Warfare and social behavior:
Charles Darwin suggested that altruistic behavior, the willingness to help others at cost to oneself, could have evolved in humans because that altruism would benefit the group.  Groups with generous members and valiant warriors would have been at a selective advantage with respect to other groups and would ultimately have come to dominate any large population. 

More recently Richard Dawkins published his book The Selfish Gene, that suggested that evolution occurred because of selection of this gene or that, and that there could not be selection for altruism.  Therefore altruism, generosity and valor could not exist even though they do.  Hmm. 

My own sense it that genes do not vary a great deal.  What is important is whether genes are turned on or off.  But the quest for the altruism gene goes on.  Recent work (Did Warfare among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behavior? Samuel Bowels SCIENCE vol. 324 no. 5932 June 5, 2009 page 1293) has shown that if warfare was quite prevalent and if the losers were exterminated then altruists willing to risk life and limb for the group could exist, nay should exist whether the altruism was genetically or culturally based. 

It may be churlish of me to feel gratified to see Dawkins so challenged, but the important thing is why there should be self-conscious groups.  If the only purpose of a group is to get decimated on a regular basis, it would seem that altruism, however effective under conditions of strife, should be trumped by indifference.  And I assure you from years of personal experience that people are really good at indifference.  Successful and rational experts have ignored mounds of data I have urged upon them despite the fact that appearances are grim and time short. 

But groups there are.  Of course if a tightly controlled gene pool is necessary for long term survival, then groups there must be.  War is just a costly but, in the absence of understanding, inevitable consequence of group exclusivity.  I hope Bowels is wrong about valor and generosity existing only because of war.  I should hate for such things to vanish.  And war is going to go away.  Either we shall blow each other up and go extinct, globalize our society and go extinct through infertility or understand the process and discard war as unnecessary. 

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