The Genismo
Joao Carlos Holland de Barcellos,
translated by Debora Policastro

Genetic Philosophy

The roots of Genismo date back about 20 years ago, around the 80’s. By that time, I had created what I call “Genetic Philosophy” [1]. It was a simple doctrine, based on the finding that we are not able to change our instincts since they are genetically codified; however, it would be possible to do so through our culture and beliefs, which are cultural products and therefore can be substituted.

It was clear to me at that time that much of our suffering was due to the dichotomy between our values like religiosity, ethics and moral on one side, and on the other to our instincts, wills and wishes. Then the best thing we could do would be to adequate our culture to our biology as much as possible, not the opposite.

The opposite would be biologically impossible. Putting our beliefs and culture against our biological imperative could only produce more suffering and unhappiness.

Let us note in passing that the Freudian theory of sexuality can be seen as one of the facets of my old “genetic philosophy” since sexuality plays an important instinctive role and, therefore, we could expect that a violent repression to those instincts would cause suffering or various disorders.

Later, around 1990, still intrigued by man’s biological nature, I read the fantastic book The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. The book shows clearly that all living beings evolved through natural selection “in order to” perpetuate their genes. “In order to” is between inverted commas because it is a metaphoric notation: organisms do not really have a conscious objective of perpetuating their genes. They act in this way instinctively, through impulses or reactions that are pre-coded in their nervous system. These reactions can be pretty complex, since only organisms (herein understood as a set of genes) that can transmit their genes to future generations remain in the gene pool of the population. The ones that are not able to do so for some reason do not have their genes preserved; therefore, their characteristics are eliminated. That way, it is like the living organisms had an intention to act in compliance with their genetic perpetuation.

We must notice that the instinctive value of life, that is, survival itself, is nothing more than one of the many features of genetic preservation. Before the reader thinks that Genismo is all about offspring, as many do when in contact with the doctrine for the first time, I must say that that would be a crude simplification. It will make all the difference to remember that our genes are not only in our bodies, as we will see.

“Genes created us and we must serve them”

Well, Dawkins’ Selfish Gene showed clearly through innumerous examples from the natural world that living beings were programmed by natural selection to perpetuate their genes. To perpetuate genes means making them survive for as long as possible through generations. Actually, organisms could be seen as carcasses, biological devices or “Survival machines”, as it was addressed by the evolutionary biologists at the time, that were “made to” survive and pass their genes on to the next generation.

In the book, maybe for prudence, Dawkins did not use human examples to demonstrate this point of view and, for my own luck, he stated we should go against our genes! In his words:
“Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

So that the reader can start to understand this gene-perpetuative paradigm, it is important to notice that animals supposedly irrational do not undertake battles and bloodthirsty mortal wars against their own species and, in a surprisingly way, it is rare that one of them dies in individual fights, like territorial disputes or because of females in heat. Even in the search for food ad hunger situations, very rarely species will eat another member of its own species. Why is that so? Is not survival the biggest biological imperative of all?

That happens because the biological nature of living beings is centered in perpetuation of genes of shared organisms, not individual ones. If the biological paradigm was only sheer survival, no female would risk its life to save its descendants from danger. The animals would hunt and eat their own species and offspring when hungry. But that rarely happens. What happens is that the supposedly “wild” animals follow their genes closely, more closely than humans. Humans have consciousness and a mighty brain unfortunately capable of betraying our genes. That happens not only through wars against our fellow creatures, using famous “mass destruction weapons”, but also against ourselves and as a consequence, endangering our own happiness.

“Happiness is to walk the path of genetic perpetuation”

Thus, my old 'genetic philosophy' evolved to Genismo sometime after I read “The Selfish Gene” and realized we should avoid acting against our genes and start acting for them. Obviously, we should be restricted to some ethical dominion, but yet we would have an ample playing field that would minimize our suffering, give us a meaning to life and a new kind of immortality, not anymore based on illusions, but on real entities: the genes.

Genismo, during a phase that lasted from 1990 until April 2003, established that we should assume culturally our biological condition of “Gene-Perpetuator Machine” and act to perpetuate them. As a result of such actions, which I called gene-perpetuative actions, we would maximize our happiness, since we would reduce culture x instinct conflicts and integrate our culture to our deepest biological essence.

