Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Survival of the fittest

In Richard Mabey’s new book A Brush with Nature, I found a lovely piece about the free market written last year with both the financial crisis and Darwin’s bicentenary in mind. Darwin’s phrases ‘the struggle for existence’ and ‘the survival of the fittest’ are, Mabey writes, ‘like psychologists’ ink-blot tests: how you interpret them depends on your own beliefs … they’re now being quoted by apologists of the ruthless greed that has brought the world’s economic system to its knees. “The free market is a force of nature,” one banker recently proclaimed. I don’t know what is saddest about this, the spectacle of supposedly sophisticated humans denying they are in control of their own affairs, or the belief that ecosystems are as crude and inelegant as the global financial machine.’

According to Mabey, Darwin’s idea of ‘fitness’ in the theory of evolution does not simply mean healthiness and vigour but ‘fitting in’: organisms survive that are best adapted to their environments, which mostly means they have to cooperate, albeit through self-interest, rather than destroy each other. ‘Supporters of the unregulated financial markets like to believe that they work “naturally”, creating myriads of new business species and economic habitats,’ Mabey argues. ‘In reality, as we now know, human ambition and greed give the Hawks and Bullies a free hand, and the economy becomes dominated by immense, predatory super-species.’ This is all very far from evolution’s ‘ceaseless generation of diversity’.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day … Eating, sleeping, cleaning – the years no longer rise up towards heaven, they lie spread out ahead, grey and identical. The battle against dust and dirt is never won. Washing, ironing, sweeping, ferreting out fluff from under wardrobes – all this halting of decay is also the denial of life; for time simultaneously creates and destroys, and only its negative aspect concerns the housekeeper.’ – Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

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