Taking Stock Philosphically: Social Evolution

While we have come a long way in scientifically explaining how we have evolved from a fish to a person,  what I want to know is why, if we are so smart, can’t we evolve socially? Why do we continue the insanity of wars? Why can’t we learn to work as the human family for the common good?

The superb PBS NOVA program on Charles Darwin’s explanation of the evolution of living species and how science is now answering questions that Darwin could not made me reflect, not only on natural evolution, but also, on social evolution.

  Darwin figured out that species do adapt to their environments, do mutate. But he could not explain how. But now, as I learned watching “What Darwin Never Knew,” another superb program in the NOVA series on PBS, scientists are now cracking nature’s biggest mysteries at  the genetic level.  They are, as a NOVA explanation says, “linking the enigmas of evolution to another of nature’s great mysteries, the development of the embryo.”

I do not doubt that humans have physically evolved, that our brains have enlarged over the eons, and that we have some incredibly brilliant scientists, but where we seem to have  not evolved is in our ability to work as a human family to make the world a better place for the human race. Why?

I welcome your thoughts on this, and I have more of my own on which I will elaborate in future posts on this subject.

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2 Responses to “Taking Stock Philosphically: Social Evolution”

  1. sahelanthropus Says:

    The thing is, we have already undergone a significant amount of social evolution. Two chimp groups can’t interact without it turning into a fight, humans at least have got past that.

    The fact you or I are able to walk into a neighbouring town and leave alive is a testament to our evolved social systems. It might not be enough to end all wars, but it’s better than nothing.

  2. Mike Nichols Says:

    The great scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century have enabled an unprecedented quality of life for many in the more developed nations of the world. But at the same time they have provided tools of destruction and mayhem that abet and even encourage humans’ tendencies to move from zealotry to irrational nationalism to warfare to genocide.

    Evolutionary psychology, a relatively new field, has done much to explain why we humans behave as we do. Concepts such as altruism, reciprocity, kin selection and group selection are theorized to be characteristics that were evolved in humans to ensure both individual and group survival.

    However, the most worrisome feature of the discoveries of evolutionary psychology is that they seem to present the social traits evolved in humans as an immutable fate, something so imbedded in each of us that it is a near-futile task to sublimate them.

    Standing in opposition to this Darwinian determinism are those who point to the many aspects of our primitive nature, such as the urge for men to impregnate as many women as possible, that have been largely overcome in many societies. The ability to accept another group, work peaceably with them, and even meld with them is not uncommon in modern history, though these arrangements sometimes fall apart.

    And almost all of the world religions have as their foundation the belief that humans can rise above their flawed nature toward better actions and attitudes. However, the continual crimes against humanity done in the name of religion seem to make the good effects of religion doubtful to some. (I must insert here GK Chesterton’s famous statement that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”)

    The main problem, as I see it, is that humans are still trapped in the group dynamics of our forebears fifty or even one hundred thousand years ago. My group is good, righteous, upholders of Truth, superior, while the other group is radically opposite. The other group is demonized, accused of egregious acts, and made subhuman – justifying violence against them. These group dynamics are observable in everything from local government and race relations, to the current petty politics in Washington to the animosity and violence between nations and religious groups.

    Whatever the final solution to the problem, it will take the universal recognition that humans have these primitive destructive tendencies working against the common good, coupled with a universal societal commitment to overcoming them. This need not and should not be imposed by government, but through our many institutions, religious groups, social groups and political groups – primarily and most importantly on the local level.

    This may seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it – or something like it – seems to be the only solution for breaking free of our evolutionary bonds to enjoy a world where war is unheard of and the good of all humans in all places is a primary virtue.

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