Solidarity Forever

If you had a gene with a conspicuous effect (like a green beard) that at the same time caused the carrier to favor other individuals with a green beard, you could get a very powerful kind of genetic altruism, one not limited to close relatives.  A very strong effect, one that caused you to act as if other carriers were just as valuable as you are (as if other carriers were your identical twin) could exist, but weaker effects (green fuzz) could also be favored by selection – if you were just somewhat more likely to cooperate with others bearing the mark.  That could be enough to drive strong selection for the gene, and might not even be terribly noticeable.

This might be especially powerful in humans: we have so very many ways of cooperating  or tripping each other up.   Now and then you get partial alignment of interests, and remarkable things happen. If we could all just get along, we could conquer the world and make everyone else our slaves and playthings!

A green fuzz system would be more likely to have originated fairly recently (say the Holocene) because population had increased – particularly important with such an unlikely mutation. Probably it’s even more likely to have never happened at all, but similar things have been found in some biological systems.

And you, could course, engineer it in.

Shortly after  the Green Beards became influential, you’d see a lot of people wearing fake green beards, which would cut down on the advantage and possibly turn green beards into easy marks, chumps doomed to failure.  It would work best if the identifying mark was hard to copy – difficult today, but in the past some things, eye color for example, would have been hard to copy.

This all gets complicated, since it’s not always easy to know what someone else’s best interest is – let along that of the entire Greenbeard race. For that matter it’s not always that easy to know what your own best interest is.

I’m for it, of course:  trying to fighting off such a mutant takeover would make life more interesting.

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93 Responses to Solidarity Forever

  1. ursiform says:

    People create symbols that cause them to favor others with the same symbols. (E.g., tribal/gang tattoos.)

    It doesn’t necessarily make genetic sense, but it is a human trait that can be exploited.Maybe humans are easy marks for “fake green beards” …

    • MawBTS says:

      Aren’t people who pretend to be in gangs considered scum? Just like people who falsely claim military decorations? This seems to be the popular strategy for dealing with fake green beards. Make the penalties for fraud so high that the benefit isn’t worth the risk of getting caught.

      Maybe this could help explain the Uncanny Valley. Maybe details that are almost correct but just slightly off trip a wire in our brains. “This person’s fake. CRUSH KILL DESTROY.”

      • ursiform says:

        You can be a real gang member or a real decorated veteran without being related to others of your kind.
        There may just be a genetic advantage to being a member of a group that takes care of its own, related or not.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          Artificial green beards work well: example 1980s feminists creating a uniform (hair, clothes, badges etc) and using that to help each other out with careers etc. I imagine any sub-cultural uniform could work the same way.

          • misdreavus says:

            You seriously need to stop posting.

          • Tom says:

            Why does he need to stop posting? He’s not hurting anyone. He’s just throwing ideas out there, not making any confident assertiosn or anything. He makes interesting comments, although half the time I have no idea what he’s talking about.

  2. Sandgroper says:

    I used to work out in a gym that was owned and run by a guy called Eddy, a half-Chinese half-European who was a former Hong Kong kick-boxing champion. It was a small, modest gym for serious weight trainers, unadorned and unattractive, but functional. The fees were very reasonable. And it was very quiet. No ladies in spandex on stationary bicycles, just a few guys quietly shifting large pieces of steel around.

    On the door, Eddy had posted a big notice: “Anyone with a tattoo is not permitted to enter this gym.” Eddy was not a dumb guy, and he had been around, including some pretty rough places. He knew very well that in doing this, he might have been discriminating against the occasional sensitive, nice, intelligent guy who had once done something dumb while he was drunk, or someone who had got a tattoo for sentimental reasons related to a wife or girlfriend or something, or for “artistic reasons”. But he also knew that his reasons for excluding the majority were totally valid.

  3. Sandgroper says:

    I’m wondering about green merkins. You think they could take off? The public display issues could be problematic.

  4. j says:

    Prof Cochran’s intent “to make life more interesting” reminds me another philantropist, John D. MacArthur. Having retired to Miami, he spent his days drinking and litigating against neighboring Jewish old age homes. Asked why he was torturing those elderly green haired ladies, he said that it was philantropy – he was giving purpose and structure to their otherwise pointless lives.

