Modern Darwinism as the Science of Solidarity

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Chris Knight:

"During the 1960s and 1970s, George C. Williams, William D. Hamilton, Sarah Hrdy, Robert Trivers, and other scientific iconoclasts demolished the previously prevailing race-against-race (so-called “group selection”) understandings of Darwinism in favor of genetic selection at the individual level. Since those pioneering times, cutting-edge Darwinians have focused overwhelmingly on ways to explain why cooperation is so central a feature in the story of life on earth. Instead of just assuming mutual aid, as Kropotkin did, they have set out to explain the specific conditions under which it is likely to occur. Scientists now understand that it is precisely because a creature’s immortal genes are present and active in numerous mortal bodies that the logic of self-replication has been able to generate our planet’s glorious wonders of self-sacrifice, courage, and generosity—alongside, needless to say, tooth-and-claw conflict and self-interest. To sum up, the whole point of modern Darwinism is to get beyond “dog-eat-dog” ideas, exploring the conditions under which cooperation prevails. In many ways, in fact, modern Darwinism might accurately be described as “the science of solidarity”—even, perhaps, “the science of love.” It can explain why feelings of love and solidarity don’t need to be drilled into us through systems of punishment and reward. Solidarity, which so often motivates our behaviour, is instinctive to us. It is clear that our ancestors’ generous impulses, in particular their motivation to care for one another’s children and not simply their own, made us the successful species we are.

We can put this another way. What Graeber terms “communism” evolved in the past because it enhanced our ancestors’ reproductive success—their “fitness.” Since conclusions along these lines are now part of the mainstream, it is odd to hear followers of Graeber still complaining that evolutionary science by its very nature works on the assumption that humans are incorrigibly selfish. Today, anyone making such crude claims would be displaying their ineptitude and quickly marginalized."