A small herd of pigs arrived on the farm a week or so ago. Destructive creatures, destroying the world they live in as if they had an alternative in mind. Haven’t seen them before, looks like they have moved out of the forest up in the hills to the East, and down on to the lower plains to pillage. Perhaps they will become adapted to the soft lotus-eating life down here.
On the occasions when those of us on the Left dare to question the rise and rise of libertarianism, neoconservatism, conservatism, drown-government-in-a-bathtub-but-promote-the-combination-of-church-and-state, corporations-are-people nastiness, we generally get told we are wishy-washy idealists who have no idea of human nature which is red in tooth and claw and the devil take the hindmost because there is no-such-thing-as-society.
How to decide? Well the problem of course is that age-old conundrum “nature or nurture”. Have human societies often tended to be brutal big-dog-eat-little-dog affairs in which the poor give all their money to rich royalty and religions who get even richer because, well, that’s just the way human beings are made, or are human beings corrupted from an original much nicer disposition by the brutalities of states full of vested interests?
Very difficult to distinguish because we are always in, always have been in (with the exception of the occasional religious lunatic), a society, so there are no experimental subjects. We need something equivalent to the twin experiments, the ones where identical twins, raised separately, are tested for similarities and differences. and we do have equivalents. The first is that there are many societies around the world, Australian Aboriginal society being the one I know best, in which cooperation, altruism, sharing, equality, are the order of the day, and as far removed from Ms Rand’s nasty dystopia as it is possible to get. So, starting off from identical, or near identical, points of genetics, societies have different outcomes of human behaviour in response to different social, cultural, economic frameworks. Human behaviour, it would seem, is a response to society, not the reverse.
The other “twin experiment” is the one where the species Homo sapiens as a whole is compared to the “twin species” that have branched off from the ape line along the evolutionary pathway. How do humans, one could ask, compare to their nearest relatives the chimps, or to their slightly more distinct relatives the gorillas, and so on back through the ape lineage as a whole if one wished. The comparisons are made in relation to broad areas most relevant to humans. For example of intelligence (eg tool use, problem solving, language use), social organisation (hierarchy, sex, care of young, aggression, cooperation), nutrition, motor skills and so on.
But such comparisons in a sense miss the point. There isn’t much point in comparing modern humans with, say, modern chimps, because the two lines have gone their separate ways, under different selection pressures, for some four million years. Chimps are not the ancestors of humans, but their cousins, of exactly the same antiquity and origin.
So what we need to do is think about those early hominid groups moving out of the forests, leaving, as it were, their cousins lotus-eating back in the ancestral home (although I guess it was more a case of the forests, as a result of climate change in their part of East Africa, leaving them). Nature was certainly red in tooth and claw all round them, and just finding food, no longer a matter of plucking fruit from a tree you were resting in, would have been a constant challenge.
So these groups, these ancestors of Homo sapiens, would have been highly cooperative. Men cooperating in a hunt, women cooperating in gathering, all cooperating in child rearing and caring for the elderly, the elderly responsible for maintaining knowledge. A group that didn’t cooperate wouldn’t survive. Individuals who didn’t cooperate, tried to monopolise resources, or get others to do their work, wouldn’t have been tolerated. The ancestors of Ayn Rand, Freddy Hayek, Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, must have been very different people to their descendants.
It is only very late in human history, as cities, monarchies, hierarchical religions, develop that some individuals, eye on the main chance, see opportunities for concentrating wealth and power in themselves. Such people, and their friends with aspirations to be like them, told the population at large, unaccountably tending to challenge the huge discrepancies of wealth in the new order, that this was mother nature’s way, pity, but what can you do, human nature is as human nature does. Or, more succinctly, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Don’t you believe them, pigs on two legs are still pigs.