  5. stalin says:

    Five levels of stupidity.
    1. STUPID

  6. Barium says:

    Why not a general gene for clannishness? One that causes unconscious, or even conscious, comparison of one’s one phenotype via smell, sight etc. with others such that one ends up favoring those most like oneself? The survival benefit seems obvious (cooperation in the tribe) and no other gene in the organism would seem to be disadvantaged, quite the contrary.

  7. Henk says:

    There is an existing condition that has always been my leading candidate for being the Green Beard of a a hypothetical green beard gene. Note that I’m not saying that there is a green beard gene.

    The possible selective advantage here would be less than optimal, since having this Green Beard is, in itself, a selective disadvantage.

    However, this Green Beard overcomes a few obstacles that a GB-gene would have to clear. For one, a simple GB-gene would not only have to install the Green Beard in the carrier, but also a recognition mechanism for Green Beards in others, and altruistic behavior towards such Green Bearded others, preferably in one mutation.

    So, to finally get to the point, what’s my candidate Green Beard gene? Why, the Gay Gene of course!

    Homosexuality as a Green Beard piggybacks on existing sexual mechanisms to get all our desiderata in one go. The recognition of others is the mutual sexual attraction. Selection has even blessed our Green Beard with a nicely gradualistic mating dance that provides plausible deniability in the event that the other one’s beard was just a little greenish, not really Green.

    Males of the species are inclined to shower some resources on their sexual partners, so we have our desired mechanism for altruism towards the Green Bearded other. (This would even explain why this particular Green Beard preferably grows on men!)

    • Michael says:

      But how does this green beard gene multiply in the population?

      • BurplesonAFB says:

        gay uncl- wait, shit, no.

      • Henk says:

        By virtue of the Green Beard advantage outweighing the disadvantages. How else?

        I think it is not controversial that traditional western societies saw gay men marry and raise children. Still would have taken a fitness hit, in all probablility, unless there’s something else going on.

        The idea here isn’t sterile gay men helping their nephews, ha-ha, but, maybe, gay men co-operating where non-gay men compete, and thus, indirectly, benefitting each other’s offspring. This need not have them father more children than other men, as long as it’s helping more children survive to adulthood.

        • MawBTS says:

          gay men co-operating where non-gay men compete, and thus, indirectly, benefitting each other’s offspring.

          Yes, but at some point we still have to address the issue that sinks the gay uncle idea: what, in the real world, are homosexuals doing?

          Cliques of gay men are usually either networks of sexual partners, or ways of escaping negative attention (like the Newport group in the early 20th century). They aren’t visibly doing anything that could raise their fitness level.

          It doesn’t matter if it works in theory (and I don’t think it does, identical twins wouldn’t be 75% discordant if there was a gay gene). In practice, we should be seeing something obvious and unmistakable, but we don’t.

          • Henk says:

            Note (again) that I’m not proposing that a human Green Beard gene actually exists. I am saying that Gay Beard would be one of the easiest ways for a simple mutation to get from nothing to Green Beard in one step.

            Note also that our host’s pathogen theory isn’t mutually exclusive with this one. To the contrary, an originally pathogenic origin makes it even easier to grow the Gay Beard: The mutation could be, simply, to break resistance to the pathogen. Nothing easier than to break things! This variant might explain identical twin results: You’d need lack of resistance plus infection.

            San Francisco-ized society may break Gay Beard’s advantages by not putting pressure on carriers to conform to more traditional expectations. That doesn’t tell us whether it may have had a net advantage in earlier times.

            Finally, on whether we are seeing something: We do see cultural prominence and political clout, conferring status, possibly money, both of which, in heterosexual males, usually are helpful in the selection business.

          • melendwyr says:

            In fairness, 21st century human lifestyles are a remarkably poor guide to the prior adaptiveness of traits. Perhaps homosexuality – or weaker forms which make men only a little more like women – was previously adaptive and is pointless only in our bizarre degenerate age.

