Re: individuals, social systems, neoliberalism

Sun, 27 Apr 1997 10:03:43 +0100
Richard K. Moore (

4/23/97, s_sanderson wrote:
>The conclusion of most
>evolutionary ecologists is that intensive sharing is a product of individual
>calculation of long-run self-interest.

Not a surprising conclusion, given the structure of academic funding - but
it really doesn't make any sense. During the many years of acculturation
the child is concerned almost exclusively with acceptance into the
family/society. During this period societal values (which have evolved for
societal purposes) are programmed in - long before any contemplation of
adult roles and strategies.

Religion is a good example. A Muslim child believes Allah exists because
his culture told him so before he could think, not from any individual
calculations - except the urge to achieve societal approval. This urge
might itself be selfish, but the prevalence or lack of selfishness beyond
infancy is socially determined.

>For me the most obvious basis for the assumption of the naturalness of
>individual self-interest is Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Darwin recognized that species survival leads to group-serving behaviors
which are not selfish. "Social Darwinists" adopted a simplistic
pseudo-Darwinism in order to push a capitalist agenda, just as neoliberal
proponents attempt to do today.

>Now, when new individuals are born they will be confronting a preexisting
>social system that will have an impact on them. But that system had to exist
>in order to have that impact, and in order to exist it had to be created by
>individuals in the first place.

"Which came first the chicken or the egg?" To a child, this is a paradox.
He thinks: "If the egg came first, then who laid it?" "If the chicken came
first, whence did it hatch?" But of course there is no paradox: the
chicken-egg system evolved from earlier species.

Similarly, the individual-society system evolved from earlier species. It
is fallacious to argue based on claiming the egg, or the individual, must
have come first.

4/26/97, Andrew Wayne Austin wrote:
>First, the point of clarification. When I use the term "human nature" I am
>using nature in the sense of physical and biological systems.

Why do you choose this definition? Do you have any agreement from others in this discussion, regarding this assumption? It turns out, I claim, such a narrow definition is logically untenable.

To begin with, "biological" vs "social" is NOT equivalent ot "individual" vs "social". Consider sex & reproduction. These biological functions involve a couple and a mother-child symbiotic unit, or family. So even strict biology already brings in more than the individual, as the propoer system of consideration.

Or consider man's language-learning cognitive apparatus. This is biological, but it only finds expression through society. Again, biological considerations lead to society as the minimal system that can be usefully studied. A person raised in isolation by wolves is a person deprived of experiencing his nature.

One can insist, perhaps, on creating an "individual" vs "social" dichotomy - but biology cannot be the basis.

>We have achieved much clarity in science. We have withstood the purposeful
>confusion of nihilism and postmodernism. Now we have to battle it out with
>the rising neoclassical liberal tide and their false science.

Agreed. And this is why the "human nature" thread has relevance to WSN.

But trying to separate the individual from society is hardly a good starting point for countering neoliberalism. That was the position Maggie Thatcher (champion of neoliberalism) expounded. Much better, I'd say, to recognize that 99% of man's evolution (as man) occured in tribes & villages - and to observe that man's nature is to be found in such societies - based on collaborative ethics - not individualist ethics (a modern invention).

Perhaps we should look at the neoclassical argument: Capitalism unleashes the natural energy of man - competitiveness, acquisitiveness, necessity-is-mother-of-invention, creative urge, etc - leading to maximum productivity in global system.

It seems to me the most direct counter to this line is an economic one: Industrialization has long since created a state of global over-production. For decades we've been in the situation that all human needs can, technically, be satisfied. We don't need more productivity. The problems of social welfare instead regard the allocation and distribution of resources and technology, and capitalism is markedly incompetent at that job. The solution is political - alignment of policy making with human needs.