Naked apes and selfish genesOne of Socrates’ more famous sayings was that an unexamined life wasn’t worth living. But the life examined in light of the endless insights of “The Moral Animal” could be nearly unlivable, too.
Not because of error, just the opposite. Robert Wright’s powerful and engaging examination of human nature illuminates so brilliantly that it threatens to wash out all color and shadow. As Mr. Wright points out, humanity is made for self-deception, and too much honesty wreaks havoc on our species.
Mr. Wright’s most fundamental observation is that our genes don’t care if we’re happy, they just care about being passed along to the next generation.
From this simple idea come many powerful implications. Much of “Moral Animal” is an examination of sexual roles and mores, with smaller sections on friendship and morality. His section on zero-sum gain and the rise of altruism is particularly insightful for analyzing the exasperating, endless scandals of Korean politics.
Given the dubious history of evolutionary psychology ― amazing what a few eugenicists and Nazis will do to a theory ― Mr. Wright spends a lot of time shooting down the common and ugly errors that survival-of-the-fittest thinking has led to. In the end, he likens our DNA to a computer’s operating system, but our environment to a computer program.
Throughout the book, Mr. Wright also relates his genetic interpretations to the life of the behavioral evolutionist, Charles Darwin. While occasionally interesting, these passages often drag and those who know much about Darwin already will not find much that’s new. But for the most part, “Moral Animal” is a well-written and much needed book about a new science of human nature.
by Mark Russell
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