Did natural selection favor individualists or altruists?
I am all for individual life, and individual liberty – those are my highest values. In that I align well with Ayn Rand.
Where we part company is in how those values are best served.
I am clear that cooperation is the most powerful way to serve those values.
And I am clear that Axelrod demonstrated that raw cooperation is always vulnerable to cheating, and requires secondary strategies to prevent cheats from dominating and destroying the cooperative. Arguably, many of those who control the flows of capital in today’s world can be characterised as using cheating strategies to do so, however lawful those strategies happen to be.
When one looks at human behaviour modes, and the sorts of circumstances that evolution has encountered over deep time, in both the genetic and cultural senses, then two major modalities become very clear (with infinite variations and gradations possible between).
In times of real scarcity, severe famine, the survival could come down to defending a very small group, as the situation meant that there was only enough food for a very few of the total population to survive. Such situations are sufficiently frequent for this to be a major modality – large scale volcanism, climate change, major weather shifts, can all produce such events reasonably frequently. So we would expect to see all humans with a tendency to revert to very close in-group cooperation, and active hostility to out-groups, in times of severe stress. This is one possible stable modality, and it need not be universal, and it is stable.
Much more common over deep time has been times of relative stability, and relative abundance, where wider cooperation delivers extra benefits for all. Specialisation and trade allows for the development of ever greater complexity, right up to the point that such things can deliver total automation of production and distribution – which completely changes the incentive structures (we are not quite there yet, and we are very close, if we choose that path).
So we find ourselves in a very complex environment, of many different paradigms of understanding, and many different modes of social interaction.
It is complex, in the deepest sense of complexity theory.
And at the same time, it has the possibility of the most profound benefit, if we can make the leap to a new level of cooperation, that empowers every individual to do whatever they responsibly choose (within a context of respect for the life and liberty of every other individual), by delivering a set of technologies to every individual, that empower them to produce and use whatever they choose (within reasonable limits of energy budgets and effects on other individuals and the environment that we all share). The forms of social arrangement possible are infinite. Diversity must be respected.
We have the option of such abundance.
None of the alternatives look very appealing to me. Robin Hansen spells out the most likely alternatives quite clearly.