Reality Skimming

Good vs Evil by Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Universe books

Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Universe books and Blog Extraordinaire

Good vs Evil and the Greenbeard Effect

Do you have a gene for ‘good’? I think I might. And if you do, then we just could constitute the only effective biological weapon in the war against evil. If we keep the faith.

I’m not talking, here, about religion although I no longer have a quarrel with kindred spirits who work for the cause through any number of spiritual organizing principles so long as the results are something I can recognize as good. And I realize good, like evil, is a complex philosophical idea. But I think we all know it when we see it. And I want to get back to a place where cheering for the good guys doesn’t leave me feeling childish or naïve.

Remember Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek? Frodo Baggins? Princess Leia? Think of Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Delenn of Minbat and Dr. Who. Now equate them, for the sake of argument, with people we want to see win because they share our gene for ‘good’. That’s the secret weapon in the war on evil: unrelated people acting through an evolutionary mechanism known as the Greenbeard effect.

First proposed by social evolution theorist W.D. Hamilton in the 19060s, the greenbeard effect explains how a trait shared by non-relatives can act to perpetuate itself through cultural competition. In short, if a bunch of us have genes for banding together to defend good against evil ,then we can win the game of life despite the edge given evil by dispensing with moral handicaps. There are complications such as Hamiltonian spite, but that’s a subject for another time.

The point I want to make here is to give a cheer for heroes, because morale is a key part of any fight. And whether you are agnostic or a theist, the war on evil by those of us who favor good, is very real. We’ve explored the ironies of that war, recognized its complexities and mocked its conventions. And we shouldn’t stop thinking.

But we need to keep the faith. Because if we surrender to the empowering temptation of mocking those who struggle for good by portraying them as the victims of those with fewer principles to defend or as fragile in the face of indifferent fate, then we risk talking ourselves out of the courage to do good in our own lives. And when that happens, we will find that we have more to lose than we might think.


“The Green-beard effect” Wikipedia (Dec 23, 2012)

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