Altruists, Defectors, and Jesus

Yesterday’s post on Good Friday made me think a bit harder on the game-theory and evolutionary theory (both cultural and biological) in play in Christ’s teachings.

Basically Jesus promotes boundless altruism, like “love your enemies, bless those who curse you” and so on. Boundless altruism is evolutionarily problematic, to say the least.  It shouldn’t happen, and if it does happen it should be selected against and disappear. Boundless altruism basically makes you a chump – a sucker.  A victim waiting to happen.

The opposite extreme is the permanent defector, the person who always exploits whenever given the opportunity.  Generally not nice people: they’re the people you want to avoid in life.

In between the two extremes are, of course, a spectrum.  Jesus’s teachings can be interpreted as a cultural attempt to push the spectrum towards altruism and away from selfishness (the permanent defectors).  Sounds good right?  More people to trust, more cooperators, more givers. And if you are selfish, more people to exploit then, right?  Seems good for everybody…

So why would promoting altruism get a person killed?  Particularly, why would the selfish of society not like the idea of more suckers to exploit?  (Assuming that those in charge are not there because of their altruism, but rather their lust for power.)

I think it comes down to fear on the part of the selfish: Jesus makes them look bad.  Shining the light of altruism on permanent defectors makes them look like the guilty exploitative people they are.  So no matter whether encouraging this altruism would actually help them become better exploiters, the concomitant danger is that they will be exposed and, perhaps, deposed.

I know the above is way too simple.  So help me out: what do you think?  I’m open to anything on this.  Can game theory and evolutionary theory tell us anything about Christ’s teachings and why he got killed?


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