Evolution expert speaks at annual Briloff Lecture
May 3, 2013Tweet
The battle between altruism and self-serving behavior is as old as life itself. Yet, there are lessons to be learned in how those battles play out in group dynamics, and the changes that can be observed over time.
David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, was the featured speaker at the 26th Annual Abraham J. Briloff Lecture on Accountability and Society, held April 17 at the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. The School of Management sponsors the lecture series, which brings the accounting, business and campus communities together to contemplate topics of business ethics.
Wilson, who directs EvoS, Binghamton’s campus-wide evolutionary studies program, began his presentation by discussing the evolution of water striders before shifting focus to humans as super-organisms. Accountancy, which he calls an efficient monitoring system that will advise on who is behaving or misbehaving, is essential in all social circles.
“Opportunities to benefit one’s self at the expense of others are largely curtailed,” Wilson said. “To succeed as a group becomes the primary evolutionary force.
Altruism exists but should not be at the center of attention. The mechanisms required for group-level functional organization go way beyond altruism.”
In remarks that followed Wilson’s presentation, Briloff expressed concern about the student-loan crisis in America, which he says is manifesting itself in an aggregate debt burden exceeding $1 trillion. He said the real crisis is that the students pay a high psychological toll as they try to be accountable to their debtors.
“The students have it worse than the foreclosures,” said Briloff, the Presidential Professor of Accounting and Ethics at Binghamton University and Emanuel Saxe Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Baruch College. “Foreclosures are traumatic, but what’s done is done. For the student, there is no ‘it’s done.’ It’s there and it impacts the parents and grandparents to whom the students turn for some relief from their anguish. There is a loss of dignity and yet they are left to their own resources. In the meantime, the interest on the debt mounts.”
President Harvey Stenger and School of Management Dean Upinder Dhillon both said a focus on ethical behavior always needs to be top of mind in the business world. Dhillon, in particular, cited insider trading within the accounting field as the latest example of a malfunctioning moral compass.
“Without trust in business, citizens and government, we won’t be very successful,” Stenger said. “Is it the police that keep us ethical or is it our sense that keeps us ethical? This is something we should talk about more often.”