Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Originally written for Everything2
Sat May 12 2001 at 17:25:25

It is rather unfortunate that one aspect of Darwin's theories were so revolutionary - the emphasis on competition. In this view, everything from biological systems to social systems improve themselves by internal and external competition. Since Darwin's theories were first published, a great deal of research has gone into the study of competition and how it could be best used to promote "progress" or the "advancement of human society" or whatever you want to call it. As a result, competition is probably understood today much better than cooperation.

Imagine if Darwin had wrote or been associated with the word "cooperation" instead of the word "competition." Biological and social research since him would have gone down an entirely different path. How the interactions between individual members of wolf packs or bee hives have on the survivability of the whole would probably be much better understood. Emphasis would have been put on how the individual cells of our bodies cooperate, rather than how individual human beings compete with one another. The difference between the words "competition" and "cooperation" would be somewhat analogous to the difference between the words "selfish" and "altruistic."

Had Darwin happened to go down the cooperative path, his theories would have probably been much more closely associated with religion and explaining how religions serve to hold society together, rather than serving as the antithesis of religion today. Had his research been focused on cooperation, Hitler would probably never have had the chance to develop his concept of a super-race, and Ayn Rand would probably never have come up with her ideals of selfishness. In effect, neither Nazism nor Objectivism would probably have existed, and there would probably have been much less protection of trade secrets in economic systems today. Why force competing groups of individuals to reinvent the wheel if mutual cooperative development would be much more efficient?

Comment from thisisby.us by XavierOnassis
on Nov. 01, 2007 at 07:31am
1 Vote

Uncle Al agrees with you, seeya:

"Darwin's theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. As little as a battle between single ants of an ant hill is essential for survival, just so little is this the case with the individual members of a human community."

"Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem - in my opinion - to characterize our age."

"If we desire sincerely and passionately the safety, the welfare, and the free development of the talents of all men, we shall not be in want of the means to approach such a state. Even if only a small part of mankind strives for such goals, their superiority will prove itself in the long run."

-Albert Einstein 1879 - 1955

The gentlest are the fittest to survive.

social Darwinism
Originally written for Everything2
Fri Feb 08 2008 at 21:12:44

A belief that the best humans should survive, the weakest should perish, thus improving the human race.

How would Social Darwinism explain the existance of religion? Most religions tell their people to help one another, instead of fighting. Even in non-religious societies, their political systems outlaws things like murder. This should be wrong to the logic of a Social Darwinist - murder should be encouraged because it will separate the weak from the strong.

The answer to this puzzle is that religious and political systems have been in a process of memetic evolution. The belief systems that best encourage their people to cooperate (instead of compete) are the ones that survive and are passed down to future generations.

The logic of competition would imply two groups of people fight wars with one another over resources and territory. The result of war is that both groups suffer many deaths, economic production is redirected into destruction rather than creation. The beliefs that led to this war have made both the groups less fit to survive.

If instead the two groups had been encouraged by their beliefs to cooperate, they would be helping each other survive. Some growing crops, some developing medicine. In the end, both sides benefit and thus, their beliefs have more survival value.

While genetic evolution occurs in humans, I believe genetic evolution has taken a back seat to memetic evolution. The future of humanity will be defined by its knowledge and beliefs, not by its genes.

In the distant past, someone born with bad eyesight might mean he'd quickly become a tasty snack for some predator. These days? Eyeglasses. Bam - genetic selection for better eyesight takes a big hit. People who are nearly blind without their glasses live normal lives and have children who survive just like everybody else. Whatever genetic deficiencies some humans have, we overcome them much sooner with technological evolution than genetic evolution. There is no longer a need to wait around millions of years to evolve better genes when we can invent our way out much faster.

How many people are "smart" enough to start a fire if they were in the woods, without a match or other modern conveniences? Well, society has basically moved past that kind of selection - matches, lighters, stoves, etc are the norm. Soon we'll be raising a generation of kids who can't spell because they will all have auto-correct on their computers - does that mean they are "mentally and genetically disadvantaged"? No - it's just that spelling won't really matter in their world.

Communication the Key Difference?

Once a species has developed a sophisticated enough method of communication, evolution begins to lose its individual flavor and begins to happen at the level of societies. It is communication between individuals that allows for cooperation and the transfer of memes - thus the transfer of survival advantage without having to wait for genetic change.

Most societies have religious and moral systems that try to get their people to help one another survive, rather than leave "the weak" to die, as Social Darwinists may suggest. Why cooperation? The evidence seems to indicate that cooperation is a better survival strategy than competition - which is why philosophies based on human competition (such as Hitler's concept of a master race) tend to go extinct.

