We all may recall from our school experiences that except a few lone wolves that don’t like to mingle, kids have a tendency to form packs. Some packs are inevitably more powerful than others. This power comes in different forms of course. It could be academic brilliance, athletic prowess or awesome bullying abilities. But there is a process of evolution associated with each of these packs. This process can simply start with a single powerful kid attracting others around him or her. It’s not that others necessarily gravitate around the kid because they suddenly find them to be a great friend to have. No. In most cases, these kids want to associate themselves with a powerful kid to gain the benefits that come with hanging out with a powerful kid. It’s a signalling mechanism to teachers and kids from other classes. “Look, I am with this powerful student. The fact that he is hanging out with me means I must possess something special too!” (None of this has to be conscious at this age.)
This is not easy to do when it comes to academics because that requires a little more effort than just being around a genius kid. It is much simpler with bullying or other domains where you can learn on the job by simply observing the powerful kid. But irrespective of whether they themselves become powerful or not, these hitchhikers do end up reaping benefits from school society.
As it must be obvious to you by now, this is not a trait that only kids display. It is heavily present among adults too. In fact, it’s a behavior that is seen in some form in all animals that are capable of forming packs. It is a great strategy for weaklings to reap evolutionary benefits with the help of fake signalling.
Interestingly, it’s a phenomenon that is even noticed at the level of genes. Genetic hitchhiking occurs when genes that are neutral or even harmful get passed on to next generation simply because they happen to be connected to good genes. These advantageous genes are usually neutral in the beginning. But a random mutation suddenly makes them advantageous in a particular environmental context. And suddenly, harmful or neutral neigbours around that lucky gene turn into lucky losers too. They get dragged along by Evolution and win the lottery without being that important.
There are some universal rules of life that manifest themselves again and again at different levels of selection. Hitchhiking seems to be one such rule.