Without realizing it, 30 years ago, I was beginning to conceive of a novel form of group selection. It was only much later that I learned that the idea of group selection was essentially serving time in the academic penitentiary mostly because of its association with Nazism.
This drama went completely over my head because my project from the very beginning focused on the idea that the crucial evolutionary transition occurred not between individuals, but the two mentalities of dominance and submission converting from interacting in the interpersonal sphere – between individuals – into interacting within a single mind.
The key insight was that I realized that the dominance and submission mentalities existed really as two individuals within every single Primate creature engaged in an intense, ongoing interpersonal relationship with those same two elements in others, and that, in humans, these two mentalities had somehow “folded” into an internal interaction within a single individual. I was more focused on a mechanism akin to sexual selection as the being the process involved in this transition and not group selection.
It was while reading The Selfish Gene, written by someone who would become the world’s most famous atheist, that the thought of “relational genes” first occurred to me. In the process of dominance and submissive mentalities within individuals selecting traits in one another for justice and the coordination of labor, the genes that would drive the joint behavior of the resulting bonded unit would be “relational.” These genes would reside in both the dominance and submissive mentalities, and the will they would exert would be independent of both individuals involved.
Let’s say I am one of these newly evolved relational genes that only really comes alive during the coordination of the behavior resulting from this process of mutual selection of the dominance and submissive mentalities between two individuals. One day, while off duty, I’m hanging out next to a true-blue regular gene who proceeds to give me all kinds of grief for being disloyal to the individual in which we both reside. This old school gene is urging me to look for opportunities to gain advantages over this “so-called” partner. I then sit down, and attempt to explain a couple things to this “loyalist” gene. I explain to him that, whereas he is a whole gene that is completely in charge of a nice little parcel of selfish behavior for our individual, I am really only “half a gene,” and don’t become “activated” into a whole gene until I meet my “other half” in a bonded partner. I really don’t become a whole selfish gene until I’m joined with my “other half,” so my loyalty is to the coordination of the selfish behavior of the partnership, not the individual in which we both reside. At this point, my gene friend is looking a little perplexed and disgruntled, so I make a bet with him that, if my half a gene hooks up well with my other half in someone else, the resulting relational gene will help our individual survive and procreate (“including you too, don’t forget, perhaps even more than you do!”) He reluctantly takes me up on the wager and we go our separate ways.