The cohesive social structure that runs through a pride is provided by the lionesses, which are mostly sisters, kin and offspring. The male roars, has his way, and then lies back while the females stalk and hunt for food. His other chore is to fend off the occasional male rival that would seek to take over his privileges in the pride. Why does the rival lion want to take over the pride?

I think the reason a rival male would want to acquire a pride is that it feels randy, and wants to have sex. Once in the pride, it will try to access females, but finds they are not interested. The cubs are demanding, and divert the female's attention. The lion therefore kills the cubs to remove this distraction, and viola, the lionesses again come into heat and are available for sex. That is the end of it. There is no thought or hidden motive about genes. Sex for pleasure is the reason. To a human, such a horrendous whim of pleasure with such monstrous results demands further reason. But you have to get over the emotion of what is not appropriate for humans, to see life from another angle. Incidentally, the lions would not kill their own offspring, because they have time to become familiar and therefore bonded with them.

Sex and infanticide to spread genes implies a level of knowledge and intuition beyond the lion and any other animal. They have no idea that sex leads to young and the spreading of genes. They didn't go to school, hang out behind the shelter shed, or have a language to pass on such information. As demonstration, even early humans had no idea that sex caused babies. William Robertson (In 'An illustrated history of contraception') provides the example of the Euduna tribe. They thought they were having pale coloured babies because they had begun to eat white bread. They had no idea that the white men who visited occasionally were the cause. So doing things for sex in animal land does not equate to any conscious need in them to spread genes or create offspring. The genes will spread as a result of sex, but the need to spread genes is not the driver behind the behaviour. Evolutionary psychology regularly states that animals mate to spread their genes. But nothing could be further from the truth. That is why sex had to be so pleasurable. Without pleasure, animals would probably not even bother to have sex, as they have no care about their genes or feel any need to extend their lineage.

What about subconsciously? What if genes intended sex to be pleasurable, so they could control the body like a robot and thereby spread themselves? Then indirectly, the sex and infanticide is caused by selfish genes. Really, such disjointed mystery between the aims of the conscious and subconscious could only occur in the mind of an artificial animal like a human. The conscious and subconscious wills of wild animals are much more in tune, so that sensations and feelings experienced in the conscious are accurate reflections of what is important to the animal in the deepest recesses of its mind. In nature, what you see is what you get, if you know where to look and how to listen. If animals have no mind to spread genes, then I doubt the motive can be claimed in their subconscious either.

Genes are the bookkeepers of nature, not the perpetrators. They hold the history of biology in their pages. Genes have no purpose than to record and then provide copy, so they are 'willing' to break themselves up as toys for the environment’s selection (you cannot be selfish if you are also willing to deconstruct yourself through sex and mutation). They place no effort or distraction into promoting their own station. After all, genes are only the chemicals adenine, thymine, cytidine and guanine. It is not like they can have their own desires, attitudes or selfish plans. Oh sorry, evolutionary psychologists think they do! No gene can try to make the environment serve them. They cannot outsmart nature.

Saying that genes intend their own procreation is not even a useful rule of thumb for understanding the processes of evolution, because so many myths then appear such as lions killing cubs for the benefit of their genes. But genes must suit a different set of criteria than selfish intention. They must suit the judgement panel of the wildness that occurs in a given environment. What are the criteria important to wildness? The point of life is not to spread genes, but to live in parsimony, directness, naturalness and fulfilment, i.e. wildness. Of all the animals, humans are now the most miserable, because they have lost sight of the fun to be had in such an uplifting mix.

The wildness accepts different behaviours in different animals as right. So lions killing cubs is not disgraceful, but should be seen as a part or cost of nature where direct and honest interactions have priority. From such natural honesty, a diverse and stable environment can be created for more than might otherwise occur. As a species you will not know your calling or honesty until you are brave enough to listen to that wildness directly yourselves. This wildness should not be feared as it asks different animals to do different things. Adults killing young already feels repugnant to mentally matured people, so clearly such an impulse will not be a natural part of human wildness. (posted September 2004 by Dr Beetle)

A succinct criticism of this page that I came across recently (in Nov 09) was:
Sex for pleasure is the impulse. Genetic conquest is the purpose of that impulse. Of course the lions aren't actively thinking, "I must wipe out the genes of my competitor and replace them with my own superior ones!" It's not a conscious decision at all. The primary purpose of sex is to make more, whether intentionally or not.

It seems to me that there are three possibilities for the impulse and purpose (here also equating to conscious and subconscious reasons). The reason lions kill the cubs of others to mate is:
1. For impulsive pleasure without reference to any subconscious genetic procreation drivers.
2. For impulsive pleasure guided by a subconscious driver for genetic procreation.
3. For a sense of genetic pleasure and genetic procreation.

It is not central to the theory of evolution that genes end up being the driver for behaviour beyond acting as bookkeepers offering transcripts and recipes. They do not also have to require and manipulate their own procreation (as demonstrated by the ease with which they can be scrambled by sex and mutation), they just record. The additional quality has been worked out by humans, but is an assumption. The basics of evolution are that species change from one to another according to the natural selection enforced by how the organism interacts with its broader environment. Did genes simply record by surviving the outcome (option 1), or are they seeking to survive and impose their own genetic purpose (option 2)? In theory, both options could produce species in nature, although one will be more random and various while the other will direct life towards the puritanically ‘strong and fit’.

It can be hard to differentiate between options 1 and 2 because both can produce species if guided by the simple pleasures of living (option 1) or genetic purpose (option 2). Therefore, the supporters of option 2 will often try to prove their case by promoting the existence of option 3. I consider option 3 to be a myth, and do not believe that judgements of genetic value are in the mind or impulse of animals. (Here is an example, note that a genetically ‘strong’ animal will often look more parsimonious or well-organised in features as well. Therefore, is attraction based on an assessment of genetic strength, or the chance of greater pleasure based on judgements of receiving more potential interaction for less effort (the interaction desire, more beetle). As I said, it can be hard to pick the difference!). I hope I have exposed the myth of option 3 for lions, and others such as selfish male-eating mantises, the survival instinct, inherited selfish emotions, parental instinct, evolutionary psychology etc. It does seem odd that we are supposed to believe that a natural animal should have a dichotomy between how they feel and their real purpose, but that seems to be the prevailing view in biology today. I guess the biologist’s sense that such dichotomy in option 2 cannot be right explains why option 3 is so often promoted or ‘proven’. Then, when I debunk option 3 the fallback position is option 2 again. I will develop my ideas more on how to separate options 1 and 2, so there will be no where to hide, and link to that page when written. Cheers.(Posted August 2004)


HomeEvolutionary PsychologyIndexNext example

Do lions kill cubs to spread their genes? by Dr Beetle

When a new lion enters a pride, having fought off the incumbent male, it will usually kill and even eat the now defenceless cubs in the pride. Why does this happen? Is the infanticide an example of selfish genes at work, as suggested by evolutionary psychologists? Does the lion kill the cubs to spread its genes?