  8. Yudi says:

    The film The Grand Budapest Hotel taught me that there is an all-powerful, secret organization devoted to aiding hotel concierges even at the greatest cost, which is also run by them. Sounds very green-beardy. Like a tattoo, the organization’s existence is hinted at to others by the prominent placement of the key symbol. The concierge is in the position of keeping the secrets of the rich and powerful, and hence extracting benefits from them. At the same time, this secretive nature (itself genetically mediated) and dependence on others being rich and powerful means that concierges will never openly take over the world, but will rather work for each other’s good covertly.

    Well, as someone who has worked the front desk at an (admittedly very crappy) hotel, the idea appeals to me, anyway!

  9. Toddy Cat says:

    “trying to fighting off such a mutant takeover would make life more interesting.”

    Well, it would be better and more fulfilling than monitoring each others’ speech for “microagressions” at any rate…

  10. Michael says:

    An excellent “green beard” trait would be the ability to consume large amounts of some type of poison, a poison which also makes you feel better, and causes you to become really good friends with others who also consume it with you, and also makes you want to have sex without thinking about the consequences, and also makes you want to fight with sober people, I mean, “people who don’t drink the poison, and must not have the green beard gene”.

    • Bruce says:

      Art de Vany thinks people enjoy overeating because of the mild jolt of adrenaline you get if you poison yourself just slightly, say by eating a large pizza. Sudden glob of starch. I wonder how much food started as a mild poison we’d eat for fun. Say Incas and the original potato, before we bred it to be bland and healthy Or the first corn plants for proto-Mayans.

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Blue-throated males form partnerships in which two males cooperate to protect their territories; orange-throated males are highly aggressive and usurp territory from other lizards; and yellow-throated males sneak into the territory of other males to mate with females.

    Previous research by Sinervo and his collaborators has demonstrated that these strategies result in a kind of “rock-paper-scissors” game in which orange defeats blue, blue defeats yellow, and yellow defeats orange.”

    Makes you wonder about possible sequences, for example did they all start yellow, then blue evolves to defeat yellow but as yellow are getting squeezed out some of them evolve into orange creating the three-way equilibrium.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Interestingly, not all blue-throated males possess the complete set of genes required for greenbeard altruism. These “loner males” do not form partnerships with other blue-throated males. Their fitness is higher than that of altruistic males, but lower than that of the protected partner. And in years when blue-male partnerships are mutually beneficial, the fitness of loner males is lower than that of cooperating males.”

      So in terms of sequence I guess that might be the most likely choice of first step – default blue – then maybe yellow “cheaters” evolved giving them the advantage and the blue beard evolves as a reaction to that cheating so the altruistic payoff to the blue beards isn’t so much that it is more beneficial but that it is less detrimental i.e. if cheating evolves first then maybe the sums are different(?) and then finally as the yellow cheaters are getting squeezed out by the blue altruists some of them evolve into orange aggressives instead.

  12. Eugine_Nier says:

    The thing that always bothered me about “The Green Beard Effect” is that a variant of the gene that kept the green beard but messed up the cooperation part could do even better.

    You don’t need fake green beards, you only need the ‘cooperate mechanism’ to beak.

  13. Jus' Sayin'... says:

    I suspect that such green beard genes may already exist all around us but are not easily detected because the signaling process goes on below our conscious perception. Histo-compatability complexes suggest the plausibility of such a mechanism. Experiments show that women are preferentially drawn to t-shirts worn for a day by certain men, even though the shirts apparently have no humanly identifiable smell. The attraction seems related to different histo-compatabilities. One obvious advantage to such invisible “green beards” is that they would probably be much less susceptible to free rider mimicry.

