A few different (random) events led me to write this post. First, I saw a post on Instagram where someone was offering to introduce other watch collectors to their authorised dealer to help them land some ‘hard to get’ pieces; second, I posted a story about my friend who has been kidnapped in South Africa and received a lot of support and possible avenues to assist; finally, I am doing a course on Psychology (for fun) and this topic of kindness came up again – A few thoughts came to mind which I thought I would like to note down, since I find it fascinating why we might be inclined to be kind to one another (or not).
Evolutionary theory of kindness
We start with evolution, and in particular, certain emotions. Why do we have them? For this particular discussion, focus on the emotions that incline us to be kind to others, like compassion, gratitude and so on. These have long been seen as a puzzle for evolution. Many say that given the existence of kindness and morality, the theory of natural selection can’t be accurate. The theory of natural selection guides us to survive on reproduction. So why would we be kind? How could kindness have evolved?
Imagine a population of “indiscriminate altruists”; in other words, a population of creatures whose genes guide them to be nice to everybody, irrespective of whether the favours are returned. They don’t care who they’re nice to, or how much it costs. Now imagine a mutation happened, where an animal came into being who accepted the help of others, but didn’t contribute at all; so this new mutant took the benefits, but didn’t pay any costs – this a modern day free rider. In life, I am sure everyone has encountered a free rider; this is a roommate who’s very happy all the other roommates clean the house, but s/he will not do any cleaning… or a colleague who’s very happy to join parties and events, but never helps to organise… or someone who tags you in their Instagram posts, but never even likes your posts 🙂
You might imagine the free riders would thrive; by definition, taking the benefits and not paying any cost “does better”. So with that being said, back to the original question, why did we evolve with kindness, and how could kindness have survived?
We know it exists, because we know altruism exists. We know animals care for their young, and groom each other. The answer involves an idea framed by the biologist, Richard Dawkins, who says we are evolved altruists, but we are not indiscriminate altruists. He also suggested we view evolution in terms of genes, not animals. In other words, animals are the vehicles that contain genes, and the genes are the replicators, or “survival machines”.
So as an example, suppose there are two genes: Gene A makes an animal care for itself and its offspring, and Gene B makes the animal care just for itself. You don’t have to be a mathematical biologist to see that Gene B isn’t going to make it, because reproduction matters. More to the point here, having kids is just one way to be related to another creature; you can also share genes with brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and so on. So, more generally, the genes that survive, Dawkins argues, are those that make the most copies of themselves; i.e. “an animal is merely the gene’s way of making another gene“.
This leads to kin selection, i.e. a gene will spread through a population if 1) It increases the chance that the bearer of the gene will survive (e.g. an emotion like fear) or 2) if it increases the chances that other animals that also possess the gene will survive (i.e having genetic relatives).
To the extent, then, that evolution operates at the level of genes, there’s no hard and fast distinction between one’s self and another. In a way, the title of Dawkins’ famous book, “The Selfish Gene”, is misleading, because Dawkins intended it to mean the genes themselves are selfish; in a metaphorical sense of want, all they want to do is replicate themselves. In this case selfish genes lead to unselfish animals. And it follows from Dawkins’ theory that pure selfishness, pure doing it for oneself, is biologically untenable.
The nature of how animals work suggests that all animals intrinsically have to value the lives of others if only kin. This has shaped the way our psychologies have developed, and is one of the ways in which evolutionary theory explains how we could evolve to be kind to others and have emotions that incline us to be kind to others.
This doesn’t necessarily have to do with watches, but I wanted to set out the above to help frame the general idea of how kindness is programmed into us. Of course, I will make it about watches because that’s what I do!
You are probably familiar with the concept of “Paying it forward” – believed to have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book In the Garden of Delight; it was even made into a film. If you haven’t heard of it – it is simply an expression for describing when a beneficiary of any good deed, repays this kindness to others instead of to the original benefactor.
Now in the world of watches – we often talk about the #watchfam being amazing, and super helpful and so on – I tend to agree, but mostly when it comes to positivity and enthusiasm.
Truthfully however, when it comes to getting access to the watches themselves, only the ‘old school’ collectors are ever prepared to help other watch collectors get their hands on special, or difficult to source pieces. It’s likely due to the nature of watch values in the recent years, where mere access to an authorised dealer is now ‘currency’ because you can buy something and double your money on day 1. Its not all bad though; and I can say for sure there are still some good ones out there 🙂
It is worth remembering that the world is full of opportunists… and so-called fair-weather friends… and this is where the value of relationships comes into play. It is ideal for folks who started spending years ago when ‘hot’ watches were easy to get – but if you’re a new collector, rather than going to grovel at the authorised dealer all the time, thanking them for letting you spend your money – just build relationships with people who already have these dealer-relationships. those who do have these relationships ought to help genuine friends get watches they want.
It’s not like your dealer will sell you several 116500 Daytonas anyway, so why not introduce a friend who you KNOW isn’t a dealer or a flipper? Sure, this friend may end up out-spending you, and perhaps getting allocated hot watches ahead of you someday – but that’s where the FRIEND bit comes into play; having a pre-existing understanding will help.
I am not saying just open the door to any clown – provided these are actual friends, and people who you have a good relationship with, this is how we can get hot watches into the hands of genuine collectors and people who ‘deserve’ them – as opposed to having them end up on Chrono24 at 2x retail or more. This only really applies to the smaller dealers, since places like Watches of Switzerland group don’t give a damn about anything except spend history.
This post felt a bit disjointed in the end, since I was distracted several times while writing it so I lost my original flow – but here we are – I am posting it anyway!