The Altruistic Gene: We Are Programmed by Default to be Good

Still with the creative airs of an infant playing with LEGO and the sketches of towns with intersections crossing with the universal features and the different perceptions about the reasons for the behaviors



Photo by Braňo on Unsplash

Deciphering the essential reasons and answering the basic questions for Why and What For Do I Act? is something imperative, urgent and necessary for the body, mind and soul, which in their permanent movement demand that we share what we are discovering to become better, to know where we come from, and where we are going. Here again the organic of life, its laws and principles regulating them (Biology) intersect with philanthropy and the altruistic gene.

We are conceived predisposed to generosity, charity and kindness. We are born inherently philanthropic, oriented to love humanity. In the lexicon of computing or informatics this would be equivalent to ‘by default’, indicating that it is automatically the option available if no other option is chosen. Although the word defect or default may have a negative connotation, in this case it implies a virtue, perfection or a definite norm. Every person ‘produced direct from the factory’ has this characteristic or disposition without exception.

People, however, find reasons to go against this original system ‘opening genetics’ to make personalized modifications through rooting or jailbreaking applied in this case to vital cellular mechanics and not to portable devices. Clinical hackers do not encounter ethical dilemmas but rather opportunities to modify the initial, unique and basic programming. This disruptive process, dressed as a scientific advance, is what is regularized, encouraged and proposed to alter what, at the discretion of the examiners, should be changed. These advances are growing exponentially every year, as well as the persistent doubt that accompanies the increase: Can man genetically program emotions, feelings and attitudes? On which side of the space-time coin will it fall?

The normality of congenital goodness encompasses what works properly. Artificial variations express, through actions and explanations, a refusal to commit to systemic naturalness. They are adulterations of the foundations of the supremacy of the holistic good, and they undermine the most elementary universal, natural and social contract: No one has the right to manipulate normality. No one can play at being what is not. Genetics do not have to be tainted because the consequences could be unacceptable, dire by human measure. If there is a God, he will have his reasons for having veiled access to the human code for so long.

TIT FOR TAT: Evidence and Altruism

Altruism is the principle and practice of dealing with other beings not necessarily of the same species, resulting in a benefit for the recipient of the action and to the detriment of the issuer of the behavior. Why would an organism act that way when it could end its own life? Because in that case, although you would not benefit as an individual, you would be benefiting the group you belong to. Acting in this way does not happen very often (or it happens less frequently than is optimal) despite the factory axiom. Therefore, since it is not the majority procedure, there would be individuals who choose to be selfish because it is the most convenient, common or useful in a world that does not choose the default option. To methodologically explain this, an experiment was carried out that revealed why people prefer to be individualistic, utilitarian or petty over generous, philanthropic and altruistic.*

In The Evolution of Cooperation Robert Axelrod and William Hamilton were given different strategies that were seen as promising to compete with others in the iterated version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. They received 14 strategies in the first iteration of the game and then 62 in the second. In both cases they found that the TIT FOR TAT strategy was the most successful of all. This strategy consisted of cooperating on the first move and then copying the previous move made by the opponent.

Success was obtained if the following four behaviors were performed: (1) Refraining from unnecessary conflict by cooperating as much as the other player does (2) Provoking in the face of an uncooperative move by the opponent (3) Ability to forgive after responding to a taunt if the opponent changes his attitude, and (4) Transparency of behavior allowing the other player to adapt his pattern of action. This success was then due to the use of a nice, provocative, forgiving and clear strategy, and this made it evolutionarily stable.


According to the Naturalist thesis, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation. Therefore, the human being is in all its aspects describable by science and our moral feelings of cooperation are the product of evolution by natural selection. The function of morality is to allow, according to Naturalism, the profitable peaceful coexistence between individuals by selfish nature.*

In the search for the motives underlying moral acts, there are, on the one hand, the selfish motivation and on the other the altruistic motivation. Now, under the assumption that cooperation has a stable existence, moral motivation must include altruistic elements. The evidence speaks in favor of the evolution of genuinely ‘kind’ motivations, as they are more suitable than ‘malicious’ ones. For them, our motivations for moral action are genuinely altruistic, that is, we cooperate with the other taking it as an end and not as a means. With a society based on genuinely altruistic acts, a firm cohesion of the social structure is guaranteed, which greatly benefits each individual belonging to it.*

People naturally seeks incessantly the normality of goodness and mutual trust as opposed to counterfeiting, betrayal, and disloyalty. They run away and back away and loathe people who behave that way. Good acts are shared, multiplied and come to light while those that are not go through dark, manipulative and hidden paths. As men are by nature sociable, they must live with each other, and each seek the good of the others. The opposite is going contra naturam, like wanting to sleep when the beds are burning in the words of Midnight Oil (1987).

Cost/Benefit of Being Altruistic

• The cost of altruism is more than repaid by reciprocity.

• All those who can selectively cooperate with those who in turn cooperate will be favored.

• Those who do not cooperate and those who respond with defection to cooperation (cheaters) will instead be banned.

• The benefit of deceiving one or the other altruist on certain occasions cannot compensate for the loss of an enduring cooperative society.

• Altruism generates a stable evolutionary strategy.

• The expectation of interactions between people (called “shadow of the future”) induces people to cooperate.

• Cheating and blatant and/or subtle lies are extremely beneficial in the short term, but without any gain in the long term.

Text inspired and with quotes from: The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins, 1976); The Evolution of Cooperation (Robert Axelrod and William Hamilton, 1981); *Altruism Evolution (Maximiliano Martínez, 2003)