Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson—two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and father of sociobiology—has caused an uproar in the biology field lately by trying to overturn a well-established theory about the origins of altruism.
Yes, I'm writing about biology. And yes, I know I probably turned off half of you already. Trust me, though, it does have to do with meetings.
Wilson has for years supported the kin selection theory about altruism. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Kin selection theory predicts that animals are more likely to behave altruistically towards their relatives than towards unrelated members of their species. Moreover, it predicts that the degree of altruism will be greater, the closer the relationship."
Not so fast, Wilson says. According to his revised theory—and here's where meetings come into play—organisms practice altruism because of groups.
"Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes—including the ones that predispose them to cooperation—are handed down to future generations," Leon Neyfakh reported for the Boston Globe. "This so-called group selection, Wilson insists, is what forms the evolutionary basis for a variety of advanced social behaviors linked to altruism, teamwork, and tribalism—a position that other scientists have taken over the years, but which historically has been considered, in Wilson’s own word, 'heresy.'"
Neyfakh writes that Wilson is not arguing that members of certain species don’t sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their relatives; they do.
"But it’s his position that kinship and relatedness aren’t essential in causing the development of advanced social behaviors like altruism—that the reason such behaviors catch on is that they’re evolutionarily advantageous on a group level," Neyfakh wrote. "That socially advanced organisms end up favoring their kin, Wilson argues, is a byproduct of their group membership, not the cause."
Wilson says that human beings have an intense desire to form groups and that they always have.
“This powerful tendency we have to form groups and then have the groups compete, which is in every aspect of our social behavior...is basically the driving force that caused the origin of human behavior,” he said.
This is fascinating and adds to the noted benefits of joining associations, attending meetings, lobbying for industries, etc. We're good because we belong to something. I don't think that necessarily means those who are anti-social are bad. It does propose, though, that group membership leads to displays of good behaviors. This helps us understand how groups can change the world through meetings and their invaluable need in a world that is oftentimes bewildering and occasionally frightening.