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Is Anarchism an Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Anarchist thinking appears to be gaining relevance and acceptance among a larger audience.

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[E]ven in those few spots [in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria] where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find — although I was eagerly looking for it — that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution…

[W]herever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest — in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.

In Part II of his series, Orlov notes that Kropotkin

pointed out that the term “survival of the fittest” has been misinterpreted to mean that animals compete against other animals of their own species, whereas that just happens to be the shortest path to extinction…

Kropotkin provides numerous examples of what allows animal societies to survive and thrive, and it is almost always cooperation with their own species, and sometimes with other species as well, but there is almost never any overt competition.

Orlov writes that “when most people say ‘Darwinian’ it turns out that they actually mean to say ‘Hobbesian.’” It is probably more accurate to say that the commonly-held notion of social Darwinism is “Spencerian” rather than “Hobbesian,” after the 19th century English social theorist Herbert Spencer, who is credited with coining the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Spencer was a contemporary of Kropotkin and highly influential in his time. Spencer borrowed heavily from evolutionary biology to develop his social theories; for example, his notion that if government intervened in the economy to provide aid for the poor, public education, and so on, it would undermine the ability of individuals to develop adaptive traits, and thus would be a disservice to such individuals and their offspring. Kropotkin’s work on mutual aid was likely a response to these kinds of ideas.

Orlov describes Kropotkin’s further observations about the nature of animal social organization:

[A]nimal societies can be quite highly and intricately organized, but their organization is anarchic, lacking any deep hierarchy: there are no privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors or generals among any of the species that evolved on planet Earth with the exception of the gun-toting jackbooted baboon (whenever you see an animal wearing jackboots and carrying a rifle—run!)…

Some groups of animals do explicitly sort themselves out into an order, such as a pecking order among chickens or an eating order in a pride of lions, but these are sorting orders that do not create entire privileged classes or ranks or a chain of command.

Consequently, animal societies are egalitarian. Even the queen bee or the termite queen does not hold a position of command: she is simply the reproductive organ of the colony and neither gives orders nor follows anyone else’s.

 
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