From The Atlantic:
Whatever the evolutionary underpinnings of generosity, Olivia Judson concludes that human beings are in a unique position to make the most of it. Bees swarming in a hive must resign themselves to lifelong roles as drones or workers or dominating queens, but human society is highly flexible. Thanks to the complex pathways of the human brain, enemies can become allies, underdogs can be elevated, and the noblest aspects of human nature can be passed along to future generations.
An excerpt from her interview with Jennie Rothenberg Gritz:
Q. I find it thought-provoking that you describe altruism as a kind of primal urge, not a rational behavior but a basic instinct like lust.
A. I think it is primal. Evolutionary biologists get very excited about things like suicide because if you commit suicide before you ever have offspring, your genes get removed from the population. In terms of cooperation, helping somebody else raise their own children and never having your own is a kind of genetic suicide, so evolutionary biologists get very excited about that. The question is, from a genetic perspective, why do these small acts of niceness happen?
I think it’s part of the evolution of social groupings. But maybe it has a bigger benefit, or maybe it just makes the creature feel good. Certainly our conscious explanation for why we do things isn’t usually that it allows us to have more children. Our conscious explanation is that we get a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. And maybe baboons get warm, fuzzy feelings.
Read it all.