I found a perfect encore to my recent reference to the scandalous ponzi scam of Bernard Madoff: Natalie Angier of the New York Times recently described evidence that deceitful behaviour is a product of evolution:
Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.
In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.
Biologists distinguish between such cases of innate or automatic deception, however, and so-called tactical deception, the use of a normal behavior in a novel situation, with the express purpose of misleading an observer. Tactical deception requires considerable behavioral suppleness, which is why it’s most often observed in the brainiest animals.
See more of this fascinating take here.
So lying Madoff was no low-life scum–he was the worst and best example of human development.
For me this begs the larger question: if deceit is an ability gained through evolution, then honesty is a primitive attribute? If so does this place evolution on a moral compass? We are evolving to a propensity for less ethical or immoral behaviour?