I propose to show in the next section that evolutionism leads inexorably to social or political systems that attempt to maximize the well-being and thus the propagation of our species, but in order to make this case I first need to develop two simple thought tools:
· The game of life. What I term the game of life is a severe abstraction of what is of course a very complex problem: I think of the entire system, our world, as one that contains only inhabitants, and circumstances. It may help in understanding the ideas to think of this as a game, a simulation. The inhabitants choose how to react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. These circumstances either cannot be controlled, or can be controlled only imperfectly. The inhabitants’ choices of course are very complex and fraught. They include not only securing an adequate food supply but, as well, how to react to such things as drought, flood, disease, and other calamities. At another level they must also determine how to collaborate, to organize sufficiently to cope with their problems and maximize their wellbeing while minimizing internecine conflicts. This of course is politics.
· The spectrum of the isms. As a second tool I propose a general measure, or rather a property that can be used as a measure, that I think encompasses all the various ways people may organize themselves and interact. This measure is so general that it extends completely from one extreme of political organization to the other, from, say, tribalism to individualism. I call this measure, the spectrum of the isms.
In this game there are many ways one could look at the tangle of competing or interacting human societal or political systems to try to make sense of them. My way, which I term the spectrum of the isms is to imagine a continuous vertical timeline that begins at the top, with what I term tribalism—I use this word, instead of, say, totalitarianism, because of its longevity and relative neutrality. From there, in my model, the line extends more or less smoothly downward, all the way to the other end, which I term individualism. Between these two extremes lie all the other isms known to man, including, in my lifetime, fascism, communism, capitalism, globalism, and now fundamentalist Islamism utilizing institutionalized terrorism.
This spectrum obviously is broad enough to capture all these isms and others not named. And I like this terminology for the spectrum’s end points because it is simple, carries little moralistic baggage and, I think, will help illuminate my belief that the good and bad of the various isms is situational. That is, the best political policy at any point in time depends upon the circumstances in which a group finds itself, not in any single, all-time “ideal” ism.
As with most systems, evolutionism is best understood by carefully considering it at the margins, the two end points of the spectrum, while keeping in mind that, given a choice, margins are usually not a happy space to occupy.
My approach is simply to see the world as a game, an experiment. Individuals inhabit this sim-world and adopt certain policies in their interactions with each other. New policies can be introduced and old ones modified. Also, in this simple mind game which I believe to be a reflection of reality, however abstracted it may be, there is, as I wrote above, an environment that either cannot be controlled or can be controlled only imperfectly. In the long term the policies that groups choose to use, the political processes if you will, spread or shrink to more or fewer individuals depending upon whether they provide visible benefits, or not, to the population. If not, they disappear or, more likely, mutate or morph into other policies which may have a chance of further improvement for the inhabitants.
Of course I do not refer to a democratic polity here, either in the game or in the history being modeled; individuals in the group may be frustrated for long periods, but not indefinitely. Even tribal chiefs can be changed, or the tribe may be eliminated entirely as a result of ineffective policies. In a phrase, What works is best. It is a social evolutionary way of seeing the system. This may seem a rather cold way of looking at the world, one devoid of ideals and morality, but it is realistic and the results speak for themselves.
For example, in a very dangerous world, or, in my terminology, a circumstance, where an individual in a particular environment might be seen as a food source as much as a political being, an individualistic approach to life will certainly be a fatal mistake and diminish that policy or tendency because individualism is, for humans, in those fraught circumstances, an approach that is not appropriate. It is dangerous and in effect not working.
Contrariwise, in a wealthy, secure, and thus relatively “low
risk” society, one can see strict tribalism, let us now call it totalitarianism
for emphasis, as not beneficial, as
inappropriate. It is not appropriate
because the stresses and strains inherent in totalitarianism create their own
risks for society, witness the
The main point here is not to see any ism as an absolute, all-time good or bad ism, absent the context or situation within which it exists. The context or environment of the game at any time, malign or benign, is largely if not completely determined by the current security and wealth and thus satisfaction of that society.
One must take a dispassionate and long view in the game of life. That is why I choose to term it a game. This is more important than it might at first seem: without it one quickly becomes mired in philosophy and classic morality, in what might be, in what should be, in what ought to be, rather than in what is and what is possible when confronting a particular circumstance. This crisp, if unfeeling, approach will allow us to judge the reactions to vastly different situations on a consistent scale.
I have now outlined the two simple thought tools with which to discuss some of the policies that hold our interest today. All this simply a prelude to a discussion of the other big one, politics.