CIVILISATION

an evolutionary cul-de-sac?

A human evolutionary (i.e. Darwinian) approach to understanding our civilisation 
and the problems now threatening to put a premature end to it

 

Human nature and behaviour evolved in and are thus adapted to life, and the Darwinian struggle for survival and (reproductive) success, in essentially TWO different environments: the individual's extended family group (with which he identified and cooperated, developing strong bonds of affection, loyalty and commitment) and the environment external to it (including other, rival, groups of humans) which he feared and, with members of his own group, one way or the other, sought to exploit.

With the advent and development of civilisation, these two environments became conflated and confounded, the nation state (and, in more recent times, free-market capitalism) developing to exploit the confusion and the artificial environment of human society itself (to the advantage of its most powerful and privileged individuals and elites), where, perverted and misplaced, but blinded by familiarity, "success", dependency and our own rationalisations, the "individual " continues his struggle for survival and advantage - only now reduced largely to a struggle for POWER (in the form of MONEY, social and professional status, etc.), which has the potential, at least (important from an evolutionary perspective), to greatly enhance, especially male, reproductive success.

State and economy also serve society,  of course, and we all depend on them; but as a shepherd serves his flock, i.e. not for the flock's sake (although he may feel genuine concern for a lost or injured lamb), but primarily for his own (and/or his employer's) sake, for the meat and wool that the flock provides (for self-consumption, but primarily, of course, for the market).

If I am right, this means that our civilisation, as it has developed and is currently structured, represents an "evolutionary cul-de-sac", where the intensity of its self-exploitation, together with its exploitation of the natural environment, is rapidly driving it towards its end, the evidence for which is becoming increasingly apparent, notwithstanding our collective reluctance to recognise and face up to it.

A lot of detail can (and needs to be) added to this very brief analysis, but it reveals clearly enough, I think, the dire situation we are in, not least, because still unrecognised, on account of the massive taboos (put in place for historically understandable, but misconceived reasons) against applying Darwin's BIG idea to human society and civilisation.

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On the underlying Darwinian nature of civilisation.

It is vitally important to recognise this fundamentally and inherently exploitative nature of both the state and the economy (comprising between them the whole socioeconomic order), which we are deceived - and deceive ourselves - into believing are there to serve society when they are not - not primarily! Their primary purpose is to facilitate society's self-exploitation, to the advantage of some over others, in what is essentially a perverted, misplaced, but unrecognised (because disguised and rationalised) continuation of man's Darwinian struggle, largely reduced to the pursuit of POWER (money, social/professional status and advantage etc).

Initially, back in the Middle Ages, exploiters and exploited were easy to distinguish, with aristocracy and clergy cooperating (and completing, with each other and amongst themselves) to exploit the mass of society, the former relying on the "power of the sword", the latter on the "power of the word", thereby complementing each other in creating the power structures of the state, which facilitated their total dominance, control and exploitation of society at large. Notwithstanding that exploiters and exploited were in a state of mutual dependency, which is why it was possible to convince even the exploited that the state was serving them.

While the power of aristocracy, especially after the Norman Conquest, was embodied in castles built on the "physical high ground", the power of the Church was embodied in its claim to the "moral high ground". With both the "physical high ground" and the "moral high ground" in the hands of their oppressors and  exploiters, the exploited peasantry didn't stand a chance.

In modern times, the power, influence and privileges of these two elites have been greatly reduced (relatively), displaced by a much broader and more numerous spectrum of elites in politics, business, finance, academia, and particular professions (e.g. law, the media), into and between which there is a great deal of social mobility, based on "merit" or "talent", which, together with the concept of "the market", is used to rationalise and justify the advantages and privileges (particularly, but not just, in respect to income) they enjoy (or not). Theoretically, these elites (professions, industries) are open to anyone to move into and up in, although in practice, of course, openings are limited and only available to those with the necessary talent, luck and/or connections (vitamin C!), fairness and equality having been perverted (rationalised) to fairness and equality of opportunity/chance, which, even if it were true, which it is not, would still not create a just and humane society.

It is very important to keep in mind what I mention above about civilisation (organised into states) representing the conflation of two, originally distinct environments which human nature and behaviour evolved to respond very differently to, and which results in most of the confusion, injustice and contradictions relating to whether an individual is serving or exploiting their society.

Since we all depend on society and the state (as we once did on our extended family group), obviously we must all exploit it, in a sense. And because the state has effectively (also emotionally, in terms of loyalty, etc.) taken the place of our extended family group, we are expected (and have an emotional need) to serve it and seek its approval. But at the same time the state continues to fulfil its original purpose of facilitating society's self-exploitation. It is not the injustice of the existing socioeconomic order that is so important, however, or even its inhumanity, but its inherent non-sustainability, which must inevitably lead to its self-destruction.

With the creation of the welfare state, it has recently become possible for those at the bottom end of the social hierarchy to exploit society as well, taking unfair advantage of the various benefits on offer - and who can blame them, with those at the top of the social hierarchy also taking unfair advantage, and to much greater effect?

Evidence for the inherently exploitation facilitating nature of the state is all around us, its pervasiveness and familiarity making it difficult for us to recognise; we don't see the wood for trees, as it were. Thus, it is perhaps better to look back in history to when the state first arose, created in cooperation between the aristocracy and clergy to facilitate the exploitation of the rest of society to their own particular advantage. If historians were better educated in natural science, particularly biology and Darwin's theory of evolution, I'm sure it would be quite apparent to them.