3.3 The Check of Group Upon Individual Natural Selection: Cooperative Competition


Acceptance of the goal of evolution requires next that we (1) seek criteria of the goal of evolution. What is evolutionary progress? (2) Consider the machinery by which it may be ensured. For the moment the first question must be considered answered by a glance at the tree of evolutionary differentiation, though we shall come back and examine it intensively later. Here the issue which confused Nietzsche at one extreme of politics and Orwell at the other, must be cleared out of the way before we can proceed without misunderstandings.

This issue is really bound up with the second question rather than the first. It asks "Should the machinery to aid evolution be set up to produce advanced individuals or advanced groups?" And since evolution uses two hands, (a) variation and (b) natural selection for survival, are these to be applied to individuals or to groups?

Much nonsense gets into discussions on these issues, largely as a legacy from rationalism and its revolt against group values. At the risk of being sententious one must repeat that no man lives or dies without affecting others; that virtually the whole of his mental furniture and dress is borrowed plumage from society, and that his fullest self-realization is impossible without society. As Hobbes reminded us long ago the life of the single individual "in a state of nature" is "solitary, poor, brutish, and short." The supreme examples of individual creativity and originality, in both the sciences and the arts, are made by men who stand on the shoulders of their predecessors. The original scientist without whom society would be poorer in countless ways is especially dependent on an orderly, well-organized and technically highly-developed society extending far beyond that merely of his fellow scientists if he is to make his creative contribution.

The proper reaction to old red-herring "Is the individual or society more important?" is to waste no time on it, recognizing the question as an adolescent misunderstanding. It is as meaningful as "Did the hen or the egg come first?" A successful society must create the individuals on which its success depends, and creative individuals have need to foster a strong and supportive society. Obviously every society must control, by conscience or force, anti-social or anarchic behavior, and its skill in distinguishing between creative "revolutionary" originality or mere benign deviancy on the one hand, and malicious individualist anarchy and purely destructive "revolutionary" hubris on the other, is a measure of its likelihood of survival.

At some very early stage of evolution, where no social organization exists, natural selection will rightly operate on individuals. In the case of man, as he differentiates by race and culture, natural selection has, with equal appropriateness, acted on groups. If we consider, as we must, that natural selection acts both on the genes and on culture[6] (though with some new laws added in the latter case), then natural selection of the group has priority, for only the group carries culture as well as genes. Indeed, as we shall see, even selection at the purely genetic level is inadequate if handled only in terms of the individual, since its aim must be to evolve a genetic pattern and distribution within a group as such. In so far as it selects individuals, therefore, it must do so for their capacity while maintaining creative individuality to maintain viable groups. It is probable that highly capable individuals could be evolved by competition and selection purely among individuals capable of tigerish ferocity, or of the courage of a Nietzschean superman, or of the passive cunning of an Orwellian state social parasite. Yet no society fit to sustain intellectual and scientific creativity could be put together from such types.

The central principle to be borne in mind here is that though natural selection must necessarily continue to act directly among individuals, the selection of individuals is always going to be checked and validated by natural selection operating among groups as groups.

It will be understood that in the above use of the concepts of variation, natural selection and relative survival rates we are supposing a relatively sophisticated conception by the reader of what these Darwinian and Mendelian processes mean. (Such as may be encountered in Fisher's Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), Allee (1938), or the excellent recent works such as those of Fuller and Thompson (1960), Vandenberg (1965), Lerner (1968), Darlington (1969), King (1965), and others.) Thus we cannot make such popular solecisms as assuming Lamarckian inheritance or overlooking the joint effect of both birth rates and death rates, or ignoring assortive mating, mutation pressures, the genetic load, etc. Furthermore, we are for the time being assuming that there is sufficient in common to biological and cultural (behavioral) variation and natural selection for us to be able economically to speak of both together.

