Ayn Rand’s selfish gene is out of date | Letters

Ayn Rand. ‘The new science of epigenetics is demonstrating that it is the organism not the “gene” that drives evolution,’ writes Christine McNulty. Photograph: Oscar White/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

One of your correspondents likened Ayn Rand’s “selfishness” to “animal behaviour…” (Letters, 13 April). The belief that fierce competition or altruistic cooperation are the only alternatives, in both evolution and socio-politics, is the legacy of Charles Darwin. The science has moved on, providing a justification for the trader principle that has been so successful as the basis of free-market capitalism. As Ayn Rand said: “The moral symbol of respect for human beings is the trader.”

The new science of epigenetics is demonstrating that it is the organism not the “gene” that drives evolution. (See the new A-level biology syllabus, epigenetics.) Genetic determinism is dead. Organisms actively “trade” the products of metabolism. They switch genes on and off, and tweak them, in response to environmental influences. It turns out that genes do not use life-forms; life-forms use their genes. We humans switch our genes on and off and tweak their effects by means of language. We can change our minds. We have free will. The old Malthusian idea that resources are fixed and in short supply profoundly influenced Darwin and his contemporary, Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”. But resources are neither fixed nor in short supply. Thanks to the dynamic nature of the trading principle working throughout nature, what was once a barren rock, slowly rotating in cold space, is now teeming with ecosystem-generating life. Its most productive trader? Homo sapiens.
Christine McNulty
Oxhey, Hertfordshire

• One of my favourite quotations from the New Testament is Jesus saying that “in my father’s house are many rooms”. Perhaps there might even be a room for Ayn Rand there. She was certainly concerned about this, and once said: “When I die, I hope to go to heaven, whatever the hell that is” (Editorial, 14 April).
Ivor Morgan

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