Nature vs. Nurture on
the Ecological Battlefield
process of rethinking my position on the genetic underpinnings of human
competition and reproduction. For the
last year or so I’ve been of the opinion (informed by the writings of Jay
Hanson and Reg Morrison)
that humanity’s genetic inheritance was the primary
driver of growth, as manifested in these three aspects of human
I’ve been softening my position as a result of being reminded of the
of potlatch and gift economies, and the widespread evidence of altruism
the world. The existence of
altruism-based social institutions has made me realize that more is
going on in
our civilization than just the bald influence of genetics on behaviour.
appears to me that the feedback between our biological predispositions
institutions is a critical determinant of human societies.
In societies where institutions support the
altruistic (oxytocin-driven?) aspects of our biological makeup we find
economies. In societies where
institutions support the competitive (dopamine-driven?) side of our
barter or market economies are the rule.
In turn, the support of those aspects of our nature receives
to strengthen the supporting institutions.
One of the interesting
comments in the Wikipedia
article on gift economies is this: “Marshall
Sahlins writes that Stone
economies were, by their nature as gift
economies, economies of abundance, not scarcity, despite their typical
of objective poverty.” The implication is
that our modern market
economy, with all its institutions promoting the ethics of growth,
and zero-sum, is a response to perceived scarcity even in the face of
abundance. If that is true, then a
couple of implications spring to mind.
is that as we move into a time of actual scarcity, the social grip of
current economic religion will be strengthened rather than relaxed.
“prove” to our power-holders that their perceptions and responses are
even axiomatic. That conviction will
translate into ever more corporate support for the educating
institutions - including
schools, think-tanks and media - that
promote this worldview. We are likely to
see a rapid devolution into authoritarian and repressive regimes that
legitimately be characterized as fascist in the original sense of the
used by Mussolini – the control of the state by corporations. These
corporations and their support systems will fight to the death to
implication is that the only real hope humanity has of shaking off the
that bind our nature to our institutions is if the institutions
disappear. Fortunately for the
ecosphere, since they are all predicated on the existence of the growth
economy, anything that brings about a disruption of that economy will
their structure at the same time. If, as
I expect, the convergence of peak oil, climate change and ecological
results in a permanent reversal of global economic growth, such
will be inevitable.
is the tarnished silver lining inside the dark cloud of economic
human die-off. We can only regain our
balance with nature if global consumption is reduced.
Having fewer people would accomplish that,
and die-off would guarantee it. We can
only hope to establish a truly sustainable civilization on the far side
bottleneck if the values emblematic of gift economies can find room to
The collapse of the present
market and growth economy would provide the needed social room. This collapse is virtually guaranteed in the
face of the permanent economic reversals brought on by increasing
scarcity and declining net energy.
If we can
embed the required values (though Gaia's
antibodies) and preserve enough knowledge through the coming
interregnum, humanity will have a chance.
Copyright 2007, Paul Chefurka
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