As to the last, it may be that when we are able deliberately to bring about social mutations, e.g., new political forms, which we believe to be progressive, the percentage of false, maladaptive steps is lower than the 99% (or more) usual in biological mutations. However, our awareness of what we are doing does not guarantee progressive adaptation. And, although we are right to continue attempting deliberate progressive adaptations, the first illusion we have to get rid of in this field is that we know that sending more people to college, or reducing income tax, or giving more (or fewer) people a vote, and so on, is "progressive." In the end the progressiveness of these measures has to stand or fall by their survival value for the group, just as biological mutations do. Rational rather than scientific defensibility means little. What is less rational than shaking hands, or refusing to eat pork, or being unable to marry a woman of the same totem? Yet such socio-cultural habits are endorsed by group survival and wiped out (with the groups that espoused them) when they devitalize the group. Cultural habits will also experience learning (as distinct from selection) reinforcement, by reward, when they are successful and extinction when unsuccessful, so that natural selection in the broader sense can operate on cultures per se, without biological selection occurring.

Probably most educated readers have been so taught natural selection, that they almost automatically think in individual selection stereotypes. And in recognizing that that is not the process here being considered they should recognize that survival considered between species, as mere aggregates, as Darwin and Wallace initially considered it, is also something quite different from the inter-group selection we are now talking about. Only comparatively recently, in the writings of Ardrey (1966, 1970) at the level of primitive behavior, and Darlington (1966, 1969) at the level of advanced cultures have social scientists begun to take a good empirical look at what takes place in inter-group natural selection.

On looking with this more sophisticated eye one is amazed at the length of time this inter-group selection process has operated powerfully in human development (perhaps a million years). Consequently, one should be prepared to find a substantial magnitude in the effects that might be assigned to it, and aware of the potentiality for new and important scientific generalizations in this area. Countless important genetic features of man, especially in the realm of behavior genetics, are clearly the consequence of a million or more years of nature's weighing of family against family, tribe against tribe and (in the last ten thousand years) nation against nation each examined for its goodness as a single, total, functioning organism. Over these aeons tribes have constantly been biologically wiped out as tribes, and strong selections set in motion favoring particular gene frequencies and proportions. In the same process tribes have been culturally obliterated in the sense that their culture has either fallen to pieces or been destroyed, with or without simultaneous biological destruction, by human or other environmental genocide.

Looking through the window into early history presented by Greek writings, for example, in Homer, and in Thucydides' retrospective glance, the struggle among small tribes and states is perceived as being ancient and incessant in the period before the flowering of Greek culture. There can surely be little doubt that that investment in what must have been one of the most intensive group natural selection periods on earth was substantially responsible for the genetic capital which, in the comparative security of Athens, was finally expended in cultural advance in the narrower sense.

It is important to recognize that evolution or Mother Nature if we would sympathetically personify it has faced an exasperating problem at the point where inter-group and inter-individual evolution began to go on together. For the processes of within-group individual selection and between-group selection of social organisms are not merely potentially independent, producing different results, but especially in regard to such vital traits as superego strength and self-sacrificing tendencies systematically undoing each other. Certainly one can see that it is easily possible for the within-group selection of individuals, i.e., the relative survival rates among individuals, to produce genetic types and tendencies to behavioral habits highly favorable to selfish individual survival but in the end incompatible with the survival of the group. Thus, as an extreme and perhaps therefore artificial example, one can conceive a benevolently intentioned political and economic system that would in fact favor a massive production of borderline mental defectives or a commercial system favoring the multiplication of such selfishly individualistic but intelligent types that society would break down from absence of people to do the unpaid jobs. (The old civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean, and finally Rome itself, finished up with more subtle merchants than patriotic soldiers.)

In short, evolutionary selection operating on the characters of individuals and upon the characters of groups are distinct mechanisms, and we should guard against slipping into any simple assumption that they automatically work in the same direction, and especially that group competition may be abolished because selection within groups will take care of the matter. A whole new scientific development is needed to structure what goes on in this interplay. But probably there is a cyclic effect in which individual selection for a time multiplies genetic types and social habits having no regard for group survival, followed by a periodic check by group survival which rubs out the unviable group. Certainly the probability should be recognized of what might be called systematic malignant inter-individual selection (henceforth SMIS) malignant from the standpoint of group survival which has usefully suggestive analogies to malignant cancer cell growth in the biological organism. (The term dysgenic is not adequate for this because dysgenic should be a general term applying both to this within-group and to between-group dysgenic, i.e., anti-eugenic, processes.)

