A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolutionby Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $35
Reviewed in The New Republic by Ruy Teixeira
I've read a number of papers by Gintis and interacted with him some years ago on an evolutionary psychology listserve. He's a smart man and this sounds like a terrific book. From the review:
The selfless gene (or, more likely, genes) allowed our ancestors to think and to act as a group, thereby outcompeting other chimp-like species—literally leaving them in the dust. Moreover, our cooperative nature allowed us to build ever more complex ways of interacting with one another, which led to further evolution of the traits that facilitate cooperation (referred to as “gene-culture coevolution”). The end result of this dynamic was civilization and, eventually, the globally interconnected society we live in today.
According to this view of human nature, we are defined by our sense of fairness, adherence to group norms, willingness to punish those who violate such norms, and to share and work for the good of the group. We are not a species of seven billion selfish individuals, uninterested in anything save our own welfare and willing to cheerfully break any rule and hurt any other individual to secure it. Indeed, we think of such people as sociopaths, and if their tendencies actually dominated humanity we would still be back on the savannah with the rest of the chimp-like species. This view, as it becomes more widely accepted and understood, should have enormous significance for economics, politics, and a wide range of public policy challenges.