By Paco Puche
The social Darwinian theses that serve as the basis for the dominant economic "science" start from the hypothesis of individualism and extreme selfishness. The so-called “selfish gene” contains the irrepressible drive towards its own unique subsistence and reproduction. To do this, he has to become extremely aggressive and, if necessary, end the lives of the competitors. Capitalism in essence is that: a fight to the death to increase profits, between the brothers themselves if necessary, followed by another similar fight between consumers, the entire population, to obtain more satisfaction. The really existing economic model has permeated the biological model and vice versa and both are reinforced. And this is the best, they say, for those who remain alive in the race. Not everyone is fit to live in this world. To alleviate this scientific reality, a basic trend, they propose to improve people with education and disguise companies of green and social responsibility. In the neoliberal version, leaving staff to their fate, which is what they deserve.
The so-called "naturalization" of ethics and society is frowned upon by progressive thought because, deep down, it participates in these Darwinian ideas and considers that, if these irrepressible impulses are not remedied, there is nothing to do. The follies of Nazism and the belief in superior races obviously make him distrust. Of course, there is a strong belief in human plasticity and creativity to solve this poorly made human design beforehand. This is an anthropocentric vision. Gustavo Duch (ii), a progressive writer, stated: “With these three experiments, the conclusions are obvious. The chimpanzee is a species that no matter how hungry it is, the greater its pettiness. That the few bonobos that still live (…) know of altruism and good living. And that the human being descends from the chimpanzee ”. However, the truth is that it descended from the first forms of life: bacteria.
Furthermore, as Frans de Waal, the great researcher on bonobos, the most empathetic apes of all, says, "recent DNA comparisons show that humans and bonobos share a microsatellite related to sociability that is absent in the chimpanzee"; And as in the first human societies there must have been optimal reproductive conditions for the survival of the kindest elements of the species, “at some point empathy became an end in itself: a central piece of human morality (…) , our moral systems reinforce something that is itself part of our heritage. They are not radically transforming human behavior: they simply enhance pre-existing capabilities ”(iii). The recommendation of ancient wisdoms (including Christianity) to "love one another" expresses that, for a long time, we have been culturally transgressing our own phylogenetic impulses.
From a biocentric vision of the world, we know that we are part of that world, that we cannot be superior to the universe that surrounds us and to which we owe our life at every moment, and that if we are coevolutionizing with the cosmos it is because we are being viable. Neither bad nor well done, simply compatible. The multiple references by environmentalist thought to biomimicry are redundant, because we do not have to imitate nature, we are nature and the question is that with culture, that is, human social self-construction, we succeed in not detaching ourselves much from it by the account brings us.
In the beginning was cooperation
Here the words of the famous microbiologist Lynn Margulis resound thunderously when she affirms that “life did not conquer the planet through combat, but through cooperation. Life forms multiplied and became more complex by associating with others, not killing them ”(iv). How far are the "selfish gene" and the chimpanzee.
But let's dig deep into this matter of cooperation. First surprise in the very origins of life: a fundamental step of life from organisms with cells without a nucleus (prokaryotes, kingdom formed by bacteria) to organisms with nucleated cells (eukaryotes, kingdom of Protoctists, Fungi, Animals and Plants), occurred through the fusion of bacteria that developed a symbiotic relationship and ultimately lost their ability to live outside the host as independent organisms. This happened about 2 billion years ago and the result was the first protoctictas (amoebas, plankton, algae, etc.). This great division in the living world, according to the type of cells, the result of a symbiosis is the greatest discontinuity present on this planet and constitutes the fundamental division of living beings. In the beginning it was cooperation, not the verb or action (v).
And it is that bacteria, that great unknown except for the terror that they cause us, “in addition to being the basic structural units of life, they are also found in all other beings that exist on Earth, for which they are indispensable. Without them, we would not have air to breathe, our food would lack nitrogen, and there would be no soil to grow our crops ”(vi). The world of life is bacteriocentric.
Cooperation in other realms of life
A few references only to realize the order of magnitude of what we speak.
"In the surface waters of the sea there is an average value of 10,000 million different types of virus per liter, their ecological role consists in maintaining the balance between the different species that make up the marine plankton (and as a consequence of the rest of the trophic chain ) and among the different types of bacteria, destroying them when there are excess of them ”(vii). Without the cooperation of viruses with other living beings, self-destruction would be assured.
