Thursday, 2002 February 21, 23:21 — economics

it’s a dog-trade-with-dog world

Peter Hollo cites an interview with Richard Dawkins, at an address which has unfortunately gone bad since January 15. Hollo writes:

. . . you can read Dawkins distancing himself from a kind of Thatcherite, “Darwinian”, dog-eat-dog world of the survival of the fittest (which would equate to the extreme laissez-faire capitalist position).

Apples and oranges. ‘Survival of the fittest’ (or, as Ayn Rand would have it, ‘of the fit’) applies in any system; what varies is the meaning of fit. In a world dominated by the ethic of trade, fit means uniquely or efficiently satisfying the desires of others. In a world dominated by so-called Social Darwinism or bureaucratic egalitarianism, fit means playing the rulers’ game.

(‘Social Darwinism’ is a misnomer because its eugenist adherents fancy themselves wiser than slow clumsy Nature in identifying the unfit. Dawkins and Gould are both humbler than that – as is a good libertarian.)

About 1985 I read an essay entitled ‘The Danger of Equality’ by somebody named Gorer. To summarize his dimly-remembered thesis: In a complex society with many kinds of institutions, there are many modes of status-seeking – owning the biggest boat, having one’s daughter presented at the royal court – which are generally harmless; whereas under regimes which seek to abolish all that in the name of equality, like France the USSR, the only road for social-climbers is the quest for power over others, which is corrosive all around.

Compared with how I as a student imagined it, my life has been an abject failure (but don’t get me started on depression); and yet, most of the time, I have been quite comfortable doing low-level work for small firms. (Family kept the wolf of Reality from my door during a couple of years.) In a less chaotic, less dog-eat-dog world, my allergy to conformist authority might well have killed me by now.

The soft leftist I once was might retort: “In a truly egalitarian world you wouldn’t be forced to conform.” See Bellamy’s Looking Backward, or the ‘hate speech’ codes. Would-be social engineers too often mistake the normative for the predictive, or, as linguists would say, the prescriptive for the descriptive.

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