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C. Survival of the fittest

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This article is a critical review of “Social Darwinism”, a fallacious epistemological borrowing from the theories of “natural selection and “survival of the fittest”, followed by an analysis of two of its practical applications: selection of the most greedy and aggressive; and eugenics and scientific racism. It concludes that these notions, purportedly derived from the Darwin’s work, are in fact pseudo-scientific aberrations that were constructed in order to legitimize and justify diverse crimes against humanity over the past century and a half.

A Paralyzing Contradiction

Few believe that this world is so perfect that it cannot improve, and most would like to live in a society of justice, unity and peace. However, when proposals to build such a world are put forward, many counter that it is impossible due to some inherent, insuperable flaw in human nature. In its 1986 “Promise of World Peace”, addressed to “the peoples of the world” for the International Year of Peace, the Universal House of Justice described this dilemma as follows:

…so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behavior is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable. With the entrenchment of this view, a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs. On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony... On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious… As the need for peace becomes more urgent, this fundamental contradiction, which hinders its realization, demands a reassessment of the assumptions upon which the commonly held view of mankind's historical predicament is based.[1]

When I read these words and recognized their significance, I began to study the causes for this entrenched pessimism and look for ways to overcome it. One way I found of addressing this paralyzing contradiction is to de-myth the popular beliefs underlying it and to disseminate the scientific developments that present a very different view of human nature. And one of the major beliefs is the common misconception that natural selection and survival of the fittest made human beings inherently competitive and aggressive. This notion, erroneously attributed to Charles Darwin, has served to legitimize and justify a number of oppressive, unjust, violent systems for over more than a century and a half, from eugenics and scientific racism, to imperialism, fascism, Nazism, and the struggle among national or racial groups.

It is not my intention here to question the existence of evolution, but rather the notion that evolution should have favored the development of inherent selfishness, aggression, greed, and violence in human beings. In other words, even assuming that evolution has occurred, there is nothing that would oblige us to accept an adversarial approach to evolution. Quite the contrary, it is much more likely that evolution would have favored the development of propensities and capacities for compassion and reconciliation, reciprocity and mutualism, cooperation and generosity, empathy and pro-sociality. Let us see why.

On the Origin of Social Darwinism

In his 1859 treatise “On the Origin of the Species”, Charles Darwin presented his now-famous theory of ‘natural selection’, according to which individuals having traits that adapted them better to changes in their environment were more likely to survive and reproduce than those lacking them. This resulted in the ‘natural selection’ of those traits for that environmental niche and their eventual spread throughout the species within that local community, thereby differentiating it from the same in other settings. In the words of the Darwin:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.[2]

Shortly thereafter, in his “Principles of Biology” [1864] Herbert Spencer suggested that natural selection progressed through what he called “survival of the fittest in the struggle for life.” Struggle was understood not merely as making an effort to survive, but also––and especially––as a life-and-death struggle against––or competition with––other living beings. Despite Darwin’s repeated objections, these two ideas––natural selection and survival of the fittest––soon became merged in the mind of the public under the single category of ‘Darwinism’, as they largely remain today.

The Sociopolitical Dynamics of Science

In developing his theory, Darwin was apparently influenced by contemporary social thought, particularly the famous “Essay on the Principle of Population” by Thomas Malthus, who proposed strict control of the poor to prevent them from producing offspring. He also reflected on several elements of the capitalist theories of the Scottish economists of his time. Darwin was wary of using his theory to explain social phenomena, but could not escape the sociopolitical dynamics of science, by which scientists’ theories tend to reflect and reinforce––deliberately or not––the social attitudes of their time. Evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin holds that “What Darwin did was take early-nineteenth-century political economy and expand it to include all of natural economy,” and that his theory of sexual selection accurately reproduces in the animal world the Victorian norms that governed middle-class relations between men and women.[3]

The ‘interactive view of the world,’ in which all beings coexist in a relationship of reciprocity and symbiosis, was replaced by Darwin and his successors with a view in which living beings and their environment––the internal and external forces of nature––operate independently. Their only ties are passive, because when faced with problems posed by their environment, organisms respond randomly with a range of solutions, and the correct ones are preserved and multiply. Lewontin observed that this viewpoint has strong “political reverberations”, since it “implies that the world is outside our control, that we must take it as we find it and do the best we can to make our way through the mine field of life using whatever equipment our genes have provided to us to get to the other side in one piece.”[4]

It did not take long, therefore, for social scientists to turn this adversarial brand of Darwinism into what became known as ‘Social Darwinism’, an epistemological borrowing from the theories of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’, despite the objections of Charles Darwin himself. According to this notion, ‘natural selection’ favored the competing individuals and groups that were best adapted to the exigencies of the social environment, and conflict among them led to social progress as superior ones outcompeted the rest. Thus, Social Darwinism was inspired in the sociopolitical and economic mores of the time and, in turn, served to bolster them, in a feedback loop that immensely strengthened and expanded the sociopolitical and economic status quo.

