You make a great point. Here are a few examples of faulty reasoning found in this piece:
Did selfishness — or sharing — drive human evolution?This is a false dichotomy and presumes that someone who organizes their life around the principle of self-interest will simply not ever share with others.
humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and social reciprocity of a group.This should read: charity or social reciprocity -- because either one alone would be sufficient to support human life in the wild. It is almost as if the author -- caught up in fuzzy thinking -- doesn't make a distinction between charity and trade.
novel Atlas Shrugged, whose protagonist champions the author’s notion that human nature is fundamentally selfish and that each man “exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”This is incorrect. The notion that human nature is fundamentally selfish is called psychological egoism and is not something that Rand championed. This author does not understand Objectivism. In irony, if psychological egoism were true then half of all that Rand wrote would become useless. It's because psychological egoism isn't true that Rand needed to attack the morality of altruism. Also, the last part (exists for his own sake ...) is normative, not descriptive. This author doesn't seem to understand this simple point.
the pygmy tribesman, Cephu, in the Congo who lived by the Randian ideal that selfishness is the highest morality. [who used the group’s collective hunting efforts to benefit only himself]This is almost laughable. We're supposed to believe that a savage brute analyzes competing moralities and differentiates them according to which one is the highest? In fact, I'll bet Cephu never even read a book -- let alone a book on the intellectual subject of morality. Also, what Cephu did was not in his long-term, wide-range, rational self-interest -- and the proof of that is his trial and punishment. Rand wrote at length about how you don't get ahead in life -- if you are a human being -- by being a lying, cheating thief. This author should become more familiar with Rand before writing about her.
every such group ever studied has been found to idealize altruism and punish selfishness, in everything from their mythologies to their mating practices.But there is some contradicting evidence from Game Theory (e.g., Ultimatum game) that some tribes don't idealize altruism. In Ultimatum, you make an offer to a partner to split up a bounty and if your partner rejects your offer -- you both lose the bounty. Some tribesman are cutthroat in this game, instead of acting in a more just or equitable manner. Even if you share equally with them when it's your turn, they will not reciprocate.
Although Rand accepted that early human life was a collective effort, she failed to realize how this shaped our brains.There's the naturalistic fallacy you mentioned. Just because our brains may have been shaped one way doesn't make it right. If everything that naturally exists is right and good, then rapists who follow their sexual urges would be moral -- because a sexual urge is a natural thing. Physical fighting would be moral, too -- because of the natural surge of adrenaline we experience when in conflict with others (physical fighting puts to use all of the freed energy released by adrenaline, and shunted to the muscles, which could otherwise be harmful to us).
A good mate ... would have been altruistic in battle tooThis is not always true. Good mates stick around to provide for their young, rather than sacrificing themselves for the good of the tribe. The best mate a woman could get would be a dude who could fight like hell but intentionally refrained from unduly putting himself into harm's way.
studies of 18-month-old toddlers show that they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do soBut this isn't necessarily altruistic. Altruism is about sacrifice, and there is no real sacrifice -- and a whole lot to gain -- from a toddler assisting an adult.
Another study found that 3- to 5-year-olds tend to give a greater share of a reward (stickers, in this case) to a partner who has done more work on a task — again, without being asked — even if it means they get to keep less for themselves.Just more conflation of charity with trade, here.
Worldwide, the aftermath of natural disasters are typically characterized by heroism and a sharing of resources ... The cases in which people stampede or look out only for themselves tend to be rare and involve very specific circumstances that mitigate against helpfulness.People tend to "stampede" most in primitive, collectivist cultures (1) -- precisely contradicting the evidence previously presented in the article about 'noble savages' (what M. Shermer refers to as the Beautiful People myth).
to claim, as Rand does, that “altruistic morality” is a “disease” is to misrepresent reality.Look who's talking about misrepresentation!
(1) In 1990, folks were walking to Mecca through a 600-yard tunnel. At one end of the tunnel, an accident happened and people from above fell onto people coming out of the tunnel. As onlookers stopped walking in order to get a grip on what just happened in front of them, others -- still in the tunnel -- pushed forward, eventually stampeding. In all, 1426 Muslim pilgrams were crushed to death (by other people ruthlessly stepping on them). You rarely if ever see anything like this occur in cultures which are more individualistic.
(Edited by Ed Thompson on 10/21, 10:24pm)