Zoologist Desmond Morris, in discussing the progressive evolution of the human species as it moved into farming and food production, notes the following:
Luckily the long hunting apprenticeship had developed ingenuity and a mutual-aid system. The human hunters, it is true, were still innately competitive and self-assertive, like their monkey ancestors, but their competitiveness had become forcibly tempered by an increasingly basic urge to co-operate. It had been their only hope of succeeding in their rivalry with the long-established, sharp-clawed, professional killers of the carnivore world, such as the big cats. The human hunters had evolved their co-operativeness alongside their intelligence and their exploratory nature, and the combination had proved effective and deadly (14 & 15).
This powerful testament to the cooperation of the human species as it progressed into what would become its place of planetary dominance is extremely insightful. Had our ancestors not banded together in these pivotal moments, we would not even be carrying on this conversation right now. As Kropotkin noted earlier, animals have enough to face in struggling against an inclement nature. Things such as climate change and catastrophe lurk everywhere. What sense would there be, at the early stages of humanity, in creating yet another adversary within our midst? There is no practical advantage. This would amount to a tremendous loss of energy and less productive endeavors overall. As Morris concludes, luckily we made the wiser decision of the two. It is on this foundation of cooperation that we can even afford to be competitive with other members of our species.
To conclude, we see that from multiple perspectives the arguments in favor of mutual aid or cooperation as the main factor of evolution have only gotten stronger through time. While many different scientists and researchers continue to label their object of study differently, it is encouraging to see efforts like those of West, Griffin, and Gardner to bring them all together into a conglomeration of research. We need more of these; we need more popular literature on the subject as well. It is perhaps even more encouraging that, despite all of this overlap in the study of mutual aid, so many researchers are coming to similar conclusions, or, like Fletcher and Zwick, are even improving upon strands of the research available. Unfortunately, the research outlined here has not yet found a home in the public consciousness. Once it does, however, I would be willing to guess that we will begin to see even more efforts to band together in mutual benefit and accomplish great things. We must do this within our own species, and across species lines as well, if we aim to thrive.
- Darwin, Charles. (1859). On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the
Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray.
- Fletcher, J. A. and Zwick, M. (2006). “Unifying the Theories of Inclusive Fitness and Reciprocal
Altruism”. The American Naturalist, 168:2.
- Kropotkin, Petr. (1914). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers.
- Leakey, Richard and Lewin, Roger. (1995). The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future
of Humankind. New York: Doubleday.
- Morris, Desmond. (1969). The Human Zoo. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers.
- Pollan, Michael. (2010). The Botany of Desire (documentary film).
- Wesson, Robert. (1991). Beyond Natural Selection. Boston: MIT Press.
- West, S. A., Griffin, A. S., and Gardener, A. (2007). “Social semantics: altruism, cooperation,
mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection”. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20:2.
- Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.