virus: RE: virus, Abortion, etc.

Marek Jedlinski (
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 03:33:05 +0100


> Life is is a competition with other
> people to get our genes into the next generation.

Not necessarily. It is the genes that "want" to compete, while we
are always free to ignore the drive (in the several ways Ike mentioned).
Lest I be guilty of inciting a holy war on free will, let me qualify that:
whatever the meachanisms are that steer our decision-making (random, causal,
spiritual, whatever), they are complex enough to redeem us from the less-
then-glorious slavery of genes. Correct me if I misunderstood what you
wrote, but you seem to imply that (a) we are next to helpless in the face
of our genetic programming, and (b) whatever is good for the genes, must
be good for the humans.

> It may be in our
> selfish interest to act altruistically, but only if it means that we
> increase our chances of getting our genetic material (or something very
> similar to it, like our sibling's or cousin's genetic material), into the
> next generation.

Again, not necessarily. Why would altruistic action be confined to
our next of kin? I am not much of a cybernetist (-tician?), but I would
propose that altruism (as much of ethics in general) assumes a sort of
deferred social feedback: the society as a whole benefits from your
singular action, thus you may, in the long run, benefit from the
improvement in the society you initiated. So while I agree that altruism
may be ultimately selfish, I would dispute your apparent claim that _all_
selfishness is the selfishness of genes.


> By foreswearing children you do everyone a favour *except* yourself.

Well, you do _other_people's_genes_ a favor, you frustrate your own
genes. But what's so inherently beneficial about spreding one's own
particular genome? The genes themselves don't seem to care, they're
expendable: it's the pool that matters. In normal circumstances
(marriage outside the family) genes engage in a roulette anyway, and
your unique, "private" set of genes suffers extreme contamination
as it fuses with that of your spouse - only inbreeding could alleviate
that effect, and inbreeding is actually a *bad thing* for the genes!
Cloning may one day enable us to produce perfect copies of ourselves,
but why would anyone want *that* is a mystery to me. Ok, I may be weird:
chances are I will be the last member of my family line, and honestly,
I couldn't care less about my *genes*... Why care? A married couple of
Nobel-prize winners may beget a mentally deficient child. I know parents
take pride in how their children resemble them, but I've always assumed
it's because the family resemblance is the only "natural" proof (barring
advanced technology) of the child being the parents' own (the mother
knows, the father can always doubt).

That genes want to propagate is one thing; that we should *rationalize*
this drive and consciously reinforce it, is another (and the one I contest).

> It's
> as if you were on a soccer team and decided that 11 men a side was unfair
> to the other teams, and so took yourself out of the game, leaving only 10
> men on your team.

Quite. But again: the moment you decide you don't really feel so hot
about soccer anymore you are free (above disclaimer applies) to quit
the game. Your coach has "programmed" you to give all your resources
to the team, but this is not immutable. So your team loses, but so what?

[snipped from another post:]

> > I would much rather propagate myself than my genes.
> I'm not sure I understand you. I was speaking in terms of the ideas
> raised by Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene. It contains a persuasive
> argument that we're really just highly evolved gene-propagation systems.
> Of course, this only applies as a general rule - anyone can find specific
> examples of people who have elected out of the game. They don't
> invalidate Dawkins' theory though.

They don't - but Dawkins' theory is just that: a theory, not a law.
The fact that gravity exists does't mean we must lie down flat forever.
The fact that genes are, in Dawkins' sense, selfish, and that they pursue
their own evolutionary agenda using phenotypes as carriers, does not
invalidate all the OTHER environmental/cultural factors that affect
our game. I see Dawkins' idea as a fascinating approach and a refreshing,
eye-opening way of looking at things, but to automatically yield to it
would be like saying, 'Ok, winter's coming, I must die of cold.' To me,
Dawkins' proposition is actually empowering: he shows me the ball and
chain I didn't know existed, so I can make better informed judgements
and choices. And it's only one of many balls, and many chains, that
don't all pull us in the same downward direction. I am not my genes.
Nor would my kids be.

(Good thing my genes can't get out the vote and elect ME out of the game :)

Best regards to all
yours truly de-lurking,


Marek Jedlinski <>
This message originated solely in my brain, which
has no authority to speak for other parts of my body.