All lichens, of which there are an estimated 25,000 kinds, are the result of symbiotic associations between fungi and algae, living things that are nothing alike. Today it is known that a quarter of documented fungi are "lichenized", that is, they need to live photosynthetically in association with algae.
Mycorrhizae are symbiotic protrusions produced by the alliance of a fungus and a plant in its roots. The fungus supplies mineral nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen from the soil) and plants provide photosynthetic food. There are mycorrhizae in the roots of more than 95% of plant species. This fact has led some biologists to say that "plants were formed from the symbiosis between algae and fungi" (viii). This means that: "millions and millions of kilometers of roots are covered by a fine fungal mantle: the embrace between two kingdoms, fungi and plants, protagonists of a" love story "of more than 400 million years" (ix).
In his well-known work Mutual Support (x), Kropotkin tells how Captain Stanbury, on one of his trips through the Rocky Mountains in the 19th century, observed a blind pelican that was fed, and well fed, by other pelicans that they brought fish from 45 kilometers. This observation and many other similar ones about the living world, which Kropotkin has in store for us in the aforementioned book, lead him to the conclusion that in nature, in addition to mutual struggle, “it is observed at the same time, in the same proportions, or perhaps greater, mutual support, mutual help, mutual protection between animals belonging to the same species or, at least, to the same society (...) so that sociability can be recognized as the main factor of evolution progressive ”.
We can make coevolution down to our closest relatives and see how it has been. We are referring to the 200,000 years of homo sapiens and our cousins the bonobos.
It has already been seen above that we share with our closest cousins, the bonobos, a great sociability that is why it has been possible to speak of "one hundred thousand years of solidarity" as suggested by the economists Gintis and Bowles (xi). And that is why at the entrance to the renovated Archaeological Museum of Madrid, in the panel referring to the origins of human beings, the following reads: “More than 6 million years ago our evolutionary history began in Africa. Today we are the only living representatives of the group of hominids. What defines and differentiates us as humans? The frontier is conventionally established in the growth of the brain (…) and in the development of social strategies based on solidarity and altruism ”(sic).
Why is this altruistic matrix of homo sapiens due? According to De Waal (xii), empathy is constitutive of the human being, that is why “we did not decide to be empathetic: we simply are (…) which means that empathy is innate (…) Over 200 million years of mammalian evolution, females sensitive to their offspring left more offspring than those who were cold and distant: mothers who did not respond did not perpetuate their genes ", hence, he says," the evolutionary antiquity of empathy makes me feel extremely optimistic (…). It is a human universal. (…) In fact, I would say that biology is our best hope ”.
For this reason, in the past decade it was possible to discover in primates a unique group of neurons that were activated simply when the movement of other monkeys was contemplated, they were called mirror neurons. It has been proven that they also exist in the brain of humans and that they also allow others to make the actions, sensations and emotions of others their own. They constitute the neurological basis of empathy, which shows that we are deeply social beings. Society, family, and community are truly innate values.
In a recent book on the history and meaning of war, its author John Keegan, after recording the millions of people who have not returned from the battlefields tells us: (but) “it is the spirit of cooperation, and not that of confrontation, the one that makes the world go on, and almost all human beings live most of their days in an atmosphere of companionship, seeking by all means to avoid discord ”(xiii). And he insists: "the man who makes war has the capacity to limit the nature and effects of his actions, as the primitives show." Again cooperation as a web of sociability and its realization in the primitive world.
Cooperation has made human language possible
The recent theses of Tomasello (xiv) on the origins of human communication come to strengthen and are congruent with the thesis that we have been developing.
In effect, this author considers that the communicative motives of human beings are to such an extent cooperative that we not only provide services to others by giving them information but we also express our wishes, with the expectation that they will offer us voluntary help. And the thesis that he maintains is that since human communication is highly cooperative, it is a special example of the cooperative activity that characterizes us, and that it is unique in the animal kingdom.