Practical Applications of Social Darwinism

We have addressed some conceptual aspects in the notions derived from Darwin’s original theory, but as they say, “the proof is in the pudding”. The practical applications of Social Darwinism can be grouped in two categories that show its true colors, which are dreary indeed:

First, it served as a theoretical grounding for Scientific Racism, or the use of various disciplines to fabricate typologies by which classify human populations into physically discrete races that were claimed to be superior or inferior. This, in turn, served to support Eugenics, the use of diverse methods to increase the reproduction of more desired races and traits, and to reduce the reproduction of less desired races and traits. The two were used jointly in Nazi Germany to justify discriminations, persecutions, unethical research, and other crimes against humanity, which culminated in the exposure of its ultimate political implications in the genocide of the Holocaust.

Second, Social Darwinism was used to legitimize the development and continuance of social structures based on competition and conflict, aggression and violence. It served to legitimize laissez faire policies that provided legal protection to those who wielded the greatest wealth and power, and to justify abandoning the extreme poor and disenfranchised to their fate. The rich were rich due to their innate superiority, and the poor were inferior beings who should not be protected by the “Poor Law” (in Darwin’s time), but allowed to die off naturally in the best interests of humanity as a whole. It also provided moral backing for unjust institutions such as feudalism, slavery, neo-slavery, and oppressive labor conditions even today. The market was a jungle, and competition for limited resources was the law of that jungle, in which only the best competitors survived and the rest were devoured. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and unbridled capitalist accumulation was in keeping with the laws of the universe.

It also served to legitimize the institutionalized use of aggression, violent repression and warfare against less powerful peoples. War was the great natural selector that would invariably crown the most ‘fit’ nations with victory. It helped to rationalize and explain away the barbarity of two devastating world wars among what had considered themselves the most civilized nations and superior races in the world. Even today it is used to convince the masses of the need for an enormously powerful, expensive, unproductive military industrial complex in order to sustain an international arms race in the name of deterrence and national security.

Let us briefly take a deeper look at these categories and see why they are no longer considered to be scientifically valid. We will briefly address the first, to spend more time on the second.

Scientific Racism and Eugenics

The various theories grouped under the name of Social Darwinism were used in 1865 by Darwin’s half cousin, Francis Galton, to propose a ‘modern’ version of Eugenics, a pseudo-science that was purportedly in charge of the biological ‘improvement’ of the human race, based on the so-called “scientific racism.” Darwin insistently rejected this further distortion of his ideas and claimed that although helping the weak might counteract natural selection, not doing so would pose the even greater danger of losing the “instinct of solidarity”, which he deemed the “most noble part of our nature”. Instead, he highlighted the importance of using other means to improve the human condition, such as education.

No agreement was ever reached on which genetic features are really ‘better’ or merely cultural or individual preferences. Despite attempts to keep the races ‘pure’ by avoiding racial mixing, we now know that the genetic diversity of ‘miscegenation’ can be enriching. Genetic research has even led to avoiding the use of the term ‘race’ except when referring to the ‘human race’, and rather to speak of ‘ethnic groups’ and ‘peoples’.

However, for eight decades, Eugenics and scientific racism served to justify a variety of abuses, discriminations, human rights violations, and crimes against humanity, using methods that went from birth control and segregation to euthanasia and genocide. Finally, two world wars provided humanity with an extraordinary opportunity to observe first-hand the horrifying consequences of applying false science. Following the horrors of World War II, which included the Holocaust and the A-bomb, they were rejected by the scientific community as anti-ethical, dangerous anachronisms.

