You exist now, with some health, wealth, and connections, and you therefore have some influence. You might use this influence for immediate personal gain, or you might try to influence a wider universe, including a distant future. And to the extent that you influence a wider universe, your actions will tend to favor some types and groups over others, and will often be seen as so favoring. So, who should you favor?
You might be tempted to try to directly favor everyone equally, according to some widely-shared “universal” norm of who objectively should count how much. Such as by preventing extinction, or by giving away widely-useful innovations. But be warned: doing this in the obvious direct way risks the future being less inclined to continue to do so, and more inclined instead to promote types and groups that have less in common with you. Let me explain.
Natural selection has driven change in the past in biology, and also in human cultures, and seems likely to continue to drive change into the indefinite future. Yes, future units of selection probably won’t be simple bags of DNA. But they will be units that A) tend to promote their own reproduction, and B) encompass via co-evolution alliances all the processes and inputs needed for full long term reproduction.
For example, you might be part of a literary community that prefers and promotes a particular literary style, by reading it, talking about it, and supporting writers who use that style. But you cannot prevent the decline of this style if your community is not sufficiently supported by, and sufficiently supporting of, compatible co-evolving systems that supply all the other things needed for this sort of community to exist. Such as organism lineages that create educated literature-appreciating minds who survive and reproduce, nations that protect them from attack, and firms and industries that supply their physical needs.
You are currently part of several such co-evolving and mutually-supporting systems. Such as your DNA, family, city, nation, firm, profession, industry, club, religion, ideology, and political faction. Your participation in each of these kinds of systems tends to promote its reproduction. And the stronger are your efforts there, the better they will do on average. But all of them are at great risk of eventually being outcompeted by rival versions. A risk that increases as you devote more efforts to other things.
Thus the more that you just try to help everyone and everything equally, instead of helping your affiliated systems, you are at-least-a-bit dragging-down all of those co-evolving systems of to which you are now allied. They would have a better chance of winning the long term evolutionary contest if you were more loyal to them, and favored them more with your universe-influencing actions. So by dragging them down, you are reducing the influence of people like you in the future. As a result, in the future there will be less of your tendency to just try to help everyone and everything equally.
And so: beware just trying to help everyone equally. For your sort of helping inclinations to survive into the long run, you must substantially support some co-evolving units that favor themselves more than rivals. Sure, such units may want to find ways to cooperate, in ways that can benefit all such units. But in negotiations over such cooperation, they must stand ready to prefer themselves, if cooperative deals can’t be found.
Added 4p: Plausibly ordinary morality, as common practiced, was at least until recently, an evolutionary equilibrium. That is, sometimes it called for you to sacrifice yourself for rivals, but on average you were sufficiently rewarded by associates for acting moral that this behavior wasn’t selected against. But ordinary morality does not generally push people to favor everyone equally with their efforts.
Feels maybe im stupid, but i feel like this logic leads to being against economic freedom and equal rights in front of the law?
I certainly get the impression that heavily conservative peopleand the far right use this logic heavily: a relative of mine would likely read this and say “yes, and thats why we must deport X group”
Intriguing post, Robin. You've brought to light a fundamental tension between the desire to be a benevolent, impartial force for good and the evolutionary pressures that can penalize such impartiality. I appreciate the nuance you've captured in this analysis, and it certainly gives me food for thought.