When we say that a society fails to survive under natural selection, we mean primarily and immediately that it breaks down as a group and its political organizations and cultural values fail to survive. However, in the past the biological, racial group concerned probably usually perished too (or was reduced in fertility by enslavement, as Darlington (1969) points out occurred to the negroes enslaved by the Arabs), and as certainly occurred for tens of thousands of years prior to recent times by the systematic practice of taking the inhabitants of defeated or broken cultures into enslavement. However, there is substantial evidence that even incomplete and relative breakdowns of a group culture have powerful biological-genetic effects, much reducing the population previously supported. Thus cultural and biological group natural selection are significantly positively correlated[7].

In this connection any naive conception of natural selection among groups as operating mainly by "international warfare" should instantly be abandoned. As far as any research exists in this new field, the best conclusion is that, in the first place, natural selection among groups works as powerfully through what we may call ecological natural selection (E-selection), i.e., success or failure vis--vis nature itself, in obtaining sustenance and guarding against natural calamities, as through what we may call inter-group pressure selection (I-selection). Secondly, only a minor part of the I-selection seems due to warfare, and most to economic, political, and cultural pressures of the kind analyzed in more detail in Chapter 5 below.

So it is in nature generally, for that matter. The infinitely formidable and armored monsters of the Silurian period were not "beaten in war" by the squirrel-like precursor of mammals and man; but were beaten in E-selection by species more efficient in the art of living. Most popular discussion of natural selection especially when it concerns groups and species gets hopelessly warped today by thoughts of war, because of the dramatic obviousness of war. Almost certainly the relative success of human groups rests more on E-selection in making a living from nature; organizationally, in arranging good education, resistance to natural catastrophe and disease, and, above all, morally in producing a happy society in which to live and reproduce.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that our concern at this point with selection is by no means ignoring the equally important differentials in mutation, hybridization and other sources of creative change, including culture borrowing and reinforcement. These may be studied in textbooks of genetics, or culturally in Toynbee (1947) and Darlington (1969). The latter ascribe much cultural mutation to the friction of different cultures in mutual impact. For the time being we consider these mutation producing influences "held constant" while we deal with the selection which "weights" the changes produced.

As to the relative speed and power of action of within-group and between-group natural selection we at present know practically nothing, compared with what laboratory genetics studies know about such selections in colonies of animals, fruit flies and bacteria. But one can speculate that comparatively poor evolution of group-selection-dependent qualities has occurred in the last two thousand years, and that there would be even less if the world wide "hedonic pact" discussed below supervened. There have undoubtedly been periods, as in China in the Sung dynasty, or Europe under the later Pax Romana, where inter-group natural selection vanished leaving inter-individual selection (usually largely by birth rate differences) alone active over most of the "known" world.

If Beyondist ethics is right in aiming at the evolutionary goal of producing groups effective in giving creative scope to high individual intelligences, any period or condition which is capable of maintaining only inter-individual selection, without any check by inter-group selection, is likely to be disastrous. Individual selection alone might then produce geniuses but there would be no society to pass on their discoveries: dead societies tell no tales. We should expect that at the end of periods of such purely within-group selection any society would fall to pieces. At the very least it would fail to maintain the conditions for vigorous collective cultural action, as happened indeed, at the end of the sprawling Roman and Chinese empires.

Our conclusion from this section is thus that instead of fearing or avoiding the impact of natural selection we should welcome and embrace it. And, especially, priority should be given to selection among groups. A recognition of this I have called in earlier technical writings (1933a, 1938, 1944, 1950a,b) and referring to nations and other groups, a belief in cooperative competition[8]. That is to say, like players in some greater, more vital game than men usually play, cultural groups recognize that the maintenance of inter-group competition is indispensible to evolution, and they agree to cooperate in whatever rules are necessary to maintain it in effective action.















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