  14. Chuck says:

    Greenbeard effects, broadly constructed, obviously occur. Kin recognition mechanisms and altruism represents a special type of this. It involves a mental module which recognizes clusters of genes via clusters of heritable polygenic phenotypes and which discriminates in proportion to assessed genetic relatedness ~ overall similarity. What other way would it work? Anyways there are scores of studies which demonstrate this (e.g., with regards to facial recognition) e.g.:

    “We showed that human adults are capable of (although not very efficient at) assessing the relatedness of unrelated individuals from photographs and that visible facial cues vary according to the degree of relatedness. This sensitivity exists even for kin pair members that are more than a generation apart and have never lived together. Collectively, our findings are in agreement with emerging knowledge on the role played by facial resemblance as a kinship cue.” (Kin recognition signals in adult faces)

    These same mechanisms could, of course, extend to genetically simple traits like actual green beards. The favoritism would be selected to be in proportion to assessed relatedness — and imaginably beard color would have historically signaled very little. Nonetheless, you can trick the system. I’m sure that look-alikes are discriminated for by their doubles more than are randoms.

    By the way, you never explained why a directly selected (as opposed to a byproduct) disposition for extended kin altruism was unlikely. I noted to F. Salter the other day that I couldn’t make heads or tails of the argument — since you keep changing it. In “Your country’s not your blood” post, you granted it, but then argued that big states would have led to the eradication of the tendency — based on ridiculous (implied) presuppositions. Then, in the comment section of “Brotherhood of warmblood” it was because extended kin selection was mathematically impossible. I don’t get what the implied argument was in the actual post — either it was because kin detection mechanisms, which we know exist, would over-generalize and so couldn’t exist or that the lack of them on the taxonomic rank of orders implies the lack of them on the level of kin and extended kin.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There no evidence, that I know of, of anything like a strong green-beard effect in humans. If there was one, it would have dramatic consequences, which we haven’t observed, so I doubt if one exists. Although we could always create one, for laughs.

      Any gene that selected for extended kin altruism would not flourish – would not increase in frequency – because the expensive altruistic effort would not be focused on people who were more likely than average (in that population!) to carry the relevant allele. Which means that every time that expensive altruism happened, the average allele frequency in that population would go down, not up: this is not the route to success. If you can’t understand, that’s your problem.

      Frank Salter is entirely wrong. There is no such thing as “genetic interest”, in the sense he’s talking about, not one that makes people feel the way he’d like them to. Sheesh, if there were, he wouldn’t have to argue about it, anymore than you have to argue parents into caring about their children. Now if he said that having more Swedes in the world would result in something he liked, that could well be true: but there’s no instinct that says everyone, even most Swedes, have to favor that course.

      You have to do the math: when you do, this idea doesn’t work. And that’s the end of this conversation.

      • Tom says:

        Isn’t Salter’s view not that people behave a certain way, but that people should behave a certain way, and the degree to which people behave this way represents genetic interest?

        • gcochran9 says:

          It’s just trying say “biology!” as a way of bluffing people into agreeing. You could cite genetic similarity as a reason why we should intervene to help the seals against the penguins – but it wouldn’t mean anything. And the seals are doing fine already, thank you.

          Now if you wanted a particular kind of society, that society would be based on people with certain potentials, and of course those potentials are genetically influenced. So you might favor certain genotypes – not because they’re super-close to you, but but because they ultimately contribute to realizing the society you want.

          Of course not everyone wants the same kind of society.

          Anyhow, many individuals are hopeless but would benefit from a society that could only be built out of people that were very different from them – including genetically different. is Salter saying that those people ‘should’ choose to make society highly unpleasant but full of people like them – unpleasant because it is full of people like them? Reminds me of a friend who said that when he sat down at a card table, he wanted to be sure he was the least honest guy there.

          • Barium says:

            The issue is reproduction and the slide rule of genetic calculation: we know that Fst is too distant with chimps (and even more with seals) but we still use the mechanism when it comes to humans, even if it isn’t truly useful anymore.

          • Tom says:

            People do seem to prefer seals to penguins though. Also dolphins to fish. There have been popular save the dolphins and save the whales campaigns, but no popular ones for fish.

          • Tom says:

            I believe tuna is endangered, but there aren’t really any popular save the tuna campaigns like there are for dolphins and whales. A save the tuna campaign would likely become a dirty joke rather than a serious popular campaign.

          • MawBTS says:

            Anyhow, many individuals are hopeless but would benefit from a society that could only be built out of people that were very different from them – including genetically different.

            Why do people act like similarity is an intrinsically desirable thing for any kind of partnership, or any kind of relationship?