A Matter of Scale?

On the much smaller scale, "might makes right" causes the cancer cell to multiply like mad and spread throughout the host's body. However, since the cancer destroys the normal functioning of the system it depends on, the host dies, and the cancer cells die with the host.

When it comes to property, you could have a lot of individuals fighting over land and resources. However, fighting turns out to be an inefficient use of time and resources. It also often ends up injuring both sides, thus reducing the overall "might" of the population. In order to increase the "might" of the overall population, humans evolved systems of cooperation. Thus you are no longer looking at the might of single individuals, but the might of the civilization.

When the civilization loses its cooperative edge is when its individuals start fighting each other - whether its over land or other things. It is a sign that the memes currently present in the civilization are no longer as mighty as they used to be, or could be in the future.

The Clash of Civilizations?

One might define "cooperation" as between just the people who, for example, speak the same language, and then this "cooperative" group engages in "competition" against another group who speaks some other language.

But again, it comes down to the scale of cooperation. If there are viruses / cancer cells in your body that "cooperate" with themselves (or at least compete) against the other cells, it isn't really "cooperation" in the big picture view. To the host that contains all these cells, they are not cooperating, but competing.

It would be more efficient for both sides to work together rather than attack each other - which is probably one of the reasons most religions and moral codes have evolved prohibitions against murder.

When it comes to other species, if there's another species (perhaps alien) that is smart enough to kill off large portions of the human population, or is smart enough to help large portions of the human population, then the logical thing to do would be to find ways to cooperate with their civilization, rather than try to compete with them.

Even if they're militarily weak, if you don't cooperate with them, then they can withhold their help (or at least sabotage you if you've enslaved them), or even help other civilizations that do pose a threat.

kin altruism
Originally written for Everything2
Thu Aug 13 2009 at 17:55:22

Childless Relatives

As Tato pointed out, relatives without children of their own can contribute to the future success of their other relatives' children. Single-parents today often experience the most stress when raising their children. Even couples often find the need to ask grandparents for help in taking care of their children. If the general environment changes in such a way such that parents find they have to spend more and more time just to (for example) be able to pay the bills, then they may find that they need to recruit more and more people to help in the raising of their children. If a couple is better than a single-parent in a situation like this, one might imagine that a couple plus a gay / childless sibling is better than a couple alone.

Matryoshka Dolls

I believe an important question to ask is: Who are our kin anyway? If you follow the idea that we all descended from Adam and Eve, then we are in fact all kin (some more distant than others, of course). Similarly, in the evolutionary sense, if our species came from common ancestors, then we are still all kin. So when discussing "kin altruism" and preserving the survival of your "selfish genes", one might say that by helping any human being, we are in fact helping our own genes survive, as opposed to, for example, helping the genes of bacteria survive.

When considering the concept of competing genes, it is important to look at the scale of competition. If it's individual competition, then you'd screw anyone in your family, even your children, to favor your clones. If it's family competition, then you'd screw anyone you don't consider to be part of your family, or too distant of a relative. If it's ethnic group competition, then you'd screw anyone you don't consider to be in your ethnic group. If it's species competition, then you'd screw any organism that your species can't mate with (unless that species were useful in other ways, such as domesticated chickens or cabbage). Beyond species, if your "selfish genes" were just trying to propagate themselves, then they may "predispose" you to favor primates, mammals, chordates, animals, organisms, organic matter, or whatever.

Beyond Genes

Imagine a science fiction future in which humans came in contact with an alien civilization (that we can't mate with) - perhaps they aren't even composed of biological matter, but merely mechanical beings. Would they have a history of social organization similar to ours? Perhaps and perhaps not. We may introduce to them our civilization's own past experience with monarchy, dictatorship, democracy, capitalism, communism, anarchism, social democracy, etc. Perhaps even then we still haven't worked out a very good solution. They too may introduce to us their own history of various different kinds of social organization.

What happens after this kind of memetic cross-pollination? Some of us may start to take sides with some of the aliens in fighting for one ideology, while others of us take sides with other aliens to fight for other ideologies. When this occurs, "kin altruism" no longer happens in terms of helping your genetic relatives, but instead, it happens in terms of helping your "memetic relatives" - those who hold ideas similar to your own. Some may be focused on actually attacking their memetic competition, others may be focused on merely ensuring the survival or security of their own "memetic kin", while yet more may be focused on trying to convert your "non-kin" into your "kin".