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Damning her with Sentimentalities

Letter posted at Salon in response to this story:

Shame on Salon readers for rushing to judgment of a woman who is obviously struggling with a difficult situation. Some writers called her ‘selfish’ and a ‘bitch.’ Well guess what: we all are. Humans are guided by their genetic makeup, which predisposes us to favor our own genetic offspring. We are gene replicating machines, and this often has outcomes which are at odds with our modern and expansive humanistic outlook on life.

We share 50% of our genes with our children, which leads to our desire that they survive and prosper. Average humans only share 1/128 of their genes with each other, which explains the relative non-caring with which most people treat strangers. In fact, the cold calculus of genetics means that if there were two burning buildings, one with your child, and the other with a large number of other children stuck inside, you should still rescue your own child first. This fact would continue until there were at least 64 "other people’s children" in the second building, at which time it would then be advantageous from a genetic standpoint to rescue the lot of them and let your own child burn to death.

This sounds ruthless, until you realize that we all make these type of choices every day, in smaller and more subtle ways. Every time you buy a $3.00 Starbucks instead of giving that money to charity, you potentially deprive 10 children in the developing world of a vaccination, for instance. Personally that doesn’t stop me from buying Starbucks, going to see movies or concerts, or enjoying other relative luxuries. I don’t think this makes me inordinately ‘selfish.’ It’s just the natural inequities of the modern world juxtaposed with the innate selfishness of human beings. Read some books on game theory, or read the best book ever written on the subject, Richard Dawkins’ "The Selfish Gene."

The stepmother in the letter is trying to make the best of her situation. She is not programmed to love and accept her stepchildren equally, and at least she is reaching out for help. But damning her with platitudes and ancient sentimentalities about idealized familial relations accomplishes absolutely nothing.


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