"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Modern Habitat

Watching TV on a rainy weekend afternoon is THE choice when I wish to turn off my mind for a while. However, since the options are rather limited to recycled movies or insignificant sports events I end the zapping round watching in a nature documentary. The last piece I´ve watched described the struggle for survival of a group of lions somewhere in Africa as filmed by a team that followed a herd in their search for food. With such perspective in mind, it is obvious that the film must lead to the typical hunting scenes (zebras in that case): Slow motion shots of feline movement ...the focus on the sharp eyes ... the zebras running away and finally the inevitable feast of flesh and blood with the resulting pile of dry bones Not for weak stomachs.

Notwithstanding that the film describes life of the wild habitat; the “struggle” motif is being frequently imported into the human social fabric by many ideologies. One of the well known translations was performed by the recalled “Social Darwinist”, which developed a whole theoretical edifice about the “survival of the fittest” , a theory that basically implies a binary code: Life is a jungle so the question “To be or not to be” is equivalent to “ Eat or be eaten”. That survival code became the foundations of ultra Capitalist ideologies and, ironically, Fascist streams.

We can argue that the binary scheme cannot be translated “as it is” into the human social much sophisticated social fabric .But even if we accept such direct and simplistic approach, there is still a question to be asked: Assuming that there are only two choices around (Eat or be eaten), the conclusion is that after many rounds,at some point in the future the “fittest” lions should be able to devour all the animals around. And what´s next? Even if the members of the majestic herd start to swallow each other, eventually, the last lion on Earth will perish from hunger (unless it becomes vegetarian ....). Therefore the dichotomised system is deemed to vanish with its fittest member.

Thus, the main underlying and unintended conclusion of the film is a bit different than the social Darwinist interpretation. The fitness to survive (BTW that concept was not developed by Darwin himself) should not be understood as the deepness of your stomach, but as the capacity to adapt to a given system in order to preserve the specie. As the term “system” implies, by definition, interdependence, such perspective means the irrelevance of a dichotomised /binary approach which , as we´ve seen , leads to its own demise.

Moreover, nature shows us the need to maintain a balance and to some degree opens the way for cooperation based on interdependence. True, there always will be some competition for limited resources but it is obvious that the interdependence requires some degree of cooperation. A smart lion would rather negotiate with the zebras instead of just killing them all, thereby guaranteeing a steady flow of food for the long run.

In such systemic approach, the term weak or strong became relative as even the apparently weak members got some power as the system relies also on their wellbeing and wishes, while the “strong guys” can impose their own rules without considering the reactions of the rest of the system. Since human beings are able not only to adapt to nature but modify the survival terms, the strength or weakness depends up to certain point on the power of will and consciousness.

That lesson is more acute in modern times. Why is it? We live in a society that managed to create a lot of wealth and well being through the division of labour and specialization. People nowadays can hardly handle elemental tasks in their daily life without some sort of specialist, let alone tasks that require long periods of training and study, while most of us are experts in our very little niche. That social economic edifice human beings totally dependent on the system in ways someone could not imagine a few decades ago. If Robinson Crusoe is an impossible fantasy ( or nightmare) for our civilization, thus the wellbeing of all the society rests on each one of the members.

So the modern hungry lion can get its loot by force only if other members are not conscious of their own strengths or just do not care. However, but it can work only on a short run, as the long run imbalance can be disastrous for the whole system.

As a final note, it seems that I should look for another distraction during the rainy afternoons , since even in front of lions and zebras the mind keeps on wandering .....

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