a spate of new books from prominent scientists asserting that traits such as empathy and cooperation are hard-wired into us—for the greater good of the species. "In pursuing our self-interested goals, we often have an incentive to repay kindness with kindness," he writes, "so others will do us favors when we’re in need."

"The big upshot is this," writes Brooks: "For decades, people tried to devise a rigorous 'scientific' system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics, emotion, and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way." (Unrelated Brooks note: The Atlantic's Joshua Green thinks this photo of Brooks near Newt Gingrich is destined to become an Internet meme.)

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