Just as Newtonian physics has created a mechanistic mind-set which we have applied to human interaction, Darwinism has created a belief in a fundamental selfish savagery between humans. The concept of the survival of the fittest has been applied to human interaction just as much as to animal and plant life. And there is no doubt that it has a certain truth, however, it just isn’t the whole story.
Natural Born Co-Operators
Biologists are coming to believe that co-operation and mutual aid have contributed at least as much to the survival and evolution of life on earth as competition.(1) Many of these scientists claim that Darwin is being misunderstood when he is represented as claiming that the only adaptive string to our bow is competition. They say he just didn’t have time to do the research into the other types of adaptive behaviour. But other scientists have done this work and they have concluded that there is more to the story of the evolution of our species than just natural selection. (2)
In the natural world there are hundreds of examples of mutual aid – whether its nitrogen fixing fungi or plovers cleaning crocodile teeth, many life-forms, acknowledged as much less sophisticated than human beings, are truly able to have these mutually advantageous relationships. In all examples of mutualism some type of environment is created which is of benefit to all participants. And while it is more biological enlightened self-interest rather than altruism, it does demonstrate an important principle – co-operation offers the best chance for survival and development even at a fundamental level.
Mutual Aid and Reciprocity
As early as 1902, the zoologist (and anarchist)Peter Kropotkin wrote,
“In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.” (3)
Human beings are undeniably a sociable species and whether we like it or not this social connection doesn’t just end with our immediate family or circle of friends. As well as being undeniably related to every human on the planet according to our genome, we are all now living in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller.
Like an extended family packed into a small house we need to accept our interconnectedness and work out how to get on with each other…
(1) Frank Ryan, Darwin’s Blind Spot, evolution beyond natural selection, Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
(2) Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection, MIT Press, 1993
(3)Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.