[quote author=“HolyAvenger”]Well, you can’t really use Darwinian “Natural Selection” to explain or analyze modern human society.
Yes and no ... you are totally right that we can’t simply say that these particular people in control and with power are necessarily ‘fitter’ than those that are not in power. In a Darwinian sense, all that matters is reproductive success. A working family in Detroit with seven children is, therefore, more ‘successful’ than GWBush, since he only has two.
We also can’t say that individuals who are biologically fitter are in any other sense “better” than individuals who are less biologically fit. Traits that enhance fitness are those that lead to better reproductive success (i.e. more kids, grandkids, etc.), end of story.
But we can analyze society based on our understanding of mental characteristics that were selected for in our ancestral environment. We can say, for instance, that being high-status does enhance fitness generally, and that humans have highly tuned capacities for detecting high status, just as other primates, wolves, and social animals do. So we can analyze consumer behavior, for example, in light of this feature of Darwinian selection pressure. (I.e. people buy items that make them appear to have high status. They will pay extra for such items).
[quote author=“HolyAvenger”][H]uman society has the ability to overcome Darwinian determinism and classical power hierarchies, if we choose to. My view on socialism AND capitalism is that both systems rely on false presuppositions about human behavior - socialism on communalism, altruism and solidarity, and capitalism on consumer accountability, corporate responsibility, and the infamous “insvisible hand” of the market.
Quite so, although I would not ever expect the majority of humans to act against what they are biologically attuned for doing. To take one example, from a purely rational point of view, any human death in the world is as important as any other. But from a biological point of view, we react emotionally with much more force to deaths of people who are in our kin group or in a group with which we are ‘reciprocally altruistic’ (in Robert Trivers’s phrase) ... that is, our friends and family. One may well say that our reason can help us overcome this bias, but I frankly don’t believe it. One will always be more impacted emotionally by deaths of family and friends than strangers.
Interestingly, Adam Smith was one of the first to become aware of this limitation on our reason, even though he was unaware of its clear biological roots:
[quote author=“Adam Smith”]Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
I should probably clarify here that Smith was not claiming that this reaction was somehow correct, ethical or rational. He wasn’t arguing that this is how people should react. He was just being a realist in pointing out that it is what would in fact happen in the vast majority of cases. He is arguing that, in Hume’s famous phrase, “Reason is a slave to the passions.” And in that, he is clearly right.
Re. corporate responsibility and the “invisible hand”, I agree with you. Much contemporary economics has been involved in discovering the limits to Smith’s “invisible hand”. In particular, for markets to function properly, among other things they depend on completely efficient dispersal of information and completely rational agents. Neither of these things happen in the actual world, where information is preferably given to certain and not others, and where people do not behave in their long-term best interests.
Work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky on human irrationality highlights ways that humans make irrational choices. (For this, their work won a Nobel in economics). Josef Lakonishok, Robert Vishny and Andrei Schleifer have worked on similar psychologically-based discrepencies in the so-called “efficient market”. If you read Paul Krugman’s writing on the “new Keynsians” you will see a lot of very good data and arguments why government regulation, intervention and monitoring of the economy and markets is essential, simply because the “invisible hand” is otherwise a fiction. Said otherwise, conservative “laissez-faire” economic policies are simply not tenable, and if pursued, result in disproportionate benefits to those in power who have greater access to information and analytical tools.
I was also wondering what you meant by “consumer accountability” ...