And explaining all this from an evolutionary perspective, he considers that it all started with mutualistic activities in which an individual who helped others helped himself, and then extended to more altruistic situations to cultivate reciprocity and gain social reputation. "In such a case, for unknown reasons, at some point in human evolution, individuals who could collaborate with each other because they had cooperative motives, had an adaptive advantage." This perspective, following Tomasello, conceives the most fundamental aspects of communication as biological adaptations for cooperation and social interaction, considering the more clearly linguistic aspects of language as cultural constructions.
Tomasello concludes his work with these hopeful words: "Our thesis, then, is that the cooperative structure of human communication is not an accident or an isolated characteristic but one more manifestation of the extreme form that the spirit of cooperation has between us."
Made to cooperate: the commons
If we are made to cooperate, and thus we answer the question we asked ourselves in the title, what has been our behavior in the management of common goods? We have already pointed out that primitive societies, for 150,000 years, did not know any other way of sociability other than that of community ownership and management of common goods. Babeuf's aspirations have already been realized in the past.
For recent times we are going to look at the works of Elinor Ostrom, the first female Nobel laureate in economics in 2009.
The committee that selected her for the award reasoned saying that “it has challenged the conventional claim that common property management is often inefficient, which is why it should be managed by a centralized authority or privatized. Based on numerous case studies of management by its users of fish banks, grasslands, forests, lakes and groundwater, Ostrom concludes that the results are, in most cases, better than the predictions of the theories standard. Their research reveals that the users of these resources frequently develop sophisticated decision-making mechanisms, as well as the resolution of conflicts of interest, with positive results ”.
And the winner, in an interview stated that: “We have studied several hundred irrigation systems in Nepal. And we know that farmer-managed irrigation systems are more efficient in terms of water supply and have higher productivity than the fabulous irrigation systems built with the help of the World Bank and the US Agency for Development Assistance (USAID), etc. Thus, we know that many local groups are very effective ”.
But not only are these common goods management successes found in many recent experiences, but the most striking thing is the multiple experiences that have been working well for hundreds of years ”xv. As would be expected, given the cooperative nature that we have been reviewing.
As all this was contradictory with the theses of mainstream conventional economics, the main book of this author has not been commercially found in any bookstore. Quite simply, after the Nobel they have not reissued his magnum opus.
In order to fight for a profound change in humanity, we must be aware that it can be done in the sense of cooperation, brotherhood and biomimicry because, as we have seen, there are phylogenetic, morphological and historical foundations for this to have been the dominant trend of human societies. Without this worldview, you will always be installed in a kind of anthropological pessimism, at best willful.
We can conclude with De Waal, saying loudly that "the evolutionary antiquity of empathy makes me extremely optimistic."
(i) Babeuf in 1796, taken from Davidson, N (2012): Transformar el mundo, Barcelona, Ediciones de Past y Presente, p.168
(ii) Duch, G. (2011), in Rebelión 20.01.2011 http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=120700
(iii) De Waal (2007), Primates and philosophers. The evolution of morality from ape to man, Paidos, p. 223-224
(iv) Margulis, L. (2002). A revolution in evolution, Universitat de València, p.108
(v) "In the beginning was the word" (Gospel of Saint John); "In the beginning was action" (Goethe's Faust)
(vi) Margulis (2002), o.c. p.108
(vii) Sandín, M. (2011): "The war against bacteria and viruses: a self-destructive fight",
Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nº 243, January 7.
(viii) Margulis and Sagan (1995): Microcosmos, Barcelona, Tusquets Editores. p.190
(ix) Ignacio Arroyo: "A look at the underworld", Ecoportal 09/26/14
(x) Kropotkin, P. (1989, ), Mutual support, Ediciones Madre Tierra. Pp. 43, 86.88
(xi) Carpintero, O. (2010): “Between broken mythology and reconstruction: an ecological economic proposal”, in Revista de Economía Crítica, nº 9, first quarter. p. 158
(xii) De Waal, F. (2011): The age of empathy. Are we altruistic by nature?
Barcelona, Tusquet. 96, 267 and 69
(xiii) Keegan, J. (2014): Historia de la guerra, Turner Noema, Madrid, pp. 515 and 516
(xiv) Tomasello, M. (2013): The origins of human communication, Buenos Aires, Katz editores, pp 16,17, 19, 172
(xv) Ostrom, E. (1990). The government of the commons, FCE, 2000, pp. 110-145