Beyond Survival (another take)

[Editorial: In a strange turn of events I made the title seem like a rejoinder to the post previous to this, but these both were submitted to me accidently and not related to each other]

That mechanism of survival

Throughout the later 19thC, and perhaps onto the 20thC, many spoke of the notion of natural selection as a social narrative; both descriptive and normative. Some people talk of the function of society, or some biological mechanism (e.g. monogamy, sexuality, anxiety) as being part of the pre-programmed function or genetically inherited as a survival feature, or a feature to propagate, or react etc.

It almost becomes a moot point when people address the issue; some people make natural selection look like teleology, or innatism, or more like their actual default view, and yet oppose it on those grounds, where others, show it is a little more subtle and strain themselves to show how natural selection explains away design.

I find it interesting when the same appeal can be used for opposing arguments. Let me consider one example. The proliferation of culture, art, science, and morality, as a point to contend with this social interpretation of natural selection.

Why culture opposes natural selection and vice versa

Sometimes people say that culture and literature and those things that make us human cannot be explained by natural selection (but who said it did?). Conversely, some people say that various social features like courtship, competition, and even governance, hums to the harmony of survival of the fittest and the propagation of one’s genus. Insofar as either relate to the individual or group survival, and reproduction of humanity.

But let us consider now, what place has the literary and cultural in human life? Does it oppose, or promote natural selection? I saw both points are wrong. To say literature and morality opposes natural selection is misunderstand what the actual Darwinism purports to (it works as a natural scientific, not social thesis); and to say that culture and art looks favourably to natural selection is to invoke a poor explanatory propositional schema by way of presupposition (to think that the biological determines action directly as an input->output relation is far too crude, but not necessarily wrong).

We could say neither of these things. But rather, that culture, art, morality, literature, etc. are in fact, tangential developments. But, why? While the survival instinct may be very present in us, and things like reflexes behaviour (reacting to danger situations by panic and increased adrenalin etc.) may have been helpful responses and learned (I say this term metaphorically) over the generations; we are then to say that these kinds of responses are no longer helpful in our new social and human situation.

It is because of the security of our social system and the established things such as religion, culture, music, morality, philosophy, science; that we do not need to consider survival as our most ultimate concern, sure, it’s important, but think of our daily lives; we don’t wake up in a branch and protect ourselves and children from potential competition or fight for immediate resources. In a way, we seemed to have deferred the job of survival and, more importantly, resource management, to bureaucracies and government; our resources, like our waste, litter, consumables, and energy, are up to the bigger powers that be to help us.

It is, in a way, a testament to the advancement and ingenuity of humanity as a species to think beyond survival, but also, it is a reminder of how fundamentally vulnerable we are to necessarily depend on the good people who take our waste every day, clean our streets, keep our nations safe (well, relatively), and supply us with food quite easily. Such that, the way to use these new, accidental features of literature and morality, are, ironically, new and innovative ways to cope with the human impulse. I write to live; I can’t live without football; what is the meaning of life? Why should I live?

Fundamentally, to the human impulse of survival, there is nothing more important; but once our own survival is secured, we then are led to other questions. Is it merely that human survival, once put away as a concern, leaves us to ponder other things to find meaning, purpose and motivation? I am not sure. This is not a moot point, but just an unclear thought


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