Scientists from diverse disciplines and countries have repeatedly come together under the aegis of the United Nations to draft statements. The 1950 “The Race Question”,[5] issued in 1950 and revised in 1951, 1967 and 1978, said that "Available scientific knowledge provides no basis for believing that the groups of mankind differ in their innate capacity…" The 1978 “Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice”[6] added that "All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development" and that "The differences between the achievements of the different peoples are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors." The 1995 “Declaration on Principles of Tolerance”,[7] continued to develop this new ethos of racial equality and harmony.

From Social Darwinism to Conflict and Violence

Today, the more obvious form that Social Darwinism took under Scientific Racism and Eugenics has been discredited and ousted around the world, but its more subtle form, as the ‘scientific’ basis for institutionalizing conflict and violence, is still current on a global scale. It is this false creed that a beleaguered humanity must now overcome and replace with more up-to-date science.

One of the notions underlying this approach is that natural selection has caused the evolution of increasing levels of competition, conflict and violence in human society. According to this version, there was a time when human beings had varying inherent degrees of aggressiveness and gentleness, of competition and solidarity, of greed and generosity, of domination and comradeship, etc. Over time, the most aggressive individuals killed off the gentler ones, and the most competitive let the most cooperative die of hunger. Eventually, the bearers of the supposed ‘genetic weaknesses’ of kindness, cooperation, generosity and solidarity died off, while those having the more aggressive, competitive, greedy, and power-thirsty genes produced more offspring, leaving the human race with a predominance of adversarial features. According to its proponents, this theory explains why the world is so full of aggression and violence, conflict and competition, war and killing.

However, in the Seville Statement on Violence, written and signed by 20 of the top scientists in their respective disciplines, that this is not the case: “It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behavior more than for other kinds of behavior. In all well-studied species, status within the group is achieved by the ability to cooperate and to fulfill social functions relevant to the structure of that group.”[8] Let us see why this is so.

Adaptability as Responsiveness to Change

The first error in this notion is the assumption that natural selection means survival of the strongest traits, in terms of physical strength, mental sharpness or emotional aggressiveness. Actually, the original theory predicted survival of the most highly adaptable traits, i.e., better adapted to the exigencies of a changing environment. In this regard, the following phrase is often attributed to Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”Whether or not Darwin actually said this, it sums up nicely the idea that beings whose physiology and behavior are best adapted to their environment are better able to survive and leave more descendents, while the less adapted die off faster and leave fewer offspring.

When the dinosaurs became extinct, despite their great size, physical strength and aggressiveness, the species that survived were the smallest and weakest, but better adapted to their new environmental conditions. In the case of human beings, the notorious weakness and vulnerability of our physiology require that we ask rather what behaviors have enabled us not only to survive, but to prosper and flourish. People could not survive alone for very long, much less reproduce, so human survival has always depended on our organizing in societies. And it turns out that when the members of a community act in aggressive, violent, competitive, and greedy ways, the whole group is weakened and its probabilities of surviving decreased, so that kind of behavior would have been maladaptive.

Nor has natural selection operated through war by granting victory to the most aggressive, warlike nations or ‘races’ and eliminating the better-natured, peaceful ones. After all, which of the world’s peoples have been most successful at ensuring the survival of their differentiated genes through war? Were they the most aggressive and competitive, the strongest and most warlike? No, the fact is that at some point in their history, each and every one of the human communities has conquered some and been conquered by others. In most cases, their victory or defeat was not due to any difference in emotional aggressiveness, physical strength, intelligence, or character, but rather to circumstantial factors such as geography, recent history, and available technology. In all cases, none of their genetic features turned out to be better adapted, since they all killed and were killed by the same causes.

The Byzantines were able to withstand the onslaught of Moslems from the Middle East due to technology developed by a culture that was conquered by their ancestors. This lasted until a way in was found by descendents of the Mongolian hordes, who had surpassed those Moslems using Islamic science, since the latter had redirected their attention from conquests to cultivating what had been conquered. The descendents of the Visigoths dominated the Incas with the steel they inherited from the descendents of the Moroccan Moslems who had driven them back on the Iberian Peninsula 800 years before when the Visigoths were plundering the broken pieces of the same Roman Empire that had dominated them only a few decades earlier. The more aggressive Europeans died as easily from the Plague as the more pacific natives of the Americas died of the diseases carried across the Atlantic by the Europeans.

In all of these cases, which characteristics turned out to be more adaptive? None, since they all killed and were killed by the same causes. In the end, the only benefit they left behind was whatever they were able to create and build; and in the long run it was the human race as a whole that was harmed by their excesses.

