In evolutionary theory, spite has a meaning not too distant from the everyday meaning of the word. Classical evolutionary theory says that natural selection works only between individuals, only locally, only short-term. The name of the game is to get more of your genes proportionately into the next generation, which means that keeping others in the same community from thriving is just as important as thriving yourself. Therefore, don’t just grab more than your share of the community resources, eat all that you can eat, and when you’re done stuffing yourself, destroy as much as you can of the remaining food so your neighbors don’t get it. Cannibalism is a twofer.
This is the prediction of classical (neo-Darwinist) evolutionary theory, but it is not the way most animals behave in nature. Spite and even cannibalism can be observed in nature, but far more common is wide-spread cooperation, altruism that goes across families and communities, even crossing species lines.
Among humans, sociopathic behaviors exist, and they have devastating effects for all of us, but most people—like most animals—behave generously.
In my opinion, the greatest danger to humans is not from this handful of sociopaths but from an ideology that grows out of Social Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism of the invisible hand. They tell us we should behave selfishly because everyone else is behaving selfishly, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. They tell us that universal selfishness is the foundation of the harmonious ecosystems that we find in nature, while, in fact, ecosystems are stable only to the extent that individual animals and animal species behave unselfishly.
Worst of all, they tell us that when corporations behave like sociopaths that this is normal, and that our collective prosperity is somehow supported by their rapacious greed. They warn us not to interfere with ‘free markets’ lest we undermine our own prosperity, but we look around us and we ask, ‘What prosperity?’, and a little light goes on and we begin to ask ‘Who is served by this ideology of unrestrained greed?’