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The New Struggle

Chimpanzee warfare

Darwin grimly characterized the business of evolution as a struggle with which I agree. While this is so, I also believe that the Hominin Tribe is centrally characterized by a fundamental change in the nature of the evolutionary struggle. When I had first read the passages in Darwin about group selection thirty years ago, I had not appreciated that he believed that the price of establishing morality was group–group conflict, better known as war. While rereading this passage in light of three decades of thought about the matter, the elements of patriotism and victory leaped out at me:


There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.
(Descent of Man -1871, p. 166).

We return to the young Darwin, having just earned the reputation from the Voyage of the Beagle (1839) for being the quintessential naturalist, the ultimate empiricist, describing how his theory was inspired by the purely theoretical and mathematical notions of Malthusian overpopulation resulting in an inevitable struggle for scarce resources. From Darwin’s Autobiography (1887):


Thomas Malthus
Thomas Malthus

…in October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work.

Contrary to Darwin’s view, is it possible that group selection could occur without group competition? In past posts I have suggested that our family’s founding species, far from the Darwinian paradigm of Malthusian overpopulation, was threatened with extinction due to low birth rates. The group entity of obedience to authority for-the-good-of-groups (AKA: justice) was naturally selected on account of its productivity of offspring. It was the fateful pathway that our ancestral species took to be successful.

Upside downFar from the lush jungles of early 19th Century South America that was Darwin’s data set, a deteriorating climate meant that apes could no longer afford the luxury of playing their hierarchical games. If they wanted to get serious about survival, they had to get a grip on the outmoded Darwinian struggle and somehow put it to work tightening up their ships. So, the evolutionary struggle turned inwards in order to suppress the Darwinian struggle within their groups.

Now here is the essence of a theory of an altered human evolutionary struggle. It is the natural selection not of the fittest individuals or groups in a competitive struggle with each other, but the natural selection of the most productive relationships rendered so by struggling against the nonproductive competitiveness within those same relationships. Dare I say that human evolution stands Darwin on his head! I would not if I was not confident that he would have wholeheartedly approved.


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