Monday, October 01, 2007

Evolution: Is it Progress?

The following dialogue is a conversation I had with a friend of mine over the internet. She had written an article about the need for uplifting the status of women in Indian society where she positively advocates affirmative action. The way this dialogue developed into a very fruitful conversation and how interestingly it got us both to think about so many related topics was fascinating enough for me to present it here. I have edited out the smiley characters and certain irrelevant details usually associated with an online conversation, but maintained the overall chronology and flow of thought. It makes interesting reading for me every time I re-read it!

ME: Hey, I was reading your article about women’s plight in India and the need for equal rights. Do you actually believe in affirmative action??


ME: Hmm… I see.

FRIEND: Why do you ask? I also believe that the world tends towards undoing itself

ME: Explain?

FRIEND: I mean that in any given environment things break down, rather than fix themselves

ME: They tend towards chaos you mean?

FRIEND: Right. But society is a different ball game, and that’s why we need affirmative action. We're animals after all!

ME: Why do you say different ball game?

FRIEND: Oh! I meant different from nature.

ME: So u mean to say chaos theory does not apply to society but to nature... hence in society we need affirmative action. Am I right?

FRIEND: Yes! But I am just a simple wanderer

ME: Wanderer where? In what realm?

FRIEND: In my head, silly!

ME: Oh! Hah ha… but your assertion isn’t it counterintuitive though?

FRIEND: How so?

ME: When you said "I also believe the world tends towards undoing itself" do you mean society or nature with regards to the word ‘World’?

FRIEND: I mean nature, sorry I should have specified

ME: So if get your reasoning right, in nature things tend towards chaos rather than fix themselves.... and in society it is the opposite? If so why do you need affirmative action in a society?

FRIEND: No, society does not naturally tend towards anything.

ME: Oh!

FRIEND: When I say society I am talking about society guided by a force. Are you getting what I am saying?

ME: No actually, I see a few contradictions.

FRIEND: Where?

ME: Wait; let me understand what you are saying properly. You are saying that nature tends towards chaos and that society is not opposite but rather it does not tend towards anything, so to push it towards non-chaos you need affirmative action. Have I got it right?

FRIEND: No. To push nature towards non-chaos you need affirmative action. Society is guided by a set of rules; nature is not (except by the supernatural force of course)

ME: So the supernatural is guiding nature towards chaos and mankind through acts like affirmative action is guiding nature towards non-chaos, which in its guided form is called society?? Is this what you are saying?

FRIEND: Yes. See, it is like a kindergarten and the children that go to it. The kindergarten is the world, the children are the people and the teacher is the government. During the break the children are left unattended. What do you think happens?

ME: I see. But why should mankind go against the supernatural and natural scheme?

FRIEND: Mankind doesn’t but society does go against it, because society isn’t part of nature. It is man made and by the way when I say society, I mean government-led groups of people.

ME: Wait a minute. So is there a qualitative factor when you differentiate society and nature. Is one a better form of the other?

FRIEND: Ok let me explain. For example, do you think we were made to be monogamous?

ME: No, it is by individual choice.

FRIEND: Yes. Society is a civilised form of nature. Like what John Nash said, we can’t ALL have the best, so we have to compromise with just what is good. That’s why we need society! Other wise the stronger and more equipped could just go around killing the rest!

ME: So is civilized form of nature a better or worse state than nature?

FRIEND: It is better, because of our highly developed brains. We have the power of judgment which makes us want to improve things around us.

ME: But if so, why do you then say that we are all animals anyway? Animals lack the power of judgement don’t they? Also animals cannot appreciate pleasure, while they maybe able to experience it. It is hardwired in their brains; what is good and bad.

FRIEND: I said we are all animals AFTER ALL because our psyche can be divided into two things - instinct and judgment. They are completely different. Society controls instinct and makes us pay a price for doing what we truly want to do and make pleasure seem bad.

ME: Isn’t appreciation a form of judgement?


ME: So why do we aspire towards society if it makes pleasure seem bad especially when nature in its unguided form does not pose these problems?

FRIEND: Because we don’t want to follow the principle of survival of the fittest, this is paralysing evolution if you ask me. We're trying to make room for all.

ME: But aren’t you, in the pursuit of ensuring equity towards the weak, denying the gifted the utility of their natural endowments?

FRIEND: Yes! Exactly! That is why I said it paralyses evolution in its natural form. But there is a problem in this whole thing; the problem is we can think. And that may not actually be a problem, but a part of evolution in a larger sense.

ME: Hmm… Can you explain what you mean when you say "problem is we can think and that may not actually be a problem"?

FRIEND: Think of it this way time goes on no matter what; and we as humans are on top of the pyramid, right?

ME: Ok.

FRIEND: Now our brains developed through evolution?

ME: Yes

FRIEND: And society had nothing to do with it.

ME: To a large extent.

FRIEND: So isn’t government and making room for the weak also part of "natural" evolution in a larger sense? Let’s face it, if it is on this Earth... its NATURAL

ME: But wait! Isn’t that a contradiction? When you say "so isn’t government and making room for the weak also part of "natural" evolution in a larger sense" then by your definition of society being constituted by government, shouldn’t the policy of making room for the weak or “actions of society" be moving away from the natural order of evolution and survival of the fittest etc ??

