Friday, January 17, 2014

Darwinism II

In my experience, people tend to be repulsed by Darwinism, particularly when it becomes apparent what it implies. It never reaches the center stage in public policy discussion or the news media because people don't like hearing that they're basically just smart apes. Politicians can't get elected that way, and manufacturers can't sell their products that way. For this reason, the Darwinian view has not been incorporated into the political systems that arose before Darwin during the Enlightenment. Here I will briefly discuss how a Darwin-adjusted political system might differ from the systems currently in place in most of the developed world.

If I may grotesquely summarize the Western political view, it is that mankind is inherently good, and that all citizens must be afforded the possibility of living to their potential in a competitive system that is controlled by checks and balances to limit excesses, maintain stability and provide a level playing field. I think that more or less sums up the official American worldview, and it is accepted as conventional wisdom here. But it isn't quite right if Darwin was right, and I think he was.

First of all, man is neither good nor evil, but a combination of the two, which makes the distinction somewhat useless. Some of the members of al-Qaeda may be good family men despite planning to kill thousands of Americans. The same goes for Barack Obama, the drone executioner, who cannot be popular in Yemen or Pakistan.  While it may be possible to argue from al-Qaeda's point of view or Obama's, Darwin tells us that this is an evolutionary process that will result in more of some organisms and less of others. Darwin would note with interest that all of our closest primate relatives became extinct within fairly recent times: was that because we were good?  We don't know whether our ancestors influenced these extinctions, but it's certainly something to think about.

A corrupted version of Darwinism known as Social Darwinism became popular in the U.S. during the late 19th century. This provided a rationale for capitalists and is still popular among the wealthy and within parts of the Republican Party.  The thinking is that the rich deserve to be rich because they work harder, are more productive, etc. They also see themselves as the fittest, in keeping with Darwin's theories. This view mistakenly incorporates the very odd Calvinist religious ideas held by the Puritans with Darwinism. Somehow, doing well financially came to mean that you were a better person.

Now let's fast forward to the present.  The economic boom cycle in the U.S. is nearing an end. This may not unfold for decades, but it seems to have started in earnest. Wealth has begun to concentrate in fewer hands, and this trend is probably irreversible without government intervention. Yet elected officials are more dependent on satisfying their corporate sponsors than their electorate. This state of affairs more or less guarantees the continuation of wealth inequality: those who now possess large amounts of financial assets will become wealthier, while median-income workers will stagnate or decline in economic terms. Darwinism always wins, but in this case it is because the political system doesn't recognize its existence. The wealthy, who are neither good nor bad, have found a way to advance their families and associates, and they don't care about anyone else.

My proposed solution, mentioned earlier, is to replace the electoral process with an automated process conducted by algorithms. The idea would be to limit the intrusion of destructive self-interest into a system that emphasizes fairness and equality.  There is no a priori reason why such a system couldn't eventually replace the democratic process currently in place.  Admittedly the world would be different, but we don't need eternal economic growth, and it's time to get the chimps out of the war room.

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