Cooperation as the Adaptive Behavior Par Excellence

If we accept that in humans, natural selection was based on behavior, then it is logical to conclude that it would have favored the ability to reconcile differences and achieve cooperation, mutualism and peace, which alone could have ensured our collective survival on the long term. In the words of anthropologist Ashley Montagu:

Without the cooperation of its members, society cannot survive, and the society of man has survived because the cooperativeness of its members made survival possible… It was not an advantageous individual here and there who did so, but the group. In human societies, the individuals who are most likely to survive are those who are best enabled to do so by their group.”[9]

This has been confirmed by studies of indigenous cultures throughout the world,[10] most of which promote among their members attitudes of cooperation, mutualism and reciprocity, and firmly repress any expression of aggression, violence, competition, and stinginess. However, not all scholars in the different disciplines seem to be aware of this. For example, anthropologists Howell and Willis state:

The great majority of researchers assert that ‘aggression’… is an integral part of human nature; and that the aggressive impulses and behaviors have somehow to be directed and controlled for human relations to be sustained over time in a social setting… We wish to promote an alternative approach, challenging the assumption that aggression is an innate human drive.

It is undeniably the case that in Western society aggression is regarded as part of human nature. But perhaps this tells us more about Western society than about human nature. We wish to suggest that we cannot assume an a priori aggressive drive in humans. The presence of innate sociality, on the other hand, has much evidence in its favor. Humans are a priori sociable beings; it is their co-operativeness that has enabled them to survive, not their aggressive impulses.[11]

Louis Leakey et al. offer further details on the dynamics that could have caused a natural selection in favor of cooperation:

“Throughout our recent evolutionary history, particularly since the rise of hunting as a way of life, there must have been extreme selective pressure in favor of our ability to cooperate as a group… The degree of selective pressure towards cooperation, group awareness and identification was so strong, and the period over which it operated so extended, that it can hardly fail to have become embedded to some measure in our genetic makeup.”[12]

Biologist and systems scientist Peter Corning adds:

“Cooperative behaviors have been a key to human evolution since before we were humans, going back some 5 million years, because of the context within which a small, bipedal ape less than 3 feet tall had to survive and reproduce successfully when there were at that time more than 20 species of large pack-hunting predators about, for whom these small proto-hominids would be ideal prey. Only by collective action could these animals have survived and defended themselves against these predators. Therefore, it seems plausible… that indeed cooperation is not something that we have invented in the last few centuries, but is absolutely fundamental to understanding the nature of human nature.”[13]

Darwinian Thought and Cooperation

Many assume that Darwinism is based primarily on a prevalence of conflict, and that Darwin himself believed in competition as necessary to the human condition. For example, in “Darwin’s Blind Spot”, Frank Ryan states that “Darwinian selection is based exclusively on the individual’s struggle for survival,” that “a Darwinian perspective… lead(s) to an excessive emphasis on competition and struggle,” and that “cooperative relationships… do not comfortably fit with the competitive struggle that is central to Darwinian evolution.”[14] It is erroneous to assume that Darwin believed in competition and conflict as necessary to the human condition. Rather, he observed that the true human capacity resided in our ability to carry out complex tasks in cooperation and feel empathy with others. Interestingly, in “The Descent of Man”, he uses the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ only twice, but mentions the word ‘love’ 95 times.

In “Nature’s Magic,” Peter Corning suggests instead that it was those who misinterpreted Darwin, such as Huxley and Spencer, who emphasized the conflictual aspects of his theory. He explains that Darwin’s logic is not centered on competition but on survival and reproduction, which could require competition or cooperation depending on the exigencies of each situation. Natural selection is not a mechanism but a metaphor, an ‘umbrella term’ that encompasses all factors that lead to differential survival in a given context, which may be one of cooperation or competition. The two are commonly found in nature and both are essential to life, as means towards the end of survival and not as ends in and of themselves.

