Republicans champion self-reliance. Most Democrats also extol hard work — but agree with former President Bill Clinton that “we’re all in this together.” This view, Clinton told the Democratic National Convention in Sept., “is a better philosophy than, ‘you’re on your own.’”
The science of evolution supports the notion that self-centered autonomy generally leads to dead ends. Survival requires mutual aid. Today’s life scientists see that evolution is not the Jack London-social Darwinist version of nature that many Republicans embrace. To be sure, individuals and entire species compete for scarce resources, but all of life — from the biosphere to the econosphere — is filled with mutualisms that facilitate a diverse abundance.
Complexity scientists point out that humans evolve in ways that defy prediction. Synergy and serendipity often trigger positive change. Each step in evolution generates an adaptation from which new functions can emerge. Every innovation arises from and builds on what preceded it. Each successful mutation creates an “enablement” from which new possibilities arise.
After early man mastered fire, some huddled together, deepened their communications, and launched a division of labor. Some continued to hunt and gather while others planted and harvested. In time, conditions permitted some to produce writing, mathematics, and technologies facilitating still larger and more complex communities. These processes were not planned or foreseeable. No one could predict that Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with electricity would lead to a world dependent on and linked by electronic networks. No one could foresee that main frame computers would lead to handheld computers and social networking.
What does all this mean for politics? Caution and hope. We cannot know what will happen or even what can happen. We cannot foresee or plan for adjacent possibilities. Instead, wise policies will foster conditions in which human co-creative potential can fructify...
Social Darwinists praised rugged individualism in the late 19th century, but modern science backs cooperation to create and share values.
This program aired on November 1, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.