Our genes are our most precious assets”

Of course the acceptance of our “gene perpetuator machines” intrinsic condition is not trivial: it imposes changes to our old values, some perhaps based on religion, and changing inveterate beliefs and values is undoubtedly the most difficult task in the world. But the doctrine establishes clearly that our most valuable asset is our genes and if we want to maximize happiness without corrupting truth, we must accept it.

It is important to highlight that our genes are not only in our individual bodies, but spread all over humanity, as well as other species. We share the largest part of our genes with our descendants and relatives, but the difference with other members of the same species is not that big. We share about 86% of identical genes (not chromosomes) with our children and about 68% of identical genes with any other person.

This genetic sharing should provide us, in a cultural value level, acknowledgement and acceptance of other beings as part of us. That way, acceptance of Genismo could (and would) sponsor a bigger altruism in relation to our choices and actions. Thinking that our consciousness is us, our essence, causes an increase in human selfishness. This selfishness occurs because usually consciousness is understood and accepted as something individual and, differently from genes, something that cannot be shared.

We must remember that selfishness of genes does not necessarily imply selfishness in behavior. Most of the times, the opposite happens: consider, as an example a mother, not necessarily human, that risks her own life in order to save her offspring’s. This altruistic behavior in relation to her offspring was produced by “selfishness” of her genes that “want” to survive and perpetuate, and led to an altruistic behavior. There are many other types of genetic altruism (instinctive) with members of the same species but not directly related.

“God does not exist and the only way to transcend death is through genes.”

Genismo is a branch of atheism and is committed to science and truth. For that reason, generally, beliefs not linked to reality such as religion, mysticism, esoterism and other types of religion or pseudo-science lacking factual evidence are not considered beneficial. Especially deistic religions are seen by Genismo as alienating and dangerous memes, since their followers usually have a distorted way of seeing the world that sometimes may lead to contradictions, unfairness and unhappiness.

The genists – Genismo followers — must be tolerant with the infected by religious memes (believers), since they know these believers had generally had their brains infected when young by powerful and sometimes irresistible memetic genes. As these memes, through faith, lead the individual to a continuous and persistent acceptance of contradictions (implicit in those religions), it is extremely difficult to make them notice that those contradictions should imply the falsehood of their set of premises (beliefs).

Immortality through genes reinforces our gene-perpetuative actions and is also a form of happiness Genismo offers. However, as genes are real entities and souls are not, the feeling of immortality through genes is a belief with factual support. Thus we see Genismo as a generator of two distinct sources of happiness: the first, the most pragmatic one, brings happiness by reducing cultural conflicts (memes x genes) and breaking the dichotomy between culture and biology, therefore leading the individual to greater body-mind integration. The second genist source of happiness is of a more “elevated’ level, perhaps ideological: it comes from the feeling of immortality through genes and gives life a transcendental sense without appealing to false illusions.

“Genist Ethics is Scientific Meta-Ethics”

Genismo leads individuals to value their genes and make them act in a way they will consciously want to perpetuate them. That is the “reason” why we evolved, and Genismo reinforces that that is also the reason we should live for. This way Genismo transforms a biological goal into a cultural one. It unifies culture and biology.

This new way to see ourselves helps us integrate with our unchangeable essence that is our genetic programming.
Nevertheless, there may be gene-perpetuative possibilities that, although can bring happiness or pleasure to their executor, may provoke more suffering and unhappiness to other individuals, decreasing total happiness in the group, something that goes against the principles of SME. In that case, those possible actions must be avoided, since Genismo is restricted to SME dominion.

We must therefore be always alert and not lose sight of the genist goal: happiness. Although Genismo does not yet have a detailed and explicit ethics code, ethical restrictions to our actions must necessarily be based on “scientific meta-ethics”: each individual’s happiness is limited to the happiness of the group. That is, an individual in the group must not enhance its own happiness at the expense of overall happiness of the group. Total happiness prevails over individual happiness.

