Survival of the Fittest in the Time of Pandemic

Survival of the Fittest in the Time of Pandemic

Does “survival of the fittest” truly define evolution? Or does mutual cooperation? This piece, originally published by Safehouse Infoshop, explores survival and mutual aid in a time of pandemic.

By Taks Barbin / Safehouse Infoshop

People often equate Charles Darwin’s notion of “survival of the fittest” with competition. People think that the natural way of the world requires some sort of battle. This is also often translated in how we deal with other people. “It’s either myself or others,” that’s how many people justify cruelty and domination. But if we think closely, survival of the fittest does not always mean competition.

Survival of the fittest simply means that if a species is not able adapt to the changes in the environment, that’s when it starts to die out. If your fur is not thick enough, then you might die in the winter of Alaska. If your fur is too thick, then you would die like a Siberian Husky in the tropics. If you can not grow claws, you might not be able to catch prey, or be able to climb tress to avoid predators. Strength is not enough in survival. If we only consider strength, then no animal now can match the dinosaurs who were much bigger in size and appetite. They have walked the earth for millions of years, but eventually, they became extinct because they were not able adapt to climate change.

As pointed out by a former Russian prince turned biologist and anarchist named Peter Kropotkin, few people realize that mutual cooperation is as much a factor of evolution as competition. If we think about it, there are quite a number of species which might have not survived if they did not practice cooperation amongst themselves or with other species. Canines work in packs. Gigantic sea mammals like whales and sharks may die of parasites if they did not allow smaller fishes to ride on their backs. Bees (which are prehistoric in origin) or ants can not survive without the hive or colony.

Another misconception which may arise here is the conception of the alphas. Herds and packs tend to have alphas but these alphas are not there to terrorize their own species. Alphas become alphas because they have the capacity to protect and search for food. Their position is not permanent. Being alpha in the animal kingdom does not have a time frame. Quite different from the human conception that alphas should reign for as long as six years even when he or she is not capable of feeding and protecting the group. We should also take note that in many species, alphas are of the female gender.

In the bee or ant colony, there are also roles taken by each individual. There’s the “queen”, the “soldiers”, and the “workers”. But this is entirely different to how we look at queens, soldiers, and workers in the human context. In the colonies of such arthropods, the queens are also replaceable, the soldiers do not harass the workers, and in contrast, the workers can become the heroes. In colonies, the queen or the soldiers do not have authority over workers. They do not make rules and they do not assert self-righteousness. Each individual act on their own will and understanding to preserve the colony. When a worker finds a good tree to establish shelter, it dances, to tell the others of the location, so others can verify if the claim is true. They require a constant check and balance similar to how internet open-sources work. Dictatorship does not work in nature.

Of course, there are instances where competition is evident in many species. But take note that this is only true when resources are scarce. In the human world, resources are more than enough to feed everyone in the world. Scarcity is a myth repeatedly told by hoarders. Competition is only acceptable in scarcity, not in the abundance that we have now. Poverty and hunger, therefore, are crimes committed to the poor, most especially during a pandemic. Thankfully, instead, we witness cooperation almost everywhere during these times.

Survival of the fittest is not only about competition. Survival is also about adaptation and mutual cooperation.

Safehouse Infoshop, located in Quezon City, Philippines, offers resources for alternative, anti-authoritarian, ecologically harmonious lifestyles. They recognize that there are already solutions to the problems society faces today. The Infoshop spreads resources and information about the problems of culture, economy, and environment, and the people and groups creating such solutions.
Featured image from the streets of Manila, by Max Wilbert.

4 thoughts on “Survival of the Fittest in the Time of Pandemic”

  1. A few thoughts on survival of the fittest:

    In Nature, 98% of creatures die of starvation or predation. If Nature had a moral sense, we would have to describe it as unspeakably cruel — almost always to the individual, and in the long run, to most species. In the VERY long run, of course, it is cruel to all. No species survives forever.

    If humans have any unique value, it is our ability to make and act on moral judgments. But even here, Nature rules: What is moral for the individual may be immoral for the group. For example, the captain of a boat may act morally if he stops to save a life. But if he takes on more lives than his boat can safely carry, his decision could cost more lives than doing nothing. This can lead to seeious moral dilemmas. Do we save the young, the sick, the weak, or the strong? Do we save those most likely to survive and prosper with help, or those most likely to die if we do nothing?

    In the final analysis, we have to live by Nature’s rules.

    How many of the leaders we choose kr allow to rule would have become alphas in Nature? How many of today’s world leaders are natural leaders, and how many should have been left to die at sea?

  2. You’ll need to explain your idea further, as there’s a lot seeingly hidden behind your statements. What do you mean, in practical terms, by “we have to live by Nature’s rules”? Are you advocating widespread euthanasia of the mentally ill, who are no productive members of society? As for leaders being natural, I’d have mild, self-effacing Jeremy Corbyn as PM over the bumptious alpha male Boris Johnson any day of the week.

  3. @Mark Behrend
    I don’t view nature as being cruel. If beings didn’t die, other beings couldn’t be born. The attitude that death per se is cruel is the same as the one that causes people to be blind to our extreme human overpopulation. While dying is painful and unpleasant, death is probably nothing more than a permanent deep sleep, human fantasy myths notwithstanding. It’s also painful to be born, but we don’t remember that. Pain is just a necessary part of life, and considering it “cruel” is an anti-nature attitude. We’re on the same side on the vast majority of this stuff and I’m not trying to attack you, just to get you to rethink this from a different and bigger perspective.

  4. Please note that I said “IF” Nature had a moral sense, we would have to say it is unspeakably cruel. But Nature is merely the human name for all that is not human.

    My initial thought on the subject was a criticism of creationism, where I said that 98% of animals dying of starvation or predation could not be the act of a compassionate and omnipotent god, but makes perfect sense as an outcome of evolution.

    When religious people speak of the “beauty and balance of Nature” proving the existence of God, they’re deluding themselves. The “balance” we perceive in a static moment is nothing but the inevitable equilibrium achieved when the violence and chaos of irrational physical forces reach a steady state. Yes, there is “peace” after an epic battle or a category 5 hurricane. But it is hardly the peace of an intelligent designer or the wisdom of Nature. It is what’s left when the destructive forces of war or weather have spent themselves.

    Predators don’t kill because they are evil, but because they are hungry. We could say that self-preservation and the defense of one’s family are utterly selfish, but that depends on our perspective. A parent of any species will use violence to feed its young or fend off an intruder. The effect appears selfish, but the intent is usually just the protection of what is “ours” over what is “theirs.”

    It is a moral judgment to help an immigrant family we encounter at the border, fleeing starvation or violence. And it is a sane and logical judgment to close the border, when there are more would-be immigrants than the host country can care for without risking its own collapse.

    A CNN story yesterday warned that at the current rate of climate change, the home regions of 3 billion people will be unlivable in 50 years. And the most compassionate people on earth will not be welcoming them as refugees. Again, our impulse to aid the individual does not always extend to the group.

    Years ago, I made a moral decision never to hunt again, because I choose not to destroy another animal’s family. But I can’t promise my thinking will be the same if I’m starving someday, and come across a flock of turkeys.

    Nor do I believe animals are incapable of moral judgments or actions. Stories abound about predators acting to save the life of a helpless creature of another family, or even another species. I even heard a report recently of lions protecting an orphaned baby elephant for several days, until the herd was located.

    There is generally no morality in Nature, but there are exceptions. What finally justifies our existence, if not some form of love and compassion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *