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Can't beat biology. Is libertarianism a Force of Nature?

Can't beat biology. Is libertarianism a Force of Nature?

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Published by Alex Modzelewski
This article presents some concepts of sociobiology and their impact on politics.
This article presents some concepts of sociobiology and their impact on politics.

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Published by: Alex Modzelewski on Jul 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Can’t escape biology. Is Libertarianism a Force of Nature?Like everything else in the realm of living things, political systems are born,mature and eventually whither away, replaced by new forms of social organization. A community’s way of conducting its affairs is—or should be—an expression of its biological needs and tendencies. Therefore, political regimes based on principles reflecting the human natural imperatives should produce happiest and most stablesocieties.The last hundred years have seen massive social experiments based on the ideas of justice, equality, racial brotherhood and other well-sounding notions that, unfortunately, have no meaning in the science of biology. Without exception, populations sucked into the utopias of communism, fascism, race purity/superiority and religious extremism suffered cataclysmic failures. Joined by millions— at leastat the beginning— of enthusiastic participants, these experiments failed not for lack of popular support. After having killed millions of their real and imaginaryfoes, the proponents of New Order did not suffer defeat through the lack of revolutionary fervor. And they did not lose because of cultural backwardness; in fact some of these societies were science leaders. The regimes based on pure social ideology failed because their fundaments were laid on the imaginary fluff of theoretical concepts rather than on the hard rock of human biological traits.One would think we should have great interest in delineating our natural, biological propensities, but Homo sapiens politics seem to be a taboo for practitioners of science. Why biologists are so rarely heard in political disputes, even when accounts of social behavior of wolves, crows and apes regularly entertain thepublic? Instead, demagogues, mystics and know-nothing-useful activists crowd thefield, leaving no room for people who might tell us something new about who weare and what social structures might serve us best.During the past few decades, a new discipline, sociobiology, emerged with the unique goal of exploring the biological base of our social organization. Scientists to boot, these man and women use exact tools of inquiry to formulate their opinions. Their language is quite unlike the flowery narrative of social tinkerers.It leaves little room of maneuver for spin-doctors and, perhaps, this is why politicians and mass media do not take to the sociobiology discoveries too kindly.The dry facts are not very useful for bamboozling the public.Without pretending to be an expert in sociobiology or evolutionary biology (I ama surgeon), I
d like to introduce a few of the ideas that deeply affected my political attitudes. I came to believe that the libertarian system of values follows the evolutionary forces most closely, and the humanity will—eventually—discover its biologic destiny in the political organization promoted by this movement.An organism, a garden weed or a homeowner, has only two primary reasons to giveup some of its precious energy while acting: self-preservation and reproduction.Our ambitions, love, duties—all those high-minded reasons for work and struggle derive their meaning from these two primary, selfish goals, nothing else. And ifthat link is severed, the responsibilities are often snubbed and duties are conveniently “forgotten.” It is very hard to motivate people who have nothing to gain interms of survival, mating opportunities and child rearing, as many ideal-basedcommunities have found out.Our story started with a strand of DNA, which—regardless of its origin—had to exploit its environment to obtain the energy necessary to combat the inexorable gnawing of entropy. Mercilessly crowded by other forms of life and pummeled by environmental hazards, the first organisms used occasional errors in transcription of their genetic code to improve their chances of survival. They grew protective cellular membrane, evolved into multi-cellular organisms and finally started to organize into social groups. This chain of events, even if not yet completely understood, is not very controversial for most of us, just a junior high-level explanation of the evolution. No one would propose to slip into it any notions of justice or fairness; the selfish own-interest and drive to procreate appear quite sufficient, no need for ethical considerations.However, once we get to the human evolution, a major problem arises, warming hea
rts of the social idealists who prefer to believe into the natural goodness of fellow humans. Some members of Homo sapiens communities—but also certain mammalianspecies—were noted to exhibit a biologically suspect behavior, altruism. The scientists found out that, on occasion, individuals acted against their own interestin order to protect other members of their pack. Now, we can intuitively acceptthat a subject (including a naked ape) would risk his life to protect the set ofgenes encoded in the body of his/her offspring, but to get killed in order to save a stranger? That, honestly, looks counterproductive in terms of evolution and flies into face of its classic teachings.Yet, humans do it. Is there a way to clarify this phenomenon without drawing onholly scriptures and romantic verses? Perhaps, many uplifting twists of our history can be explained only through the unselfish love and divine guidance! Alas,the mystical goodness of our kind can be accounted for without calling upon higher powers. And what a humiliating account it is! We are back to selfishness.The kin selection theory spoils the spiritual party. It is rather embarrassing to note that the roots of our selfishness reach even deeper than our individual consciousness. The twisted chains of DNA, the primordial force powering our veryexistence, are paragons of the pure, unadulterated egoism. The warped nucleotidechains care about nothing else but their own preservation and replication. A human body, this magnificent structure built around the genetic code, means to them nothing more than a vehicle carrying the genes. Oops, actually, they need something else, a facility to multiply their DNA patterns; we serve that purpose aswell. How about our intellect, self-awareness and passions? Unfortunately, for our DNA it’s just the software necessary to run smoothly this combination of a taxiand a noodle factory.Anger and disappointment. It’s hard not be emotionally upset by this account of our existence. It is only natural to seek consolation in a religion; accept a morepalatable justification for our being and, even better, hope for eternity. Thereader who wishes to preserve the self-respect accorded by his or her spiritualbeliefs might stop reading right here, because the narrative of our existence just gets worse. Unfortunately, the comfort flowing from ignoring facts comes at the expense of decreased ability to cope with the real world.According to calculus of gene proliferation, it is sometimes advantageous to sacrifice an individual to ensure survival (and further multiplication) of a few more DNA-carrying units. Like in a game of chess, swapping a pawn for a tower maybe a good move. Nothing personal, pawn.Throw in a few millions years, while self-sacrifice-prone individuals are rewarded with better breeding opportunities, and we have a deep genetic pool of heroichomeland defenders. A beehive, a termite colony or the beloved fatherland—once westrip the poetic veneer of human rationalization, it’s the same biological mechanism, regardless of a species. Equipped with intelligence and imagination, our communities give this process an extra push, consciously promoting the self-immolation attitude. How not to celebrate a heroic soldier who throws himself on a hand grenade to save from certain death his mates in a foxhole? Undoubtedly, it isa real gallantry, and a solid benefit to his group, but … could this bravery be traced to the selfish, single-minded DNA strand hell-bent on proliferation?“Ah, not so fast!” an alert critic might say. “Soldiers in a foxhole are unlikely to be closely related; they almost certainly carry different genotypes. The hero’s death would not help to spread his genes! It just does not make any sense!” The critic would be right. The kin selection theory would be useless here, except … At this point, the whole story becomes even more maddening, because on top ofthe extreme egoism we have to face a fraud, this time committed by our leaders.The self-sacrificing soldier’s DNA was intentionally duped, misled and deceived.
For millions of years, our ancestors lived in small bands of closely related individuals: brothers, sisters and cousins. They formed a gene pool that needed tobe defended, even at the cost of life sacrifice. It is not true any more; our communities are extremely diverse now. Any big city apartment building has tenantswhose roots reach to three or four continents, but nobody told our DNA about it. As long as individuals live in a tightly knitted unit, like a prehistoric tribe or a modern platoon of Marines, they are a band of brothers, as they say in Hollywood. Armies of the world have been taking advantage of this biological confusion forever. Military tacticians took note and they still exploit their soldiers’ real motivation in battle—to protect their close buddies. Not much has changed over the millennia. The grand words about the beloved country, honor and God comelater, in time for pinning medals.There is no hope for songwriters and propagandists to spread this explanation ofaltruism; it won’t bring them any sponsors. But for the rest of us, understandingour human inheritance in biological terms is valuable, because we will be happier once our political structure aligns with our natural instincts, no matter howunromantic they might be.An argument can be made that we have outgrown our base instincts, overcoming theselfish DNA influence. Perhaps, we are more like angels, now, driven by intellect and highly developed social feelings. There might be some truth to it, but Isuspect that we still have a rather long way to reach the level of cherub morality. We are still acting out our biological egoism; it’s just that our definitionsare changing, expanding the field of our benevolence wider and wider. We recognize better now that many genetically unrelated individuals could advance our biological goals, and therefore should be engaged into a reciprocal game of favors.The development of highly complex beehives, anthills, bands of primates, or human societies is directly related to advantages such organizations afford. These sophisticated associations became the preferred way of propagating genes becauseof their higher efficiencies of food and shelter provision, safety, and increased opportunities to reproduce. But the advantages came with price; members had togive up their independence. In some insect communities, individuals even forfeited their identity. Anthills are not friendly places for exuberant individualists or their political movements; highly specialized communities have to live by stringent rules.However, the evolutionary track of Homo sapiens turned away from such super specialization, directing us toward individual intelligence and self-aware identity.This personal autonomy obviously complicates the challenge of governing us, ifwe are to be pushed into the mold of an anthill. Just recall the trouble that discovery of the word “I” produced in Ayn Rand’s "Anthem."Nevertheless, in order to keep the benefits of communal life, we have to be organized somehow. Lets review the ways of maintaining social order, hoping to findthe system of governance that is best aligned with our broadly understood biological needs. 1. The threat system. Rules are enforced by threat of retaliation by leaders andpeers. This is the prevalent system in certain specialized institutions such asthe police, the judicial system, and the military.2. The exchange system. Relationships are based on favors and other good deeds performed in expectation of monetary or non-monetary compensation. A market freeof outside pressures exemplifies this system.3. The integrative system. Activities are motivated by such altruistic feelingsas love, friendship, and solidarity, without any apparent promise of reward, except for feelings of fulfillment and happiness. A well-functioning family can serve as an example.

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