            The optimal ally for a poor man isn’t another poor man, it’s a rich man. The optimal mate for an ugly person isn’t another ugly person, it’s an attractive person (or at least an ugly person with a million dollars, a bad memory, and an easy-to-forge signature). It seems obvious.

            Yeah, poor and ugly people often hang out together, but it’s not by choice. Most of them would ditch their old haunts and move to Beverly Hills in a second, if they could.

      • Hipster says:

        I have recently had to argue about parents caring about their children, specifically Mother-love being a thing. The lady believed mother-love was just a social construct that we were conditioned to believe in that unnecessarily kept women out of work.

        • gcochran9 says:

          That lady’s mind ain’t right.

          Speaking of which, one has to wonder which is the greater threat – the increasing dumb fraction of this country, or the increasing crazy fraction.

          • Hipster says:

            My stating that I believed mother-love was gasp “natural” was called out as a “dangerous thought” to me. I was actually told I was thinking “dangerous thoughts” for declaring that mothers naturally love their children, and that this has evolutionary sense and advantages behind it.

          • melendwyr says:

            A whole lot of crazy ideas were also once viewed as natural and appropriate. This lady is simply throwing the baby out with the bath water, an error time-honored in its ubiquity.

            Simple rule: error is easy, and has myriad forms.

    • Tom says:

      If I recall correctly, in the “Your country’s” post, he argued that the altruism tendency would not be “eradicated” but rather become more accurate.

  15. And then there’s the part where politicians start talking about the green-beard conspiracy and then implementing the Final Solution To The Green-Beard Problem…

  16. Hipster says:

    I wonder though, why do some people have bleeding hearts?

    As a child and teen, I would feel real sadness seeing dead animals in the street. I would try to rescue abandoned baby animals I stumbled upon, etc.

    This feeling wasn’t particularly directed towards mammals though, birds, lizards, amphibians could all get my sympathy.

    Is that just a social construction? I remember other children would enjoy causing harm to animals and I thought that was the worst thing in the world.

    • Amanda says:

      I always felt that way too. I felt somewhat more sympathy for mammals, but I cared a lot about birds, amphibians, and lizards too. I remember spending time as a child helping ants who’d been cut off from their anthills by a puddle after it rained get back home. And when I accidentally contributed to the death of a cat at age 5 I was horribly, despondently depressed for many weeks afterwards. This actually still bothers me as an adult.

      I also absolutely hated hearing about other people (kids or adults) causing harm to animals, even if it was animals I didn’t like or was afraid of (like flies, mosquitoes, bees, etc). It bothers me on an extremely deep level.

      Why does this tendency exist in some people? It’s clearly not common, but it is more common than one would expect given the uselessness of having such a wide circle of empathy to personal survival and inclusive fitness. My desire to help all sorts of animals who are hardly related to me at all doesn’t raise my fitness and only detracts from it since that care could be going to my own children (if I had any).. I’m glad I have strong instincts against harming animals, but the amount of anguish seeing or hearing about others doing so causes in me is inordinate and I’m not sure how or why this would have been selected for (or failed to be selected against).

      • erica says:

        Add me to your list, Hipster and Amanda.
        It started early in childhood; picking up earthworms and placing them back onto the lawns they’d been washed out of by rain before the sun could come out and fry them on the sidewalks; scooping out lady bugs and assorted insects from the public swimming pool and waiting to make sure their wings dried sufficiently allowing them to fly off; making sure my childhood friends released the bees they’d caught in a glass jar before they suffocated; progressed to mammals, primarily cats and dogs, and we all know how that goes, countless hours of emotional toil and trouble (not to mention monetary matters) with the endangered, the injured, the abandoned, the old and infirm. Spiders were the childhood exception…had to have parents kill them if they were in the house. Now, I pretty much leave them alone, pretty much.

        I’d like to know why this exists too.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          Bell Curve

          If altruism genes were possible then whatever the average frequency in a particular population there’d be outliers at each end of the distribution.

          Some people having more than the optimum and some having less would be how the optimal average amount for a particular environment was regulated.

          • Greying Wanderer says:


            like say for example one copy of an altruist gene – if they were possible – was good but two copies was too much.

