Terry Pratchett described humanity as “the falling angel meets the rising ape” – a succinct description of our journey. We began on earth as base animals, ruled by the cruel doctrine of evolution: survival of the fittest. Over millennia, however, we achieved a great many things. Our opposable thumbs and excellent pattern recognition skills allowed us to create tools and learn deep secrets about our world. The ability to use language, both spoken and written, allowed us to pass this knowledge on to strangers and subsequent generations – who were able to use and build upon it.
Eventually, we conquered our environments. We developed agriculture, and were freed from relying on gathering wild food. We domesticated animals and grew beyond the capacity of what we could do with our own bodies. Soon, the principle of evolution: “survival of the fittest” became less applicable to human development. In the contemporary world, this is more evident than ever. There is virtually no environment in which we cannot survive, or indeed thrive. Medicine and science have made it so the biological development of our species is no longer guided by the forces of nature, but rather by our own whims. Vaccines, mechanized farming, eyeglasses, and dialysis machines (to name a few examples) have all made it so that “survival of the fittest” is no longer the rule for our biology. Instead this phrase has become a relic of our early days on the planet, when life was short and harsh, that we can observe as applicable to less-developed beings.
In conquering our environments, we discovered ourselves. We developed self-consciousness, and began to wonder why we exist. We developed things like religion and sets of morals to guide us, and most importantly, we realized the soul of mankind. This led us to the humanistic philosophies of today, where we realize that every human life is uniquely valuable, and all people are equal.
Yet, this principle of competition, so vanquished in our evolutionary development, persists in another sphere of human life. The strategy of capitalist society is neatly summarized by the phrase “survival of the fittest” if one now interprets “fittest” to mean economically fit, rather than biologically fit. It is a system in which all members are pitted against one another, in competition for limited resources. In such a system, those with advantages (i.e. the “fit”) succeed at the expense of those without. Such an endeavor is coldly, brutishly in contrast to both the path of human development thus far and the humanistic morality we have developed. Rather, modern morals would logically require that all lives be provided for, regardless of “fitness”.
In history up until now, mankind has shown that we are capable of overcoming the animalistic and competitive dynamic of nature. Indeed, we are masters of our own world, capable of twisting and forming the world around us to suit our needs. Yet the idea that the strong should win and the weak should lose somehow persists in our society. One might say that our collective memory has been so brutalized by this aspect of nature that we cannot think of another way to organize ourselves, but this explanation assumes a level of mental indolence on our part that has been since disproven.
In the next stages of human development, we must show that we have not only mastery over nature, but mastery over ourselves as well. To do this, we must quit the capitalist principles of competition and fitness-determined survival, just as we have banished the same principles from our biology. As we sit between Sir Terry’s rising ape and falling angel, we must choose to continue to rise, and leave behind our primitive nature.