Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conflicting Moral Traditions (2)

Modern humans evolved from earlier species that had, for millions of years, existed as roving troops of, perhaps, a half-dozen to a dozen breeding-age females, their offspring, mates, juveniles, and non-breeding elders. They lived by gathering and hunting what they needed to survive.

No individual could survive for long without belonging to a troop, and a troop’s survival depended on all members working together to keep death rates below birth rates and out-migration balanced with in-migration as young adults moved to other troops in search of mates. Every individual depended on every other individual for survival and survival was precarious with times of plenty and times of dearth and famine. Life required the sharing of bounties as well as shortages and protecting other troop members from predators, even at the risk to oneself.

For 90% of our species existence, this was how all humans lived. Groups isolated in remote jungles still live this way and are occasionally discovered.

Troops comprised of individuals whose emotions moved them to support the troop community, individual who liked helping others, enjoyed sharing, working towards common aims, and protecting others would be more successful (and more likely to produce surviving offspring) than troops of individuals lacking these desires. Indeed, individuals lacking communal emotional drives would wander off, or be driven off, and not survive. Rugged individualism was a fatal strategy.

It would be a marvel if our instinctive emotions, developed over millions of years of evolution, were not those that supported the communal life of a small band or troop, the micro-cosmos (to use Hayek's term) of human society.

Socialism and communalism are instinctively attractive to humans. The morality of Socialism appeals to us and is more emotionally satisfying than the traditions and morality of free markets and the extended order of human interaction.

Unfortunately, communalism works only among small troops of familiars living on the edge of survival. Socialism has nowhere taken human prosperity to any higher level than barely surviving – poverty almost unknown today. Human wealth and security, along with the large populations we have achieved, appeared only after the traditions and standards of the micro-cosmos became modified and ultimately replaced by evolving traditions supporting human interactions for mutual benefit throughout the world outside the small band or troop - the macro-cosmos. Individuals doing things for the good of people they do not know (or even know exist) and receiving, in exchange, benefits from the efforts of distant others.

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