The Inevitable Evolution of Humankind
Evolution is a universal phenomenon. The latest book written by Matt Ridley, “The evolution of everything”, invites us to imagine an infinite number of possibilities within the scope of his theory. The author argues that the theory of evolution advanced by Charles Darwin is just a particular variant of a much more general theory, previously proposed by Adam Smith and subsequently refined by Joseph Schumpeter.
According to Ridley, the power of evolution and adaptation applies to a wide range of social phenomenon, such as politics and government, morality, technology, and the economy and the monetary system. Evolution is an iterative process that does not pursue any kind of preset guiding principle. Therefore, it is self-organized and spontaneous, as well as gradual and accumulative.
Even though it may seem that the complexity of certain phenomenon corresponds to a pre-established design, it is actually a spontaneous process that occurs without any kind of external intervention and that never really stops producing. In other words, it is in constant motion, in a self-organized operation that uses the information it generates and receives in order to function.
Actions are not performed in a hierarchical, top-down, manner. They flow constantly among all the parties involved, and especially from the bottom up. Therefore, evolution involves gradual and repetitive change, determined by a continuous process of trial and error. Success is then subject to a natural selection, according to Darwinist theory, to the survival of the fittest. The accumulation of success and rejection of failure through a process of natural selection is the basis of evolution.
Therefore, evolution involves gradual and repetitive change, determined by a continuous process of trial and error.
As stated above, the author proposes the application of the evolutionary principle to different social phenomenon. Let’s consider the following fields: culture, government and politics, technology, and the economy and currency.
Ridley argues that every culture has reached its current state through an evolutionary process. As has been demonstrated throughout time, a culture achieves success when it extinguishes and imposes itself over others, through processes of adaptation and the fusion of the ones that came beforehand. For example, modern Mexican culture has evolved over the centuries. It is clearly different from the culture our grandparents or great-grandparents experienced and has very little to do with the way of life in the times of Hernán Cortés.
If we look at it from a historical perspective, our culture is the result of the interaction of many others. Above all, it represents the combination of different ways of life and traditions of Pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures, the result of the colonial conquest 500 years ago. In fact, Mexican culture is actually a consolidation of many different cultures, such as those brought by French, English, and Lebanese immigrants over the decades. Globalization has also marked Mexican culture and, indeed, we should not fight against it.
Precisely because culture is an evolutionary process, we should promote a little to do with the way of life in the times of cultural change that enables us to grow and evolve as a society. Ridley’s book helps us understand that this cultural change forces us to incorporate elements that are capable of surviving a natural selection process. To reach this stage, we would have to observe the basis of different cultures that have driven them to success and adapt them to our ways of living. Indeed, evolution is clearly also a process that forces us to adapt to our environment.
Government and politics
It is common to believe that governmental decisions occur in a hierarchical process, from the top down. Ridley refutes this perception, and refers to a study that describes how governance inside prisons in the United States has become spontaneous and self-organized, and this is likely the case in every other jail worldwide.
The study indicates the existence of an unwritten code of conduct among the prisoners that maximizes their capacity for action, with the minimum use of force and violence. This code functions when the population inside a prison is relatively small and homogenous. Nevertheless, when the number of inmates exceeds 200 or 300 individuals, a group of people or one person eventually imposes their law and establishes a form of rule over the prison population. If this governing system fails and does not manage to provide a minimum amount of wellbeing, it will be overturned sooner or later.
Similar processes have occurred throughout history. When a village had just a few members, a simple code of conduct was enough to govern, but when the population exceeded a few hundred people, a leader eventually emerged, a feudal lord or a local king who established his own form of government. If a government fails, it has to be changed –in the past through violence and nowadays through voting. After reading this book, it is clear to me that the democratic process will continue evolving. It’s worth pondering how it will emerge in 100 years.
Technological progress is a clear result of an evolutionary phenomenon. Every artifact we use is the outcome of an endless process of trial and error, of a natural selection where only the fittest can survive. This explains the transition from telegraph to cellphones. Ridley argues that the concept of a creator is somewhat mythical, given that it simply adds and merges ideas that already existed. Since trade entails an exchange of ideas, invention becomes an inevitable consequence.
Technological progress is a clear result of an evolutionary phenomenon. Every artifact we use is the outcome of an endless process of trial and error.
Economy and currency
The history of economy and the monetary system illustrates another clear evolutionary process. For hundreds of thousands of years, man based his means of livelihood on hunting and gathering; exchange was rare, so bartering was simple. Nevertheless, when the first civilizations emerged, more than 10,000 years ago, trade became essential for the development of society and currency turned out to be indispensable, and as a result, the economic system evolved.
Let’s consider Ridley’s argument, in his book “The Rational Optimist”, that it is precisely the human characteristic of trading which resulted in the prevalence of the Homo Sapiens over the Neanderthals, although the latter was physically much more powerful and his brain was much larger. Ridley feels that commerce is what made mankind capable of developing a collective mind that benefits the species as a whole. This is why I think that attacks on free trade are attacks on one of our most essential qualities.
Modern capitalism and globalization are a result of more than 10,000 years of commercial evolution. This has also led us to create highly specialized societies that have been able to produce impressively sophisticated products. Let’s consider the example of a smartphone. Even though its common use makes us forget its enormous complexity, the smartphone contains thousands of advanced pieces that come from all over the world and are assembled just in time, component by component, until it becomes something that was completely inconceivable just decades ago.
It’s impossible to detail the sophistication of a great number of human processes in a book of more than 300 pages, but reading this study encourages us to consider the infinite possibilities that humanity could achieve through its diverse evolutionary processes.