          • Tom says:

            You’re assuming that kids “feeling bad” about things has something to do with altruism.

            I remember feeling bad about bad things happening to my pets or wild animals. I remember feeling bad about bad things happening to inanimate objects – broken toys, broken glasses, spilled milk, etc. I still do. I feel bad when I see a dead lawn. I don’t think it’s due to altruism for grass species.

            I don’t think having an interest in things, being curious, caring about things, etc. is necessarily an indication of altruism. And a gene that makes people at the margins altruistic towards birds, amphibians, insects, etc. seems even more implausible than the gay altruism gene.

        • Brian says:


        • j says:

          Girls like Erica are strange, mysterious creatures. We boys in the barrio were of a more scientific mind, experimenting on legless grasshoppers and wingless flies.

      • JohnM67 says:

        Amanda, I think there are scenarios where a wide circle of empathy is adaptive and not useless to personal survival and inclusive fitness. For example, an ecological system that needs to be kept in sustainable balance—thereby benefiting you. If it crashes, so do you.

  17. Cracker1 says:

    Could it not develop from the genes that make us a social animal rather than a solitary one?

  18. Beyond Anon says:

    OT, but it seems that several species of Muntjacs have M/F differences in the number of chromosomes. Males have one more than females:

    That is cool. Some of them also have greatly reduced numbers of chromosomes (like 6/7 in one species.)

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Well, I wonder how large that 7th chromosome is?

      Also, it would be interesting to know the sex ratio for those species where the males have an extra chromosome.

  19. marcel says:

    So, what (if any) is the connection between greenbeards and (long run) endogamy? I am thinking of endogamous groups within larger populations, e.g. the Amish or Ashkenazim.

  20. Pincher Martin says:


    You’ve written before about the Imperial Japanese Army.

    In genetic terms, how is behavior like that explained? Does it take generations of a society inordinately encouraging and rewarding discipline and following orders, and severely punishing those who weren’t disciplined and didn’t follows orders from higher-ups?

    • I find it interesting and significant how different the Japanese and Han Chinese are from the rest of the world in their attitudes of needing to be part of a larger group. I believe that their back ground in rice farming has played a role in this. Allow me to explain. Rice farming is a group activity requiring cooperation of not just one family but a larger group of people for it to be maximally effective. The other kinds of agriculture aren’t nearly so demanding of a large cooperative effort. Over the course of thousands of years or hundreds of generations this continuous environmental difference could genetically explain why the modern day descendants of rice farmers are somewhat different than non rice farmers in their perception of themselves as part of a larger group. When asians are shown a picture of a smiling boy in a group of frowning children they think he is unhappy because the group is unhappy. When westerners are shown this identical picture they think the boy is happy because he is smiling.

      I am not sure one way or the other on this but I find it very possible that this is another incidence of recent evolution at work on humanity.

      • JayMan says:

        @dave chamberlin:

        You haven’t heard about hbd chick’s work, have you?

      • Dave,

        In this specific example of the Imperial Japanese Army, I don’t find the Han Chinese and Japanese even remotely similar.

        As Greg details, the Japanese soldiers during WW2 typically refused to surrender, even in circumstances where they were hopelessly outgunned and outmanned.

        Do I think this is an example of Green Beards? No. I get why Greg says that’s not possible. But from the outside it sure looks like an example of how a Green Beard army might fight. The IJA did a good job of impersonating a Green Beard army. One certainly can’t say that the Japanese soldiers were acting in ways to best perpetuate their individual genes.

        So what explains it? I don’t think rice farming does.

        • IC says:

          It is sense of duty thing. Survival families from martyred soldiers get a lot of resect and care which is beneficial geneticially. But this loyalty is not racial. The devoted Japanese communists in 8th route army (communist army during ww2) were equally devoting and refused to surrender, against their own genetic IJA. Later, the recruited Japanese officers served in Chinese civil war between nationalist and communist were also very devoted and fought to death without surrender. Surrendering is considered abandonment of duty. For the very reason, IJA often gave dead Chinese soldiers from battle most respected burials. They treated dead enemy soldiers with greatest respect. This very respect will encourage even enemy fighting to the very end. This is not genetic loyalty to certain genes but genentic loyalty to job performance.