Darwin himself fully appreciated the role of cooperation and mutual aid in nature, and wrote:

Animals of many kinds are social; we find even distinct species living together; for example, some American monkeys; and united flocks of rooks, jackdaws, and starlings… The most common mutual service in the higher animals is to warn one another of danger by means of the united senses of all… Social animals also perform many little services for each other; horses nibble, and cows lick each other for external parasites… Animals also render more important services to one another; thus wolves and some other beasts of prey hunt in packs, and aid one another in attacking their victims. Pelicans fish in concert. The Hamadryas baboons turn over stones to find insects, etc.; and when they come to a large one, as many as can stand around, turn it over together and share the booty. Social animals mutually defend each other. Bull bison in North America, when there is danger, drive the cows and calves into the middle of the herd, while they defend the outside…

Even in human society, Darwin recognized the importance of cooperation for survival and linked it to natural selection, albeit in the context of inter-tribal conflict:

It must not be forgotten that… an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.[15]

Social Darwinism as Legitimization for Laissez Faire Policies

Does this mean that cooperation necessarily predominates in all human societies? By no means. There is no theoretical or empirical justification for such a statement. Karlberg clarifies:

“…assertions such as these need not deny the existence of conflict and aggression in human societies. Rather, human beings appear to have the developmental potential for both conflict and cooperation. Which of these potentials is more fully realized is largely a product of our cultural environment – as demonstrated by the fact that different societies vary considerably in their expressions of conflict and cooperation.”[16]

This brings us to the use of Social Darwinism as scientific grounding for laissez faire economic policies and the destabilizing extremes they lead to. It has served, on the one hand, to legitimize the excessive accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of a few and, on the other, to justify the extreme misery that the masses have been allowed to suffer. However, this individualistic, competitive interpretation is due to a gross misunderstanding of the implications of using the laws of natural selection and survival of the fittest as analogies for social relations. Let us see why.

Redefining Natural Selection and Fitness in Social Terms

The special ‘fitness’ of a genetic trait only leads to evolution if it is able to reproduce and extend its benefits to an entire species within a habitat, not merely produce short-term advantages for individuals. For the analogy to follow, social ‘fitness’ cannot merely mean progress for one organization, as some assume, but rather that the unique features of an innovative social arrangement be recognized as exceptionally beneficial for all and therefore widely replicated to enhance the wellbeing of society as a whole. For example, for generations, many approaches have tried and failed to alleviate poverty, but when Muhammad Yunus developed the microfinance model, it spread like wildfire and changed the world in a few years. Its true value was not that the Grameen Bank succeeded over and against all others, but that the model itself ensured the success of thousands of microfinance institutions and their customers.

However, the kinds of competitive advantages that many relate to natural selection in the social world has little or nothing to do with social, political or economic fitness of the human species. In today’s political arrangements, parties tend to gain power through influences and artifices that are far removed from the interests, wellbeing and progress of their constituencies. Often government agencies and non-governmental organizations rise and fall due to financial and/or political factors that have nothing to do with their ability to meet the needs of society. Today’s economic system enables larger companies to destroy or absorb smaller ones, even when the latter are better positioned to respond favorably to the market. None of this has anything to do with the fitness of an individual institution, let alone adding to that of human society as a whole.

Social Darwinism as an Excuse to Justify Inequalities

The fact is that natural selection and survival of the fittest are not always applied to the mighty––but mostly to the lowly structures–-and then often as an excuse to let them perish. Social Darwinism is used as an excuse to interpret patently unjust, detrimental situations as natural and inevitable, as following the ‘laws of the universe’. When a large shoe industry sets up a factory in a region and leaves hundreds of cobblers and their families without their means of sustenance, it is said to be survival of the fittest: that’s life; bad luck. After the economic melt-down of 2008, when some of the largest US corporations were facing bankruptcy, instead of disappearing they were salvaged by the government to the tune of billions of dollars, while many thousands of small and medium size enterprises were abandoned to the ‘law of the jungle’. If it were applied indiscriminately to all social structures––large or small, strong or weak––many of those that are now immune would promptly be discarded as unsuited to the current needs of society.

To give a few more examples, today’s global system of production and consumption is rapidly depleting the very base of natural resources on which its existence depends. The adversarial party system has clearly fallen into political bankruptcy, and yet it is still implemented because it serves the interests of the upper echelons of power. The growing accumulation of wealth and power in fewer hands, generated by today’s brand of unbridled capitalism, dashes the hopes of billions of human beings around the world, while dangerously destabilizing the already extreme volatility of the global economy. These are clear proofs that other considerations are in play that have nothing to do with natural selection, and that seriously endanger the viability of the human race as a whole.

