Survival of the Foulest
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species gave the world “survival of the fittest,” which we automatically take to mean competition. Yet in The Descent of Man, he wrote, “a tribe... always ready to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes.” The cover story of Scientific American (July 2012), is about cooperation as an evolutionary advantage: Why We Help: The Evolution of Cooperation.
Worker bees sacrifice themselves for the good of the swarm, wolves hunt in packs, lions cubs are nursed by any handy female [see photo]. But the greatest cooperator is humano sapiens, “a slow defenseless ape,” who became the planet’s dominant species.
Yet there needs to be a balance between cooperation and competition. Colin Turnbull’s The Mountain People, describes a society destroyed because they lost the ability to cooperate. The Ik had been African hunters until forced into a farming way of life where traits that had served them—stealth, tenacity, concentration on the kill, deteriorated into everyone against everyone.
According to Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, something similar is happening in American society. Their startling book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, examines out-of-control competition now engulfing our democracy. They blame it on a blindly competitive offshoot of the Republican party that has made “partisan polarization the central and most problematic feature of contemporary American politics.”
“Dysfunction driven by tribalism,” puts “party-fealty ahead of problem-solving,” with a core strategy “to so intensify public hatred of Congress that voters would buy into the notion of the need for sweeping change and throw the majority bums out.”
Inciting public hatred of Congress with “overheated, hyperbolic rhetoric to poke and agitate Democratic leaders,” is done to goad Democrats into responding in kind, degrading the image of the entire Congress in the assumption disgusted voters will vote against Democrats.
When it began broadcasting speeches in Congress, C-SPAN was not permitted to show anything but the speaker, so diatribes uttered in an empty house made it seem as though the speaker was “addressing the Democracts in the chamber, and the lack of response made it appear as if those in the audience either accepted the charges of were unwilling or unable to counter them.”
A memo to Republicans instructed them to use specific words when referring to Democrats: betray, bizarre, decay, anti-flag, anti-family, pathetic, lie, cheat, radical, sick, traitors, and more” Use of deception, exaggeration, fakery, and outright lies has so far worked. A 52-seat house Republican gain in 1994, and a 60-seat gain in 2008, turned this strategy into policy.
If putting party dominance over the common good, prevails in 2012, the nature of American democracy will degrade even further, and in ways no one can predict or imagine.