          The survival families carry such genes since they would have easier time to survive than the families without such sacrifice. Who is the one shaping such behavior? The feudal lords who made such policy are shaping their subjects like domestication of dogs in service of human masters. The lord might even punished the families of sodiers with desertion.

          Your dogs are likely to put themself in front of danger to save you. In return, you likely to selectively breed this very dogs or its survival offspring. Once such trait formed, it can serve other masters without doing the breeding.

  21. melendwyr says:

    I have to agree with previous commentators: having the instinct to form tribal groups and subgroups is like inheriting a drive to dye one’s beard various colors.

    There are usually costs to entering into a culture group, maintaining your status within, and benefits that accrue. Betraying the interests of a group is universally reviled and comes with serious social consequences.

    Perhaps we should create a conspiracy to fight against the instinct to form conspiracies…?

    • Michael says:

      “Perhaps we should create a conspiracy to fight against the instinct to form conspiracies…?”

      I’ve always thought this as well. I just knew I was out to get me.

  22. Greying Wanderer says:


    “And a gene that makes people at the margins altruistic towards birds, amphibians, insects, etc. seems even more implausible than the gay altruism gene.”

    Yeah I think if that sort of thing was possible it would be misfiring maternal/paternal altruism – like a beached whale somehow triggers a baby response.


    “I believe tuna is endangered, but there aren’t really any popular save the tuna campaigns like there are for dolphins and whales. ”

    People have tried but dolphins eat tuna and if forced to choose then save the whale types prefer to 2 dolphin to 8 tuna.

    • Amanda says:

      I agree, I’m pretty sure that in my case at least my extremely wide circle of empathy (or whatever the right name for it is) is a result of my maternal instinct misfiring. When I see a cute animal I immediately think “baby!” It’s not even a conscious thing at first, it just happens. It even happens with animals that aren’t cute, though less strongly.

      I wish there were some studies on this. The idea that peoples’ circles of empathy fall along a bell curve sounds about right to me and I’d be interested to see actual scientific research on it. I also wish we knew more about empathy and parental instincts, particularly the specific alleles that cause some people to have maladaptively wide circles of empathy.

  23. Esso says:


    People do seem to prefer seals to penguins though.

    They don’t make full-length family movies (with voice-overs) about seals.

    • Michael says:

      That’s because the penguins have a marketing strategy where thay all pretend to be mammals instead of birds. And they have highly devoted fathers, which is greatly admired by ‘all the other mammals’.

  24. j says:

    The insight that “genetic interest” is a myth deserves consideration. There are apparently many dogs that become convinced that they are human and will defend their human “families” and babies. There are many examples of soldiers of one race fighting for a different people. We Jews are always saving humanity. North Europeans are always sending missionaires to save the souls and funding NGOs to feed, cure, teach, advance foreign races. I always wondered if this behaviour was a genetic defect. Defect in the sense of reducing fitness.

    • MawBTS says:

      Well, not everything comes down to genes. As Dawkins said, there’s other types of replicators.

      It’s hard to imagine a genetic reason for, say, the celibacy of Catholic priests.

    • Tom says:

      I don’t think the genetic interest idea is about how people behave in general. I think it’s about how since a person is interested in living or has an interest in living, but can’t do so indefinitely, he does the next closest thing, which is reproduce. And since reproduction is the next closest thing to living indefinitely precisely because of genetic similarity or shared genes between the person and his offspring, this interest in living indefinitely can be generalized more broadly on the basis of genetic similarity or shared genes.

    • j mct says:

      I guess this comment was too long for one comment so I am posting it in two pieces.

      I’d never heard of the green beard so it took me a while to think this through, but hopefully the discussion is not yet dead.

      It doesn’t seem that there are that many instances of green beards out there. In mammals at least, close proximity of a sort in the right time and place always seems to be necessary for altruism. Sometimes it isn’t, but that only seems to be the case in instances where humans are intent on manipulating the triggers for altruism that evolved in the EEA, like in the case of dogs, horses, and the one humans expend the most time, energy and ingenuity manipulating, humans. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that might look like it out there, but if so, it’s pretty rare.

