The Problem of Corruption
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The Problem of Corruption • Posted: Jun 11, 2015 18:29:20Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

When a dog tangles its tether, its master's intentions have been corrupted. But from the dog's point of view, the tether is a corruption of the dog's intentions. And from some third party's point of view, a child's perhaps, the situation is entirely ripe for correction, corrupting the parent's intentions, of course, and their desire for the child to stay clean and out of harm's way.

Ah, such is the nature of life. We all, all of us, from plants and insects, to fish and birds, to microbes, animals, reptiles, and humans, we all strive to knit things together from that which surrounds us. That is, we have intention. And without fail, we all interfere with each other's intentions in some manner or fashion, intended or not. And we are not alone. Nature itself has its own rules, directions, and processes. Fail to take nature into account, and no matter what your own intentions, no matter how sustained and vigorous your efforts, or how righteous and authoritative your pronouncements, they will be corrupted or completely overwritten. And, no matter who we are, we hate when that happens, don't we.

There was an interesting study relating to the bane of corruption reviewed by Science Daily last week, entitled "Do cheaters have an evolutionary advantage?". In that study, published by Current Biology in June 4, cooperating researchers from Washington University in St Louis, the University of Houston, and the Baylor College of Medicine used gene sequencing to compare twenty different strains from two geographically separated populations of the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

Dictyostelium discoideum are interesting because, during part of their life cycle, they give up acting as individual amoebas and begin cooperating with one another on a grand project to ensure the dispersal of a new generation. As described by Science Daily, they "converge to form a multicellular slug and then a fruiting body, consisting of a stalk holding aloft a ball of spores."

Relevant to our interest in corruption, and as also described by Science Daily, "It is during this cooperative act that the opportunity for cheating arises. Some amoebae ultimately become cells in the stalk of the fruiting body and die, while others rise to the top, and form spores that pass their genes to the next generation. When unrelated amoebae gather to form a fruiting body, some strains may overcontribute to the spores and undercontribute to the stalk. These are the cheaters."

In looking at the 140 gene sequences relating to social behavior for the various strains studied, the cooperating researchers expected to find genes favoring one or the other strategy, social or cheater, to be dominant within a specific strain. They knew those 140 genes were important because they had previously shown that if certain of those genes were switched on or off, a cooperator would become a cheater. But interestingly, that's not what they found. The two varieties were both there to various degree within each strain. This held true for the two different geographic locations too. Despite varied environmental conditions, neither strategy had proven overwhelmingly successful, to the other's extinction.

So, the puzzle remains. Why isn't cooperation so successful that self-serving cheaters get driven out of existence? And if selfishness is so advantageous, why aren't all of us victimizing each other to extinction? What the above research might be telling us is that, despite our individual intentions or our group intentions, our overall environment, nature, is likely to remain so challenging to our survival as a species that both orchestrated group effort and unorthodox individual efforts will be needed to find a viable path forward for at least a few of us.

That's not to say, however, that both blatant and surreptitious self-serving cheaters don't irk the hell out of us for their parasitic attempts to suck something for only themselves out of the rest of us.

Sunday, May 25th, 2014