It started off as a simple and purely scientific question about the accuracy of a comment I made on an earlier post, but quickly developed into something far more interesting. This was the prompt:
- […]One of the problems I have with evolution is that it champions the survival of the fittest in nature. How does this tie in with society? Comment by James | July 30, 2008
- Society, almost by definition, is not meant to emulate nature. It is meant to better it, by providing a framework for mutually beneficial cooperation and some scope for “humanitarian impulses”. Evolutionary Stable Strategies are strategies that each individual should pursue to maximize their value while minimizing losses. Frequently, you will find that in a society of perfectly cooperating individuals(one which uses some form of the “honor system”), one can use strategies that leave you open for exploitation (and are therefore not ESSs) but result in far greater gains. Of course, since we’re not all perfectly cooperating, you still get burnt if you do this too often.We use the principles of evolution in social sciences only where we admit that the competitive impulse is greater than the cooperative impulse i.e. the desire to make a quick buck is greater than the desire not to hurt other people, such as in typical stock market behaviour.
To truly observe the working of evolution we have to look at a species in a state of nature. No one, by the way, is arguing that you should revert to this state. Pretty much all evolutionary biologists(and I’m not one, so forgive the inexactness of my answer) appreciate the comforts that society enables. They just argue that this is the way our original, ancestral instincts would have us behave. And enough people do follow them, as should be increasingly obvious every time you see the news.
Does this help? I’m really not an expert, so if you’re curious there is a wealth of good literature that would explain this far better than I can. Comment by ramblingperfectionist | July 30, 2008 <!– @ 11:39 am –>
- And on the whole eugenics issue, which is probably what you meant in the first place, I can only say that
a) I don’t know the details, but I’m pretty sure it’s been considered bad science for a while now, and not just because of the moral implications; and even if it wasn’t,
b) Science is a tool. It advocates no positions. It doesn’t call for absolute obedience. It presents information with which to make choices, which you must combine with information from other sources (empathy towards fellow human beings, for instance. Or, as in Hitler’s case, disgust at (an) entire race(s)) to make “human” decisions. Don’t blame physicists for the atom bomb. Blame those who chose to drop it. Or, for that matter, fund it. Maybe not the best example, but you get my point, I’m sure.
And this is the conversation:
And it ended there, partly because I didn’t know how to continue any further but mostly because the connection got cut. Does anybody have any comments? Specifically, any reasons/motivations for being altruistic that do not depend on religion? I don’t need watertight arguments, just coherent ones. Hopefully, something that depends on some form of logic. Emotional appeals are acceptable only if they are undeniably moving. And I don’t think that will be very easy.