“We are our genes”

In April 2003, Genismo evolved again: it was becoming each time clearer to me that our consciousness was not our essence, but our genes. Genismo used to treat “us” and “our genes” differently. We treated our genes as “them”. We should serve them and live for them. Implicitly we were privileging our consciousness as our “true self”. From that date on, not anymore. Our consciousness, as our arms, stomach, eyes and nails must be seen as appendages of our true self: our genes.

Although our consciousness apparently [2] has control of our actions, it is a result of a small part of our brain processing; maybe even of a minute area of our brains. Thus, it is more reasonable even physically to think that we are our genes, since differently from our consciousness they permeate virtually all cells of our body: from the toes to the nucleus of each of our neurons.

However, the dictatorship of consciousness has made its roots very deep. There will still be time until this new paradigm reflects on our colloquial language, and because of that we must be comprehensive while we still treat genes as “them” and our consciousness as “us”, even because we would not be understood by the ones that do not know Genismo. But a genist would know that when we say we are struggling to perpetuate our genes, we must understand we are struggling for our own immortality.

There is more than one way to reach Genismo. One of them is through Scientific Meta-Ethics (SME): happiness is maximized in the pleasure centers in the brain that produce it when the organism acts according to is evolutionary programming, that is, in a way to perpetuate its genes. Another way is through study of life evolution. The following text, one of the firsts I wrote concerning this new paradigm, shows how Genismo can be understood through neodarwinian study of life evolution.

Hierarchized Genismo

Genismo is a meme that has happiness as a goal. Happiness is not only pleasure, but the addition of pleasure (and suffering) proportional to its duration on time. Suffering decreases the value of happiness while pleasure increases it [1].
By the theory of evolution and natural selection process, we know that living beings evolved *as* if they had the unconscious and instinctive goal of perpetuating their genes, that is: maximizing their “gene-perpetuation”.

There is no transcendental reason for living beings to act this way. That happens because the genes that are present today are exactly those that were able to adapt their bearers to preserve them until the present moment.
The genes that did not make their bearers perpetuate them, that is, were not able to make the organisms (phenotypes) that carried them pass them on to the next generations, perished. Those genes are not among us any longer. Therefore we are all living descendents of the first replicant (“the primordial gene”), which originated life about four billion years ago and was successful to survive through times [2].

For that reason, the base of evolutionary psychology, the science that studies the behavior and social structure of living beings is based on the “gene-perpetuative” paradigm.

But how do genes make their bearers (us) act “in a way to” perpetuate them?”

Evolution and Consciousness
Genes instigate their organisms to act in a “gene-perpetuative” way, as:

  1. Rigid and biologically codified mechanisms.

That way, for instance, a plant does not need to think or feel it has to turn its leaves towards the sun in order to receive light: internal mechanisms turn the leaves in the direction of sunlight captivation. They execute this task automatically. Fructification or seed launching are also automatically done by the genetic regulation of the plant, with no help of any nervous system.

  1. Hyper primitive instincts

In beings that own nervous system there are mechanisms codified by genes through mental algorithms (instincts) that instigate the organism to behave and act almost mechanically, without the need to think about its actions. Those algorithms are in general placed on the base of the brain, in the reptilian system. For example:  breathing control, pupil dilatation in the dark, bristle of hair when cold, etc. The increase in the ability to survive and reproduce is a feature that helps genetic survival.

  1. Instincts that generate wishes or wills.

Other instincts (=mental algorithms genetically codified to solve specific problems) do not produce directly an action in the organism, but impulses, wishes and wills, in a way that the organism itself, through other instincts or use of reason and logics, will decide the best way to satisfy them. In general, those mental algorithms that generate wishes and feelings are situated in the brain limbic system. Examples: anger, love, jealousy, etc.

  1. Reward mechanisms.

Reward mechanisms are studied by a science area known as “behaviorism”. Those internal mechanisms make the organism learn (through usage of memory) through pain (or pleasure) that an action is harmful to the genes (or beneficial to them). For instance: putting a hand on fire causes pain and pain is a sign and a way to learn that this act is harmful to the genes. Eating sweet substances is pleasant because, in general, they offer energy to the body and that is beneficial to the genes.

