For decades, David Sloan Wilson has been fighting against the "selfish gene" orthodoxy in the "levels of selection" debate in evolutionary theory, arguing that "group selection" also frequently occurs. That never struck me as outlandish -- after all, if you look at modern Tasmania, for example, one group (Europeans) appears to have been selected for and another group (Tasmanians, who now exist only in a limited number off mixed race individuals) got themselves rather decisively selected against. Same with the late Chatham Islanders who were wiped out by the Maoris.
The English, for instance, cooperated with each other much better than did the American Indians. (Most of your famous Indian chiefs were politicians or religious leaders or both who were exceptions to this rule: they could temporarily overcome the notorious fractiousness of the Indians. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, by way of example, won undying fame by getting 1,500 braves to show up at the same place at the same time.) And that's a big reason why there are so many more people of English descent in North America than people of American Indian descent. Or to put it in selfish gene terms, that's why there are so many more English gene variants than American Indian alleles around these days.
William D. Hamilton didn't seem to object much to group selection, but his famous expositor Richard Dawkins has, perhaps because it raises the R-word.
But now Edward O. Wilson, the grand old man of evolutionary theory, has teamed up with the other Wilson to write an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology summarized in New Scientist propounding multi-level (e.g., group) selection:
RETHINKING THE THEORETICAL FOUNDATION OF SOCIOBIOLOGY
EO Wilson & DS Wilson
Current sociobiology is in theoretical disarray, with a diversity of frameworks that are poorly related to each other. Part of the problem is a reluctance to revisit the pivotal events that took place during the 1960s, including the rejection of group selection and the development of alternative theoretical frameworks to explain the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. In this article, we take a "back to basics" approach, explaining what group selection is, why its rejection was regarded as so important, and how it has been revived based on a more careful formulation and subsequent research. Multilevel selection theory (including group selection) provides an elegant theoretical foundation for sociobiology in the future, once its turbulent past is appropriately understood.:
"The old arguments against group selection have all failed. It is theoretically plausible, it happens in reality, and the so-called alternatives actually include the logic of multilevel selection. Had this been known in the 1960s, sociobiology would have taken a very different direction. It is this branch point that must be revisited to put sociobiology back on a firm theoretical foundation. Accepting multilevel selection has profound implications. It means we can no longer regard the individual as a privileged level of the biological hierarchy..."In that noted science journal, the Huffington Post, Dan Agin offers some rather overheated commentary on the purported liberal political implications:
The selfish-gene mantra of conservative psychologists and columnists is now more or less dead. Will we see the public media focus on this new development? There will be die-hards. There are people who don't like the idea that society is as important as genes in determining behavior. They don't like the idea that nature can select societies as well as individuals.Okay, but the idea that "nature can select societies as well as individuals" isn't necessarily terribly "progressive." It was a favorite notion of, among many others, Mr. A. Hitler.
The good news is that conquering land really doesn't pay these days, so peace has become, from a group-selectionist point of view, more rational than in the past. The bad news is that if we don't need to team up to go conquer the other group's land before they conquer ours, then large-scale cooperativeness might be outdated, and the level of most effective selection drops down to smaller groups. For example, Crazy Eddie's clan is doing very well in Darwinian terms in Brooklyn these days. (Remarkably, in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's classic 1973 sci-fi novel, "Crazy Eddie" is the exact opposite of Crazy Eddie the fraudulent hi-fi huckster -- "Crazy Eddie" is a legendary idealist character who counsels the ultra-Malthusian aliens in the book to institute controls on their population for the good of all!)
Somebody should find out what James Q. Wilson thinks of all this.