      It might be the case in social insects too, but one thing at a time. There is one case that obviously works on the green beard principle, multicellular organisms. A multicellular organism is a society of distinct and separate living things that exhibit altruism to the max, and the trigger for altruism is obviously some sort of green beard, since cells cannot do genetic tests on each other, and physical proximity doesn’t seem to matter. One’s immune system attacks things without the right colored beard and leaves cells alone that have the right color. It would seem that one of the arguments for selection favoring sexual reproduction in multicellular organisms is that it ‘changes the locks’ for the immune system, or comes up with specific color for the beard out of a possible number that is for all practical purposes infinite, and the immune system, however it’s friend or foe mechanism works, is extremely efficient at distinguishing between the right ‘color’ and every other ‘color’.

      It’s obvious though that the green beard and altruism are not caused by the same gene though. A cancer cell is a cell that has the right colored beard and is not altruistic. So the genes that cause altruism and the green beard cannot be the same gene. I would also say that it’s impossible that they be the same gene too. Given something I posted in a thread about immortality before that sure looks bulletproof to me, and no one told me I was wrong about:

      I tried to get the link to pop up at my comment, but my linking skills were inadequate to the task. It’s about halfway down and it’s by me j mct and it’s my only comment in the thread.

    • j mct says:

      It seems to me that a gene that both produced altruism and the right colored beard would solve the problem as to why multicellular organisms cannot have eternal youth, though the parts of both look complicated and distinct, like altruism both being doing one’s job and not reproducing unless more cells are needed. If it were possible, I think given the huge selection advantage that at least some multicellular organisms evolve eternal youth and since there aren’t any such organisms, it must be because it’s physically impossible to get the green beard and altruism dependent on a single gene. So my intuition that both phenotypic traits are too complicated to get on one gene would be right.

    • j mct says:

      I do not know all that much about cellular biochemistry though, so I’d say my intuition that it’s physically impossible could very well be wrong. What I do not think I’m wrong about is that evolution is path dependent..

    • j mct says:

      So it might be possible, it’s just that evolution cannot get there, given that we’d see it if it were possible for evolution to get there.

      So if some bioengineer wanted to create eternal youth, he’d have to do some gene splicing, and it would probably have to be a pretty large amount, if it were a small amount, evolution would have gotten there on it’s own, to some fertilized egg somewhere that creates this unitary green beard/altruism gene. Though it’s probably impossible, per the article above, it’s not in nature’s library of platonic forms at all, even in a weird corner.

      Okay, back to my day job…

    • j mct says:

      I am sorry for all that weirdness, especially if al my attempts at commenting caused greg or henry any hassle. It seemed to be choking on a link to aeon mag illustrating evolution being path dependent and it took me a while and a lot of ‘post comment’ button pushing to figure that out.

  25. IC says:

    Like Singapore founder Li QuanYu said some thing like: there is no such thing as incorruptible men except different price tags.

    At end of day, betrayal is inevitable if self-interest is greatly rewarded. The bribery includes wealth, survival condition, women, social status, family member benefit, ect. With billion dollar bribery, Bill gate might be having hard time resisiting. As for low social economical status, even one dollar can make a loser chaning loyalty.

    Survival of the fittest genes with fittest gene combination.

    • IC says:

      In 90s, there was a TV reporting about racial conflict of working class neighbood in philadelphia. The white working class guys want black moved out and gave them hard time. When reporter asked;” If you could change your skin color at your will, what price would you accept to become black”. The white guy said :”one million dollars”. “with one million dollars, I can live in a place without discrimination and hate toward black skin, I will be fine.”

      For the right price, you almost can make any one do any thing including killing themselv if their loved ones get benefit.

  26. Say It's Not So says:

    Dr. Cochran,

    Do you predict that higher forms of cooperation, particularly languages like mathematics, where mathematicians often make tremendous sacrifices to contribute to knowledge of strangers will eventually fall apart? If so, how to avert such a grim future?

  27. Pingback: The Green Beards of Eton – spottedtoad

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