  1. Epigenetic Rules

“Epigenetic rules” are improved forms of instinct. They are basically mental algorithms that are not used while not necessary. But when triggered and put to action they may activate a lot of internal mechanisms. Such instincts are not triggered without a previous evaluation of their necessity in relation to the environment. For example: being slapped on the face may trigger anger, or may be caress display in some culture. The same sensorial stimulus may activate others like anger and affection or not, depending on the context.

Those instinctive mechanisms developed through natural selection since thousands, even millions of years ago. However, the environment changes more rapidly than the genes adapt to it. That can make them lag behind environmental changes, what causes risk of death or extinction of species. For that reason, the genes made the epigenetic rules flexible through natural selection, what led to the appearance of the neocortex: the thirst for reason.

With this new human brain layer, almost every stimuli that before would trigger instincts that make the body act immediately do not do that anymore. The instinctive actions are blocked and, before being triggered, they go through a rational/environmental evaluation: consciousness.

One of the functions of consciousness is therefore blocking instinctive actions and evaluating the best answer. With a more efficient response to environmental stimuli, reason naturally took place of instinct in control of actions. For that reason we (sometimes) are able not to hit a person in case he/she annoys us.

Obviously, the genes that created this brain layer only survived because this strategy was more efficient to perpetuate the genes of the organism. Why? Because we are here!
If the genes that created reason and consciousness had been less efficient to perpetuate we would not be here with all this conscious and rational apparatus in the head.

With this new neurological apparatus in the brain, a new level of gene-perpetuation appears:

  1. Absorption of memes.

As a consequence of the speed of environmental changes and genetic inability to create mental algorithms specific to each different environmental situation, the genes created a more flexible structure – the neocortex- which can block instincts and analyze the best solution through reason instead of responding immediately. The ability to store memes in brain memory allowed knowledge to be used without having to be reinvented.
Since then, the culture and the brain have advanced and evolved a lot. That allowed us to land on the moon, create medicines and become one of the species with the biggest evolutionary success on the planet.

Ideological Pleasure

The ability to absorb memes made the ideological pleasure possible.
The ideological Pleasure is what we feel when we act in accordance to the ideology (memes) we believe is true. It has probably originated from the necessity of cohesion in territorial disputes and tribal wars in our evolutionary past. For instance, if we belong to a soccer team, religion, club, city, country, etc, we should feel pleasure when we act in benefit of the group or the institution we belong to. This pleasure is based on the fact that people that are close to us and share the same interests should probably share more similar genes; thus, helping them is also a way to help our genes, since we probably share more genes with them than with strangers.

Genes and Happiness

It is important to notice that the usage of instincts, epigenetic rules and reason itself had a “purpose” [4]: those mechanisms evolved while benefiting gene-perpetuation. But these organisms are not really interested in gene-perpetuation (actually, not even the genes are)! These organisms want more and more pleasure and less suffering and pain. So, all usage of internal brain mechanisms to solve problems means only more sophisticated ways of solving problems to increase pleasure and decrease pain for the longest period of time possible, that is: they are ways of trying to maximize happiness!

What happens is that organisms that own nervous system are ALWAYS running from suffering and seeking pleasure. All the time. As pleasure multiplied by time is happiness, to put it simple, organisms are always seeking pleasure. And the genes, on the other hand, always “want” to survive, to perpetuate. In our evolutionary past, at least, the ways to seek happiness should be the same that led to gene-perpetuation. That is: the more happiness we got, the more genetic perpetuation would be done. Therefore we have a logical-evolutionary correlation between seek for happiness and genetic perpetuation.


Nevertheless, the genes “did not know” that such rational power and ability to control from something flexible as the consciousness they had created and its associated neuronal subsystems could also turn against themselves. Although consciousness can solve technical problems masterfully in a way to avoid pain and get pleasure, has also allowed harmful memes to perpetuate genetically (for instance consumerism and VM2F) and also harmful to happiness (Buddhism, celibacism, etc) to appear.

Obviously, we are still in an evolutionary process. Natural selection continues to act in a way that, in a long or short term, those memes will face barriers, if not memetic, at least genetic against their proliferation. One of the ways for the genes to get rid of the  VM2F is to instigate an organism to reproduce before a meme is installed in its mind. That should explain the increase in numbers of teenage pregnancies [3].

