5.1 The Nature of Groups and the Primary Role of their Competition


Many philosophers, from Plato through Spinoza to Bentham and Comte, have sought to put ethics on a logical basis. Virtually without exception they have thought in terms of a universalistic ethic the man to man morality viewed in the preceding chapter and it has been left to writers like Machiavelli and Treitschke (viewed askance by the philosphers) to raise the possibility that the ethical laws governing the interactions of nations should be different. These writers have only said what every practical statesman knows, but in saying that inter-group behavior from the beginning of history may be not only realistic but right, they have become scoundrels to the purveyors of universal ethics.

Yet according to Thucydides, no less a statesman-philosopher than Pericles himself explicitly denied that compassion and even honest expressions of intention are proper to state governments in dealing with other countries. However, it is only after Darwin, e.g., in the writings of Spencer, that one finds a respectable philosopher recognizing the natural appearance of a "code of amity" among citizens and a "code of enmity" among groups, though as a description more than as an endorsement. Parenthetically, a product of the misunderstanding of these specialized developments of ethics is often cynicism about the idealism of politicians. Thus, in the case of Pericles cited above, Aristophanes, like a cartoonist, made such satire out of it that he probably contributed to a decay of morale through individuals being led to believe that they should behave like the state.

From the natural tendency of the human mind to "reason by analogy," as well as from the imperialism of universalist religions, most men have, indeed, taken it for granted that the moral directives would be identical. However, it must be at once obvious from the basic position adopted here that we must put aside traditional thinking and recognize that the primary state between groups must be one of competition. The ethics of reduction of strife and selfishness among individuals is derived from this more primary truth as a special situational inference. The issue remains open as to whether any special considerations require any abatement of out and out competition among groups. To anticipate eventual conclusions let it be said that competition a l'outrance, and especially war, are not what one is led to by a ruthless pursuit of the logic of evolution. Indeed, the Beyondist ethics in this area turn out to be more subtle and complex than those among individuals, since they must embrace not only the dealings among nations but those of individuals belonging to different nations and in a variety of roles.

The issues that need to be raised here concern the ways in which both existing and possible modes of group interaction economic competition and cooperation, cultural emulation, migration, invasion, propaganda, political alliance and war contribute or do not contribute to an evolutionary goal. By that touchstone an approach to the ethical values desirable among groups can be reached. But first we have to decide what a group is and for what types of groups our generalizations are intended to hold. So far the implication has been that they can be nations, and perhaps religious communities, but could they also be social classes, or political parties, or religious cultures as in the Union of Soviet Republics, and so on? Psychologically there are several kinds of groups, and definition by "a common purpose" (frequently in textbooks) is less satisfactory than "a set of people in which the behavior of all is necessary to satisfy the needs of each." This dynamic definition makes the group an instrument by which the individual satisfies his needs, and shows whence the group derives its energies (its synergy).

A psychological taxonomy of naturally-forming groups would be a long story. From the standpoint of aiding evolution in the senses we have discussed most of the types would be irrelevant or ineffective. Two major conditions are required for efficiency of evolutionary action: (a) some coordination in each group of its genetic and cultural life, i.e., they must go on long enough together some centuries for their symbiotic value to be tested, and (b) a sufficient integration within the group, and independence without, for the consequences of the group's own behavior to be largely born by the group. Neither condition holds true, for example, of social classes, from which people constantly pass in and out, or of members of religious groups, whose economic success or failure has little to do with the religious affiliation. Nations are the natural, sufficiently self-contained biological and cultural units, though some religions, e.g., the Jewish religion, have sufficed in the absence of nationhood, to provide a bio-cultural unity with some degree of that economic, breeding, mutual defense, and cultural integration which makes an organic group.

Groups overlap in their membership and competition for the primary loyalty of individuals has existed through history among national, religious and class groups. This has resulted in a dynamic, shifting equilibrium, but nationhood has increasingly prevailed[1]. Within his nation the individual communicates, learns his values, marries, organizes his defense, shares his taxes, and rears his family bound in a common language and culture. His standard of living and reproduction rate are tied up with its economic success, and it is for its existence that he is called upon to die in military defense. The nation is thus the most self-contained group which, in our technical terms, takes the largest portion of the individual's synergy, i.e., is the means of meeting the largest fraction of his psychological needs. If anyone doubts this, a perusal of Barker's work (1948) of nationalism through history should give perspective.

The three chief units that rivalled the national group are the family or tribe, the universal religious group and the social class, but the first is subsumed in the nation and only the latter cuts across. The imperialism, as we have called it, of the universalistic religions in extending, to a substantial degree in a false sense, the within-group ethics across all groups has at times successfully competed with national loyalty. In medieval Christian Europe, and for a time in the Mohammedan countries, it created a political unity out of a religious unity, with which the growth of national cultures at the Renaissance produced dramatic struggles. In spite of attempts to make the second type the social class more organic than the nation, it came into its own only once, in the extreme conditions of 1918 in Russia[2]. It quickly, as in the rivalry of Communist China and Russia, recrystallized into a predominance of the national type of group. The essential situation, then, is that we are examining the interaction of men and groups where men belong to organically developed groups so that their fortunes are bound to those of the culture and genetics of the group to which they belong.

A mistake which seems to need constant correction in discussions here is the assumption that competition among groups is simply a matter of direct struggle and strife among governments. Natural selection among groups works partly through (a) relative success in handling the physical and general environment, and (b) relative success in struggle with other groups (both of which are partly decided by the level of internal morality). Although we do not know for certain what their relative importance may be, yet by analogy with the animal kingdom it seems likely that the less dramatic "economic" competition in (a) decides more in the long run. Inter-group morality has largely to do with (b), but the rise of interest in ecology and pollution problems now extends ethics over the rights of a group to exploit its material environment, too.

Now the arresting conclusion from evolutionary law and one difficult for many to digest is that natural selection should be allowed and encouraged to act freely among groups[3]. This is the primary law, and any later modification of it that we may discuss derives from secondary and lesser considerations. Defective internal morality, failure to control birth rate, unwillingness to sacrifice luxuries to education, adherance to superstitions, and many other deficiencies may cause a group to fail either in the struggle with another group or in the economic tussle with nature. At that point external "charitable" support from other groups, or even their failure to expand as the defective group retracts, are immoral acts militating against evolution. They are to be avoided in the interests of the highest inter-group morality. For, by the basic laws of learning, such rewards merely reinforce the strength of the faulty community habit system. Or, if the defect is genetic, they postpone the reduction of genetic defect.

By inter-individual standards, where altruism and mutual assistance are ethically enjoined by the goal of group survival, this is likely to seem a ruthless conclusion. But in as much as a group even a last remaining human group can survive entirely on its own, where a single individual cannot, the rules become different. In any case, by laws which no choice or interference by man can alter, the struggle in the first area, that against nature, is completely ruthless. Earthquakes, disease germs and ice ages give no quarter. In a sense that will be clarified later, in which struggle with other societies is seen as a nursery preparation for the struggle against nature, and a reminder not to be off guard in periods when nature happens not to presents challenges, there is an argument for inter-group competition being conducted by the same rules as are fixed in competition with nature.

Outright competition unless modified by strategic alliance is thus the primary required condition in inter-group relations. This is not incompatible with the term cooperative in "cooperative competition." The fact that patient and surgeon are cooperative does not deny the necessity for the surgeon to cut deep. Nevertheless, as one scrutinizes this competition more closely in relation to its purposes certain secondary principles appear which make progressive evolutionary competition something more subtle in values than the law of the jungle.















Back to Table of Contents