Social Selection is Artificial, not Natural Selection

In reality, the process that is most applicable to social phenomena is not natural selection, but artificial selection, an important yet largely ignored concept in the “Origen of the Species”. Darwin begins the book with this idea and gives it considerable attention in relation to the development of several varieties of gooseberry. Artificial selection starts when people select wild species of plants and animals that are best suited to domestication, and continues through their subsequent selection of the best specimens from each species for reproduction purposes. In this way, new improved varieties are developed with desired features such as size, productivity, resistance to disease or climate, etc.

In natural selection, changes are produced through random genetic mutations, which require no decisions or actions on the part of their beneficiaries. In artificial selection, however, change occurs as the result of a conscious, deliberate choice. The structures of society need to be carefully adjusted to changes in the social environment, in order to be reproduced from one generation to the next and remain effective or ‘survive’. Consumers consciously select products that best suit their needs, and companies carefully adapt their offerings to market demands. Voters deliberately elect candidates that best fit their concept of the ideal profile for each post, while contestants adjust their image to what they think voters are looking for. When societies finds that their systems and institutions no longer serve their intended purposes, they discard them and replace them with others that are better suited to their aspirations. This was the case of the Perestroika when the Soviet Union abandoned central economic planning in favor of a market-driven economy.

Artificial Selection must be Rationalized for the Common Good

There is nothing natural, random or spontaneous in any of these decisions; they are made consciously and implemented deliberately. However, in an adversarial culture such as today’s, such decisions are often made to further the vested interests of small power groups, which use the pretense of ‘natural selection’ to convince the hapless masses that everything is as it should be. If we were to act in a collectively rational way, as artificial selection of the ‘fittest’ social arrangements requires, society’s choices would be made with a view to the long-term wellbeing, not of small minorities, not even of numerical majorities, but of the social system as a whole. The historian Shoghi Effendi states the implications of this as follows:

“If long-cherished ideals and time-honored institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine.”[17]


It is increasingly clear that conflict and aggression no longer serve the interests of humanity – if indeed they ever did –, and that cooperation and mutualism are what best serve our collective needs. In fact, there is no longer any reason to believe that competition, conflict, aggression, and selfishness played a role in the survival of the human species, nor that they prevailed in our evolution. Just as the ability to cooperate and help each other has been necessary to reach this point in history, the future of humanity will also depend on the prevalence of these characteristics, both individually and collectively.


Study Questions:

After reading the text, answer the following questions in your own words:

  • How did the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ come about?
  • What are its adversarial implications?
  • How can ‘survival of the fittest’ be interpreted to support non-adversarial conclusions?
  • Which applies best to human society: natural selection or artificial selection? Why?



[1] Universal House of Justice, “The Promise of World Peace,” October 1985. Statement addressed to “the peoples of the world” on the occasion of the International Year of Peace (1986).

[2] Darwin, C.R. “On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life”. London: John Murray, 1859, p. 5.

[3] Lewontin, Richard: “Biology as Ideology - The Doctrine of DNA”. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 1991, p. 10.

[4] Ibid, p. 109.

[5] UNESCO, "The Race Question", 1950,

[6] UNESCO, "Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice", 1978.

[7] UNESCO, "Declaration of Principles on Tolerance", 1995.

[8] UNESCO, Seville Statement on Violence, Seville, Spain, on May 16, 1986, the International Year of Peace.

[9] Montagu, A. On being human. New York: Hawthorn, 1966.

[10] For example, see Leakey et al. [1977], Bateson [1985] and Carothers [1989].

[11] Howell, Signe and Roy Willis, eds. Societies at Peace: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 1989, pp. 1-2.

[12] Leakey, Richard, and Roger Lewin. Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal About the Emergence of Our Species. London: MacDonald and Jane’s, 1977, p. 209.

[13] Corning, Peter A. Institute for the Study of Complex Systems. Lecture on “Cooperation in the Natural World” at Cambridge University. URL:

[14] Ryan, Frank. “Darwin’s Blind Spot: Evolution beyond Natural Selection”. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, pp. 15.24, 50–53, 84–97.

[15] Darwin, Charles. “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”, 1871.

[16] Karlberg, Michael: “Beyond the Culture of Contest – From Adversarialism to Mutualism in an Age of Interdependence”. Oxford: George Ronald Publisher, 2004, p. 77.

[17] Effendi, Shoghi. “Call to the Nations – Extracts from the Writings of Shoghi Effendi”. Universal House of Justice, ed., 1977, p. 29.

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