Buttle's World

15 January, 2009

The Natural Order of Things

Filed under: Posts — clgood @ 20:47

I commend to you an excellent article in The Spectator showing how Charles Darwin was influenced and inspired by – wait for it – economists. It’s worth reading the whole thing to see how evolution is far from being a merely biological process. The bottom line:

The dark side of bottom-up Darwinism is that cumulative complexity can come about only through selective death or selective celibacy. Wonderful life may result, but it is born red in tooth and claw. The social Darwinists of the 19th century and the eugenicists of the 20th were of the view that the strong should therefore be encouraged to succeed, the better to keep natural selection going. But this is to misread human society. The human body may have come about through three billion years of natural selection among genes, but civilisation and prosperity came from 50,000 years of much more rapid natural selection among ideas. It is easily possible to blunt genetic selection in the name of kindness, while allowing cultural selection to continue: the death of an idea need not be cruel.

There is, however, one more disturbing and topical parallel between biological and cultural evolution. Just as natural selection’s constructive capacity did not prevent mass extinctions, one of which, 251 million years ago, eradicated over 96 per cent of marine species, so the market’s ability to build order cannot prevent crashes. Even sophisticated, entropy-defying complex systems are subject to the weather-like vagaries of mathematical chaos — and there Darwin cannot help.

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