Alright, "The Selfish Gene" is brilliant. Dawkins pretty much single-handedly changed the way biologists think about evolution, placing emphasis on an animal's ability to procreate and removing the importance of survival. Moreover, he debunked the myth that survival of the species is an important factor in evolution. Survival of the individual is the only thing genes care about. I'm gonna copy and paste something I wrote a while back when I was trying to explain this to a friend of mine. This is my take on why "The Selfish Gene" applies to us. If you're not that into biology, hopefully this will effectively sum up what Dawkins is saying with respect to us:
Men are attracted to health and beauty. Women are attracted to status. Here's why. The reasons are supported by culture but developed evolutionarily. A quick word on evolution: Due to the nature of evolution, any gene that increases an organism’s ability to reproduce itself will become dominant in the gene pool. That is to say, if female peahens began to prefer mating with male peacocks that had outrageously colored, large tails, the gene for supertails would come to dominate the population because it is the gene that is being reproduced into the next generation. This is really an oversimplification of the process but will serve for our purposes.
Let’s say then, that a male human living in prehistoric times has a gene (or more accurately, a series of genes) that lie on a certain chromosome. There are two options (alleles) that this gene codes for. One option (male A) is that the male will be largely monogamous and will, after procreating with a member of the opposite sex, stay around to help the woman raise his child. The other option (male B) is that the male will leave immediately and attempt to procreate with another female as soon as possible. Let us also suppose that having a male present to help raise a child by providing protection and food for the mother-child pair gives the child a 100 percent chance of surviving. (I know that this is not true but once again it will serve for our purposes.) If the male leaves, however, the child has only a 50 percent chance of survival. In a one year period, male A, our monogamous male, will pass his genes on exactly once, giving him 1 copy of his genes in the next generation. Let’s say that our philandering male, male B, can procreate with 20 females in the same year period. Due to the fact that he is not around to raise his children, though, half of them die. This still leaves 10 copies of his genes moving on to the next generation. There are now 10 copies of the philandering gene and only 1 copy of the monogamy gene in the next generation from these two males in this one year. As we can see from this one example, any gene that selects for philandering males will come to dominate the population. Moreover, the only thing a male needs to select for in this case is health and beauty since he’s not sticking around. Healthy, beautiful females give the male’s genes the best chance of survival not only into the next generation but beyond (procreating with desirable mates generally produces offspring with their desirable traits).
This is all well and good for the male, whose genes are dominating the population. This is not so good for the 50 percent of females that lose their child. They now have 0 copies of their genes in the next generation. If their genes do not code for a way to keep males from running out on them, they will quickly be weeded out. Therefore, let us look at the females. There are two main ways in nature for a female to prevent a male from leaving her in the lurch like this. The first is called “nest building.” Many female birds force their males to court them by building elaborate nests that take lots of time and energy to create. There is no point in a male running off and mating with another female in this society. The new female would just make the male build her a nest that would take all the time and energy the male could be putting into keeping its already created offspring alive. Generally, women in their 30s become nest builders. They are looking for a man who demonstrates his status in such a manner that it shows her he can provide for her and her possible child. Girls my age (24), however, are generally not nest builders.
They are looking for alpha males . The other oft-used strategy of females to keep their offspring alive is to find the strongest, savviest, most intelligent member of its species and reproduce with it. The idea, here, is that its superior genes will give its offspring a greater chance of survival, regardless of whether the male wanders off. Gorillas do this. So do sea lions. One male will mate with hundreds of females. The other poor males are left with nothing. In gorilla and sea lion societies, the alpha male is generally the one that can beat up all the other males. Human society has bred women to select for slightly different criteria. Our women look for social status.
You’ll notice that nowhere on this list do you find “they are nice.” Niceness does NOT convey status. It is largely irrelevant. If anything, “nice” is a minus to most women. It conveys that you are acting as such because you are needy. Confident men are not needy and therefore generally don’t trouble themselves with thinking about how they make other people feel. I hear women complain all the time that they only seem to end up dating jerks. NO DUH! YOU’RE THE ONE SELECTING FOR THIS! Moreover, guys don’t select for nice either. Nice girls don’t give their genes a better chance for survival. Nice is, unfortunately, irrelevant.
This explanation is really just the bare bones of what Dawkins and Ridley (The Red Queen , Genome) are saying. If you're interested in a more accurate, complete picture, read the books. However, I understand that evolutionary biology is not everyone's cup of tea so hopefully this saves some of you some time. Good luck!
"He saw towers and walls in nighted depths under the sea, and vortices of space where wisps of black mist floated before thin shimmerings of cold purple haze. - H. P Lovecraft "The Haunter of the Dark".
"There has been no genetic change since we were hunter-gatherers, but deep in the mind of modern man is a simple hunter-gatherer rule: strive to acquire power and use it to lure women who will bear heirs; strive to acquire wealth and use it to buy affairs with other men’s wives who will bear bastards . . . Wealth and power are means to women; women are means to genetic eternity.
Likewise, deep in the mind of modern woman is the same hunter-gatherer calculator, too recently evolved to have changed much: strive to acquire a provider husband who will invest food and care in your children; strive to find a lover who can give those children first-class genes. Only if she is very lucky will they both be the same man . . . Men are to be exploited as providers of parental care, wealth and genes." - Matt Ridley "The Red Queen"
"Humor won’t save you; it doesn’t really do anything at all. You can look at life ironically for years, maybe decades; there are people who seem to go through most of their lives seeing the funny side, but in the end, life always breaks your heart. Doesn’t matter how brave you are, how reserved, or how much you’ve developed a sense of humor, you still end up with your heart broken. That’s when you stop laughing. In the end there’s just the cold, the silence and the loneliness. In the end, there’s only death." - Houellebecq