As Richard Dawkins argued in The Selfish Gene and continued in The Extended Phenotype, genes are really the thing that natural selection acts on and organisms, such as humans, are merely the survival machines of their genes. Further, the effects of their genes do not end at the edge of the organism, but ripple out into the environment. A beaver’s dam, for instance, is as much a tool of the beaver’s genes for survival as the beaver is. The same argument could be made for human architecture (while noting that genes leave room for environmental variables to influence the organism and environment and thus there is no reason to think that genes have 100% influence over architecture, just that they have some).
There may be a connection between the extended phenotype and the concept of private property whereby organisms (in conversation, typically humans) own property that they have created or traded for or otherwise influenced their environment in order to take ownership of. Genes have programmed their organisms to have ownership over themselves insofar as this serves the interests of the genes. This is readily seen by how protective organisms are of themselves; organisms do not want to be harmed. But does ownership end at the edge of the organism? I think not. In the case of beavers, and humans, and presumably many other organisms, the organism is programmed to claim ownership over not just itself, but its realm of influence. This is seen in the beaver’s dam and the human’s home. Organisms are protective not just of themselves, but of everything they own, of which themselves are merely one piece. This is a consequence of the extended phenotype.
If I’m right about this, the concept of private property, including self-ownership, has a genetic basis. No amount of conditioning could get rid of this instinct. Perhaps this is why, or partly why, socialism and communism, where property is supposed to be owned by the state, or by everyone collectively, and not individuals, has in practice failed, because it does not respect the genetic reality of private property. If people’s right to own what they influence is not respected, this will result in conflict. And again, if I’m right, this provides a genetic basis for libertarianism, where private property is regarded as a natural right. That is because there is no getting around the natural instinct humans have to own property.
- “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins
- “The Extended Phenotype” by Richard Dawkins
- “For a New Liberty” by Murray Rothbard
- “The Ethics of Liberty” by Murray Rothbard