Co-operation, not selfishness, is the key to human evolution

Co-operation is the most important driving force in nature according to a prominent American bioligist.

Co-operation is the most important driving force in nature according to a prominent American bioligist.

David Sloan Wilson believes economists, business leaders and political thinkers need to go back to school and realise that the selfish gene theory that they have so readily embraced for the past three decades is deeply flawed, and that co-operation not selfishness is important.

The chief architect of a new co-operative evolutionary theory that is gaining widespread acceptance among scientists across the world, told a UK conference in London last night that his multilevel selection theory shows that throughout the entire history of life on earth co-operation has proved to be the major driver of evolutionary change.

He said: “For decades we have been told that evolution is based entirely on individual and genetic self-interest, which does not extend to groups. Is it any wonder that we have produced countless business leaders, financiers and politicians for whom the selfish pursuit of self interest is a natural law and a maxim to live by?

"The truth is that individuals can evolve to behave for the good of their groups and that co-operation is the signature adaptation of our own species. Selfishness might beat co-operation within groups, but co-operative groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”

Mr Wilson was speaking at The Co-operative Opportunity conference at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, Westminster. He said this has profound implications for business conduct and public policy making, and that he has come to the UK to initiate projects that utilise his work at a community level. Already he is currently putting his ideas in to practice in Binghamton, a city of 47,000 in New York State.

The Binghamton Neighborhood Project is a project between Binghamton University and communities to measure and improve human welfare on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis. 

Mr Wilson will also advise the Co-operative Group, which organsied the conference, on how his evolutionary theory can help measure and in turn improve community living.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at theGroup said: “David Sloan Wilson’s work articulates beautifully the evidence we can see around us everyday in nature. The flocks of birds, shoals of fish and herds of animals that co-operate daily. The symbiotic relations that drive all plants and animals and make life possible.

“Not only can good guys finish first (if they work together), but that this is the natural way of things. We want to make sure as many people as possible are aware of this most optimistic of truths, and will be showcasing David’s work through graphic novels and street galleries later in the year. We will also be supporting research with his Evolution Institute into how one can best build resilient co-operative communities here in the UK. Moreover, the seeds for this idea were first articulated by Charles Darwin way back in 1871.”

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