Saturday, April 21, 2007

More evolved than thou

Latest post from the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

"Chimps are ahead of humans in the great evolutionary race" ran a silly headline in The Times last Tuesday. Silly, because there is no such thing as any great evolutionary race.

Scientists have discovered, from studying the genes of humans and chimpanzees, that since the time six or seven million years ago, when the common ancestor of both existed, there are more changed genes in chimps than in humans.

Apparently, this came as a surprise and we should now no longer say that humans are "more evolved" than chimps. This could only be in a rather restricted sense of the term "more evolved" to mean "more genetically changed" since it is obvious that in every other sense humans are the more evolved. Otherwise, why was the research not carried out by chimps?

The key thing about "human nature" compared with 'chimpanzee nature" is the biologically-evolved nature and capabilities of the human brain. The genetic structure as a whole of chimps may have changed more than that of humans compared with the common ancestor of both, but the changes that have occurred in chimps have brought them to an evolutionary dead end. They may have evolved more to fit in better with their particular environment but this leaves them vulnerable to changes in that environment since they have no control over it.

The genetic changes in the line that led to humans, on the other hand, led to a species that can not only adapt its behaviour to live in a great variety of environments but which is capable of actively changing its environment. Since modern humans evolved 150,000 or so years ago, human evolution has been social rather than biological. Humans have acquired in culture, in particular in the tools and instruments we have developed to acquire and shape what we need from the rest of nature, a non-biological way of adapting, which has enabled us to adapt more quickly to our environment than biological evolution through natural selection ever would or could.

The knowledge we have acquired to understand and change our environment - nearly everything we see around us is the product of human intervention - shows that we are far superior to chimpanzees in the way we are equipped to survive in nature. We can in fact do far better if we realise that capitalism, with the problems it causes for the lives of most humans and indeed for many other species, is merely one of our non-biological adaptations to survive in nature. But one that has proved to be no longer the best fitfed for this purpose.

Fortunately, the other non-biological adaptations we have developed in the tools for obtaining what we need from nature (the means and instruments of production) and in the knowledge of how to use and develop them, and more recently of their effects on the rest of nature, allow us to rectify this. We can further evolve socially by making these tools the common heritage of the whole species and using our knowledge of how to use them to produce enough food, shelter, clean water, health care, education and other amenities for every single person on the planet while at the same time maintaining a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature.

The next stage in social evolution, in other words, is socialism.
Adam Buick