FRIEND: Yes! That is what I said. What I am saying is that isn’t this moving away from the natural order? A part of evolution in a larger sense?

ME: Hey! But isn’t that a contradiction?

FRIEND: Ok, let me explain. Do you think civilisation would have happened anyway? Or is it a permutation or combination of several factors?

ME: No it would not. Civilization is a process of refinement... of evolution

FRIEND: But no, could it not have happened differently?

ME: No! Because it is following a natural order; survival of the fittest.

FRIEND: But, how does society promote survival of the fittest?

ME: Ok tell me, in a society is competence rewarded? What happens to the incompetent or the unfit?

FRIEND: yes it is. But incompetents are taken care of. They are given chances.

ME: Not at the behest of the competent but!

FRIEND: Then how do you explain taxes? Why do I pay my money for the betterment of the poor?

ME: That is why in the future with more evolved societies economic policies will tend towards laissez faire and the anti Robin Hood will prevail!

FRIEND: But you have to admit this is paralysing evolution in its narrow sense.

ME: According to me, evolution is like a scatter plot there are 'experiments' on either side of the trend line, but the trend in this case is towards refinement. A Society based on communism is one such experiment, where the fit person is expected to pay for the unfit person’s survival. But as communism is being phased out so will other counterproductive societal influences.

FRIEND: Are you saying that as a whole we are average in to refinement?

ME: Yes.

FRIEND: So you are saying that we are getting there, our children are getting smarter and so on. And if so what is perfect?

ME: The trend is towards superior intellect.

FRIEND: Then how will society erase the lesser mortals?

ME: Alvin Toffler in his famous book "Future Shock" says that more has been achieved in the last 3 generations than the whole 800 lifetimes of mankind.

FRIEND: But isn’t this acceleration in progress largely due to technology?

ME: Considering that average human life is 60 year, we have had approximately 800 ancestors, as Homo sapiens. Consider this, 750 of them were spent in caves, only the past 50 have lived in society. Only the last 5 that have seen the printed word and only the last two that have understood electricity! So to answer your question, society will not erase the lesser mortals, it will create through the progress of the competent few, enough to make the lesser mortals better off. To give them a chance not through subsidizing or through affirmative action, but through improving the overall standard of living! Not by giving the man fish, but rather by teaching him how to fish.

FRIEND: Do you really think so?

ME: Yes.

FRIEND: But technology is making us do less!

ME: Exactly! By providing us with something which even you mentioned keeps on moving, irrespective of anything else. Time.... time to better utilize our mind for other productive things.

FRIEND: But that is for a fraction of the world’s population the rest either live of these few people or have enough money to buy their way through and there is a whole class of people who lose out in the bargain

ME: When u say that there is a fraction of the worlds population that is enjoying the benefit consider this. John D Rockefeller who is considered the richest American ever to live did not even have the luxury of using electricity in his house. None of the creature comforts we have today which we take for granted. Simple medicines for common ailments even! Despite his $200 billion estimated wealth! Aren’t we better off than the richest American of all time?

FRIEND: But Rockefeller did not need these conveniences at that time.

ME: Are you denying that there has been any progress altogether?

FRIEND: No. I am denying the fact that we're better off now! Tell me, do u measure progress by the things we can afford?

ME: Is the ability to take the cholera vaccine to remote parts of Africa better than not being to?

FRIEND: Yes but what is technology helping us to have? A better life in what way-medicines when we need it? But does modern society allow for equitable distribution of medicines? Only the rich can afford medicines for cancer and HIV.

ME: Through the advancement in technology the basic standards of living are improving. In the past there were the super rich and the super poor. And even the super rich lacked basic comforts of life. Coming to your question of AIDS and Cancer vaccines and the lobbyists who are working towards preventing the poor from getting these easily; think about when penicillin and anaesthetics was discovered. They were premium products and only the super rich could afford them. Over time and with the technological advancement even poorer people can afford them now. It is like in the scatter plot example I talked about; there will always be deviations, failed 'experiments', but slowly it will tend towards affordability for the poor and eventually like polio or plague... may even be wiped off the face of the earth!

FRIEND: So are you saying that we are moving to an age where everyone will be able to afford everything?

ME: NO! There will always be a hierarchy.... the fit and the unfit... the competent and the incompetent. Because if there is no dichotomy.... there will be status quo and no progress!

FRIEND: But if so where is the progress? And for whom?

ME: Consider this, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists"


ME: When you ask for who is the progress, I'll ask u this question, which is better?
Increasing the share of the pie ... increasing the market shares by actions which help the weak at the behest of the strong.... equitable distribution or letting the strong increase the size of the pie... the market size itself through their competence and capability thereby helping the weak enjoy a better quantity of the pie in all?!

FRIEND: Hmm... Tricky one!

ME: Aha! So have I CONVINCED you about this?


ME: Yahoo! I win; I win; I win!

FRIEND: Oh! How presumptuous! Dude, no you didn’t convince me! All I meant was that I accept your points. That’s all!

ME: Who? What? How? Why?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I really liked ur post, thanks for sharing. Keep writing. I discovered a good site for bloggers check out this, you can submit your blog there, you can get more auidence.

Custom Search