Priorities Hierarchization

One of the things Genismo suggests is that we must follow our genes. But what does that mean?
It basically means that we must act according to what “our genes want”.
One of the ways the genes signalize what they want is through wills and wishes. For instance, if an organism feels the need for water, genetic mechanisms signalize with thirst. If the organism satiates the thirst it will be acting according to the wills of the genes that created the mechanism of thirst. However, there could also be conflicting wills. For instance, I may feel like eating candy and, at the same time, I may want to lose weight and be healthy. How can I prioritize that? What if a gene-perpetuative action is anti-ethical?
The best way to solve those conflicts is through a priorities hierarchy. See below what I propose:

  1. Scientific Meta Ethics should be the greatest hierarchical valued rule.

This way, not even gene-perpetuative actions are allowed if they infringe SME.

  1. The gene-perpetuative path must be prioritized in relation to satisfaction of wills and wishes.
  2. Satisfaction of wills and wishes is a way of following the genes.

Through this hierarchy, “pragmatic-Genismo”, which used to be based on hedonism as a way of maximizing pleasure without necessarily a counterpart in perpetuation of genes, now is not genistically compatible anymore in case the action is against gene-perpetuation.

Maximization of Happiness

It is easy now to notice, through priorities hierarchization, that the goal of Genismo, by definition, is the maximization of happiness in the first place, since SME has maximization of happiness as a basic postulate:

“Scientific Meta Ethics postulates that an action is better or fairer than another one when the level of general happiness created from it, computed in the longest period of time possible, is superior to the level of happiness created in the same period.” [5]

Happiness among Genists and non-Genists

Genismo makes cultural goal compatible with the “biological goal”. This way, Genists have an extra ideological pleasure for knowing that they are acting in a gene-perpetuative way, even if this action also causes pleasure naturally, which is in general sponsored by genes when one follows the gene-perpetuative path.

On the other hand non-genists, especially the ones who are not interested in gene-perpetuation, will not always follow a gene-perpetuative path, and most regularly a diversion from this path will make one suffer or at least prevent one from being as happy as one could be when following it.

In natural conditions, a non-genist has two options:

  1. The individual does not follow any ideology, religion or life philosophy.

In that case the person must follow what gives him/her more pleasure, that is, the person will follow his/her instincts aiming happiness, what would be more or less like the genist pillar that says we must follow our genes. It is like returning to our primitive origins but within a modern environment. That could probably lead to a gene-perpetuative path, but not necessarily!

  1. The individual follows some ideology, religion or philosophy of life.

In case those philosophies are not Genismo, the person will have to restrict or act in a way that does not favors genes and, for that reason, he/she will at some moment repress genes, what should cause loss of happiness. For example: some religions promote physical sacrifices like whipping and boring prayers to please God. But those sacrifices decrease physical pleasure and therefore happiness, though they can cause ideological pleasure.

However, a genist has ideological pleasure without having to stray from the gene-perpetuative rout. That way he/she would have a greater happiness than a non-genist with no ideology or a non-genist with ideology. This way we demonstrate that following Genismo produces more happiness than not following it.

The Matrix Case

The matrixian case is an extremely artificial chance of maximization of individual happiness at the expense of maximum alienation of the world and the universe. As follows:
Suppose a person wants to maximize his/her personal happiness and enters a matrixian cocoon where electrodes are implanted in his/her brain and he/she will receive intravenous feeding, in a way that he/she will spend the rest of his/her life in this machine that maximizes happiness.
By definition, the machine will maximize happiness to the highest level his/her brain can handle. Happiness will be maximized as it would never be in the real world. This person will not perpetuate any genes and will consume many planet resources in order to stay in that machine for years.
Now I ask the reader a difficult question: would you enter this matrixian machine if it was offered to you cost-free? And if not, why not?
If your answer is yes it is because there is already gene-perpetuative spark acting in you!  
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Portugese version:


[1] A Fórmula da Felicidade [Happiness Formula]

[2] Genismo: Uma introdução  [Genismo: na introduction]

 [3] Gravidez na adolescência [Teenage pregnancy]

[4] A Teleonomia: o “para” não significa propósito. [Teleonomy: “for” does not mean purpose.]

[5] Introdução à MEC [Introduction to Scientific Meta Ethics]

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