Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Worth a Look, But Beware Too Sloppy Thinking

nemo” writes in the Darwiniana Blog on (HERE) :

“The connection between Darwinism and capitalism is direct: the ideology of markets first proposed by Adam Smith (or, rather, his prededessors) suggested that random processes could generate order of some kind. And this idea became the backdrop to the similar sense that natural selection left to itself would produce biological order. Part of the reason for all this lay in the difficulty of really understanding evolutionary dynamics, and the clutching at straws, via economic ideology, to explain it. The obvious resemblance of jungle conflict and market competition was part of the confusion. 
The catch here is that the real dynamics of evolution is something totally different.”

An interesting thought, though it is not obvious to me what is the nature of a “direct connection” between “Darwinism” and “capitalism”. A lot would depend on what is meant by “Darwinism”, a broad enough idea – is it Darwin’s ideas as written in his several books, or what comes from the broad set of ideas, both right and wrong, associated with Darwin’s name under various guises? Add the numerous actual forms of capitalism practised in the world, the numerous theories of capitalism since the 19th century, including the various contributions of authors before then and before the broad experiences of capitalism as we now know it were written about by several 17th-18th century authors and analysed by 20th-21st century historians?

In so far as natural selection (i.e., what actually happened) is used to explain the natural evolutionary forms of life and the natural evolution of social arrangements across human societies, there is a potential set of imperfectly analogous (not necessarily identical) processes worth studying.

It is right to be wary of “obvious” and misleading ideas of a “resemblance of jungle conflict and market competition”, which smacks of ideology rather than considered thinking. Notions of “Social Darwinism” have always been more a source of avoidable confusion than enlightenment, much like so-called “laissez-faire” has burdened economics.

Natural selection is blind – it does not aim anywhere. It can lead to dead-ends (the extinction of life forms and sick societies among human communities). The fossil record tracks extinctions and the detritus of scattered former stone buildings and earlier stone tools tracks the extinction of past societies.

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