Disco. Inst head honcho Bruce Chapman is confused. “What is more powerful,” he wonders, “altruism or the survival instinct?” The question, he explains, is raised because of Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s ramblings about the trapped Chilean miners. Colson, in turn is confused and amazed by Chilean health minister Jaime Manalich’s report that miners “were fighting with [authorities] yesterday because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning.” Colson continues:
A news man from the scene choked up while reporting it. You know who else should be surprised: Darwinians. They believe the race has evolved through survival of the fittest. Neo-Darwinism cannot explain altruism like that displayed by the miners. At best, it can offer a superficially plausible explanation for what they call “cooperation.”
He goes on to whine about Richard Dawkins, who has written about evolutionary explanations for altruistic behavior, and asks: “which is a better explanation for their altruism: a “selfish gene” or belief in a Good Shepherd that gives his life for the sheep?”
The problem for Chapman and Colson is that the right answer has more to do with selfishness than anything else. The Guardian and other outlets, unfettered by the chains of culture war doctrine, report the real story:
During conversations with the miners tonight, they were asked to help officials agree the order in which they will be hauled to the surface.
Manalich said that several of the men expressed a desire to be the last man out in what he called “a completely admirable show of solidarity”.
On further questioning, however, the men revealed the cause of the disagreement: a guaranteed place in Guinness World Records for the longest time a miner has ever been trapped underground. Given the complexities of the current situation, it is a record that many expect to be insurmountable.
Is this, in Colson’s words, “surprising altruism”? Does this truly “belie ‘survival of the fittest’,” as Chapman wishes us to think? Or is a book written to settle bar bets simply the most powerful motivator humanity has ever known?