Saturday, July 30, 2016

Charles Darwin Was Right

Chimpanzees Prove That Elites Don’t Understand Darwin’s Message About Cooperation, The evolutionary roots of our social contract

Humans are the most successful species on the planet mainly because of the way we intensely cooperate with each other. Where chimpanzees and other apes bond by grooming, picking the flees off each other, we bond by talking to each other instead which leaves our hands free to do work, an evolutionary advantage. And boy, do people love talking, it makes the World go around.

An interesting Evonomics article:


 The American financial tycoon Andrew Carnegie certainly thought so and today’s economic elite have followed his example. In 1889 he used a perverted form of Darwinism to argue for a “law of competition” that became the cornerstone of his economic vision. His was a world in which might made right and where being too big to fail wasn’t a liability, it was the key to success. In his “Gospel of Wealth”, Carnegie wrote that this natural law might be hard for the least among us but “it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”
We accept and welcome therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race.
In other words, his answer was yes. Life is unfair and we’d better get used to it, social contract or no social contract.

While this perspective may be common among those primates who live in the concrete jungle of Wall Street, it doesn’t hold true for the natural world more generally. Darwin understood that competition was an important factor in evolution, but it wasn’t the only factor. Cooperation, sympathy, and fairness were equally important features in his vision for the evolution of life. In The Descent of Man he wrote

“Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

By working cooperatively, by sharing resources fairly, and by ensuring that all members of society benefited, Darwin argued that early human societies would be more “fit” than those societies where members only cared about themselves. The Russian naturalist Peter Kropotkin championed this aspect of Darwin’s work and argued that mutual aid was essential for understanding the evolution of social mammals as a whole. In the time of Darwin and Kropotkin the research needed to verify these claims was in its infancy, but recent work has supported this vision of the natural world. However, one study in particular has added an additional plank to this growing edifice of knowledge, and the view from on top suggests that life, in contrast to what Carnegie believed, may not be so unfair after all.


Magpie said...

"Chimpanzees Prove That Elites Don’t Understand Darwin’s Message About Cooperation"

Evidently, it's not only elites who are at fault there: there are plenty non-elite people who go around expressing similar views.

One needs only to exercise one's memory.


By the way, Kropotkin was not only a naturalist, he was also an anarchist.

Tom Hickey said...

Pete Kropotkin was also a Russian prince. He was a real prince, not just one in title, that is, actually noble. He dropped the title of prince when he was only 12 and would not let anyone refer to him that way. Precocious.