A mosaic of influences — religious, political, economic, scientific, and philosophical — writes the story that we live by, but the main author is science. Science tells us who we are and from there we determine how we’re supposed to live. And much of science and ‘enlightened thinking’ from the 1700s to date has described humans as inherently selfish.
Scottish philosopher Adam Smith famously believed that we do best for others by giving way to this fundamentally selfish nature of ours and looking out for number one: “By pursuing his own interest, [the individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he intends to promote it.”
Undoubtedly, the scientific discovery with the most pervasive hand in our current ‘greed is good’ mentality is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. When assembling his ideas for On the Origin of Species, the young Darwin was profoundly influenced by the concerns of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus about population explosion and limited natural resources.
Darwin concluded that, since there wasn’t enough to go around, life must evolve through what he termed a “struggle for existence.”
“As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive,” Darwin wrote in Origin, “there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.”
Darwin was at pains to note that his catch phrase ‘struggle for existence’ was not literal but highly elastic — encompassing everything from the search of tree roots for water to the reliance of a pack of animals on each other.
It was actually British philosopher Herbert Spencer who first coined the term “survival of the fittest” after an enthusiastic reading of On the Origin of Species; after some persuasion, Darwin accepted the term.
An unholy metaphor
Malthus had provided Darwin with a central metaphor to explain the mechanism behind nature’s drive to propagate and thrive, and as an inadvertent consequence, Darwin unleashed upon the world a metaphor that came to represent the human experience: Life as war. An individual or population thrives only at another one’s expense.
Despite Darwin’s liberal use of the term, almost immediately, the narrower meaning of the metaphor stuck, offering a scientific framework for all the various burgeoning social and economic movements of the day.
Most subsequent interpretations of Darwin’s work, even in his lifetime, promoted a vision of all aspects of life as a battle over scarce resource, in which only the toughest and most singleminded survived.
English biologist Thomas Huxley, the Richard Dawkins of his day, dubbed “Darwin’s bulldog” for his role as Darwin’s vociferous mouthpiece, liberally extended the view of dog-eat-dog competition in his belief that it was responsible for the evolution of culture, ideas, and even the human mind.
Thanks to newly invented telegraphic cables and advances in printmaking, the wider interpretation of Darwin’s theory quickly swept across the globe. “Survival of the fittest” made for a perfect fit with Smith’s brand of enlightened competition in the marketplace, but besides Western capitalism, the theory of natural selection was also used to justify the Chinese revolution and the ‘whitening’ of Latin American indigenous culture with European stock.
The metaphoric representation of life as a race to the finish line has been used as intellectual justification for most aspects of modern industrialized society, which regards competition as society’s perfect shakedown mechanism, separating out the economically, politically and socially weak from the strong.
The winners have a right to winner take all because the race as a whole would benefit from it.
Modern-day interpreters of Darwin, the “neo-Darwinists,” have woven competition and struggle into the latest theories of our biological makeup by proposing that every part of us acts selfishly in order to survive; our genes — even our ideas — are engaged in competition with other gene pools and thoughts for domination and longevity.
Indeed, some scientists invest genes with the power to control every aspect of our lives, considering the body an accidental byproduct of a greater evolutionary endeavor.
A blind force?
Modern evolutionary theory has removed any vestigial sense of moral design or beneficence from the natural world: nature has no stake in cooperation or partnership, but only likes winners, of any sort. The vision of a purposeful and harmonious whole has been replaced by blind evolutionary force, in which human beings no longer play a conscious part.
Many psychologists argue that competitiveness is hardwired within us, a natural biological urge as inherent as our basic urge to survive. After we stop fighting over food, water, shelter, and mates, the theory goes, we begin competing over more ephemeral prizes: power, status, and most recently, fame.
Consequently, for more than three hundred years our worldview has been shaped by a story that describes isolated beings competing for survival on a lonely planet in an indifferent universe. Life, as defined by modern science, is essentially predatory, self-serving, and solitary.
This metaphor —the “red in tooth and claw” sense of ourselves — have seeped into our consciousness to permeate our every day. Our paradigm for living today has been built upon the premise that competition is the essential calling card of existence. Every modern recipe in our lives has been drawn from our interpretation of life as individual and solitary struggle, with every-man-for-himself competition an inherent part of the business of living.
Our entire Western economic model is built on the notion that competition in a free-market economy is essential to drive excellence and prosperity. In our relationships, we extol our inherent right to individual happiness and self-expression above all else. We educate our young by encouraging them to compete and excel over their peers.
The currency of most modern two-cars-in-every-garage neighborhoods is comparison and one-ups-manship. The world, as Woody Allen once put it, “is one big cafeteria.”
This sense of the necessity competition in all things, is why we’re in the mess we’re in today.
According to the new science, Darwin was wrong: we were meant to share, care and be fair. At every moment, you live contrary to your truest nature. My life’s work aims to help you to recapture your birthright, which has been sabotaged not only by modern society but, more fundamentally, by modern science.
I wish to wake you up to who you really are, to do nothing less than to return to you your authentic self.