Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Lee Alan Dugatkin blesses Slate with a piece on Kropotkin

Posted 31 Oct 2012 / 0

SlateThe Russian Anarchist Prince Who Challenged Evolution

I really appreciate the fact that Dugatkin uses Kropotkin to bring to light that Darwinian evolution has been — even in the time and work of Darwin — a process that was imagined to involve both competition and cooperation. Only in recent times has evolution become synonymous with selfish competition (and if I read that stupid Gorden Gekko “Greed is Good” speech from Wall Street one more time, I am going to be ill), and it is a clear indictment of scientists that their theories have tended over the last 100 years to so reflect the perspective of capitalist expansionism. Today, as biologists with new perspectives move in and throw off some of the shackles of the modern synthesis (mostly single-gene, single-population thinking), the importance of cooperation to evolutionary success is once again becoming appreciated.

For those of us thinking about the role that religion plays in human cooperation, this is an amazing quote unearthed by Dugatkin:

“The idea of good and evil has thus nothing to do with religion or a mystic conscience. It is a natural need of animal races. And when founders of religions, philosophers, and moralists tell us of divine or metaphysical entities, they are only recasting what each ant, each sparrow practices in its little society.”

An important lesson of Kropotkin’s experience — brought out well in this short piece by Dugatkin — is that extreme environments tend to favor cooperation. This is ironic, because while some of these extreme environments are abiotic (extreme cold in the case of Kropotkin’s Siberia), many are biotic, and their harshness stems from the ravages of competition. A formidable predators and competitors tend to engender cooperation in the species they threaten, and so it is that cooperation becomes most important where competition is most intense. In our highly competitive modern world, we need to keep this fact in mind.

And by the way, was Kropotkin totally wrong in suggesting that LaMarckian inheritance facilitates cooperation? Isn’t human cultural evolution LaMarckian in nature, and isn’t culture the key to our cooperative successes?

A Minor Post, Altruism, Articles, Behavior, Biography, Coevolution, Competition, Cooperation, Cultural Evolution, Ethics, Evolution, Mutualism, Political Science, Predation, Religion, Taiga (Boreal Forest), Tundra, Web

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