Sunday, March 17, 2013

No Superman

When we see that a small proportion of people have much greater wealth and power than the rest some of us jump to the conclusion that those people are in some way superior. It is important to explain why they are not. It becomes doubly important if we accept that humans have developed a second evolutionary channel.

As ideas from the Darwinian theory of evolution spread throughout human society they have been appropriated to justify many things. The idea that one group of humans has evolved, physically, to make them superior to others has been used in the century to justify, mass sterilisation, the banning of marriage between some groups and mass murder.

There are already enough people claiming that, for one reason or another, the group that they belong to is in some way superior to others.

The Seductive Idea

It seems to make such obvious sense: Humans are apes who have developed a second channel for passing advantage to their offspring. These advantages come in many form including goods and territory. Therefore in cold evolutionary terms it seems an individual with more territory and goods is a better prospective mate. In other words if you want your children to by rich you should marry a rich person.

From there it is a small intellectual step to think that an individual who has more is also more evolved, in terms of the second evolutionary channel developed by humans.

It is worth remembering that this understanding of the superiority of the wealthy is neither new nor restricted to a materialistic world view.

It has been present in the religious view of the world for a long time. As the English hymn "All Things Bright And Beautiful " puts it:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Where the Seductive Idea Leads

Remembering we have seen this seductive idea before is important because we have seen where it leads.

The gradual accumulation of wealth and territory over generations led, in much of the world, to the development of a special caste of the wealthy; Chieftains, Kings, Emperor’s—An Aristocracy.

The trouble with an aristocracy is, as the Danish writer Peter H√łeg puts it, they dream that time will stand still. Whoever has power or advantage, wants to keep it. Change is not in their interest, so they are likely to resist progress for the rest of us.

What Must be Remembered

In human society these extra advantages; wealth, property, possessions, can only be held with by agreement. It does not matter how much money you have, you will starve, or you can persuade someone to share with you. You need that agreement to grow or hunt your own food, it takes territory to be self-sufficient.

Our ancestors learned that having a society where everyone fought for what they wanted did not give us the best chance to survive and prosper.

Second Channel Evolution

This learning, that taking by force is bad for everyone, has become a key component of humans second evolutionary channel. It has to form a part of the second channel, and may possibly be one of the oldest parts, because it directly challenges a property of physical evolution—strength. Though this second channel rule may have been able to develop because it compliments a property of physical evolution—intelligence.

This has led to a constant struggle in human society. Not that between brain and brawn, which is mostly a struggle between individuals. The constant struggle is that between those who are favoured in the present—who want things to stay as they are, and those who want change—because they will be more favoured in a changed world.

No Superman

The vast majority of us accept situations where a few hold onto unfair advantage over the rest of us because our second evolutionary channel can act as a damper against change.

Our second channel for passing advantage is evolutionary because it works at the level of passing advantage from generation to generation, over thousands of years. This does not mean that old money is better than new, though that prejudice is a common one.

The real advantages of our second channel evolution are in the learning that when we can cooperate, specialise, trade and help each other we all benefit.

It is not the wealth of the wealthy or the power of the powerful that demonstrate second channel evolutionary advantage. It is demonstrated in all who attend to the business of making our tribes, our communities our societies work.

We accept that a few may do considerably better so that the majority will thrive. But we have also learned that the majority can only thrive when there are strict limits to the advantages of the few.

We can only be super apes because there is no super man.

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