I have not yet read de Waal’s book, just Ryan’s review, and the review has definitely put “The Bonobo and the Athiest” on my to read list.
For me, it has been clear that complex cooperative behaviours are a deep part of being human, since reading Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” in 1978. Chapter 5 on “Aggression: Stability and the selfish machine” explains clearly (based on the work of John Maynard Smith, Robert Trivers and others) how cooperative strategies can evolve, and the sort of secondary strategies that are required to make them stable.
Once one understands this principle, it is clear that all major developments in the complexity of life are characterised by new sets of stable strategies that make new levels of cooperation possible.
This can be seen at every level of development, from the molecular, through cellular, to Eukaryotic cells, to multicellular life, to multiple levels of behavioural strategies.
Cooperation is fundamental to expanding complexity.
Human beings are fundamentally “wired” both genetically and culturally, for cooperative behaviours.
It is short sighted selfishness that is the aberrant behaviour. Anyone who considers their self interest on the very long term, will soon see that it is in their own best interests to work cooperatively with others, and to punish cheats (cancers on the cooperative).
Unfortunately, our current cultural worship of markets and money has caused us to revere the cancer. It seems clear to me that that reverence comes from an ignorance of what markets are and what they do.
Markets are great tools for distributing scarce resources. Money is a market measure of value. The less there is of something in a market, the more we are prepared to pay for it, the more there is, the less we are prepared to pay for it. Thus it is clear that market value is the product of human value and scarcity. This leads ultimately to markets valuing real abundance at zero.
Now that we are moving to an age where automation allows us to deliver abundance of all of the necessities of life to everyone, markets and money have become an impediment to progress.
In our past, when we faced real scarcity, markets served us well.
Now that we have the technical ability to produce real abundance, markets are the greatest existential threat we face.
It seems clear to me, that it is time for the next great leap in complexity of life, with universal cooperation, empowered by advanced technology, delivering universal abundance, and requiring of us all a new level of acceptance, an acceptance of diversity, a treasuring of freedom, and a reverence for all sentient life. (All attributes common to many religious traditions.)
This is clearly, to me, what the mathematics that John Maynard-Smith introduced me to 35 years ago, offers to us all.
It is in the long term the self interest of all of us.
It is what evolution has primed us for.
It is a possibility, and not yet a certainty.
And to remove any doubt, I too am an functional atheist, acknowledging the possibility of god, yet finding such a thing so improbable given the vast amount of evidence we have, that I give it little or no consideration in practice.
Have been thinking about such things for a very long time, particularly since realising in 1974 (after completing 3rd year biochem studies), that death from old age was something we are genetically programmed for, and thus, once we understand the program sufficiently, something we can mitigate.
That started me down all sorts of paths, investigating what sorts of classes of behaviours are stable for very long lived entities.
The more I have learned, the more I know that I don’t know, and the less certain I have become about many of the things I was once very certain of.
It is now clear to me that we all contribute to the world we live in with our choices, and each creative choice sends a ripple of consequence out though time and space. All any of us can do is dance with these consequences as they impact upon us.
And it is amazing what can happen when large numbers start dancing to the same tune, sending out similar ripples – very like the power of LASER light.
Thanks again for your efforts and kind words.