At one point in The Power of Partnership, Riane Eisler echoes Peter Kropotkin. She writes,
People will tell you that talking about caring and empathic relations is all well and good, but totally unrealistic. Isn’t evolution about the survival of the fittest — about ruthless competition and strife? Isn’t this our evolutionary heritage from which there is no escape? . . . A simple response is that survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the meanest.
Kropotkin wrote of Darwin’s Descent of Man at length in Mutual Aid,
[Charles Darwin] pointed out how in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by co-operation, and how that substitution results in the development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to the species the best conditions for survival. He intimated that in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community. [emphasis in original]
But in our present society, at least in ways indistinguishable from the turn of the twentieth century when Kropotkin wrote that book,
They came to conceive the animal world as a world of perpetual struggle among half-starved individuals, thirsting for one another’s blood. They made modern literature resound with the war-cry of woe to the vanquished as if it were the last word of modern biology. They raised the “pitiless” struggle for personal advantages to the height of a biological principle which man must submit to as well, under the menace of otherwise succumbing in a world based upon mutual extermination.
And Kropotkin perhaps sums the argument best when he asks, “Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?” (And he devotes the remainder of the book to an exposition of how animals and humans have lived in cooperation, with the latter even in Europe into the second millenium.)
Eisler goes on to describe how dominator relations are part of our socialization and she praises the parents who seek to escape this pattern. But I remember in the public speaking classes I taught, that when the subject of corporal punishment arose, many of my students considered it essential; it was beyond their conception that it could be possible to raise children without it.
In The Real Wealth of Nations, Eisler writes,
The belief that human beings are essentially evil and selfish–and hence the necessity for their strict control through hierarchies of domination–is a cornerstone of dominator mythology. It’s embedded in religious ideas of “original sin” and sociobiological theories about “selfish genes.”
This view of human nature is integral to popular free market capitalist theories, which are based on the premise that if each person acts only in their own selfish interest the result will be an economic system that benefits all. Of course nobody would think of telling a child that if we’re all selfish everything will turn out fine. [emphasis added]
And indeed in The Chalice and the Blade, Eisler described how humans in fact lived much more cooperatively until about 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. And she describes how far off that path we’ve strayed, particularly in The Real Wealth of Nations, where caring is devalued even at the cost of profitability.
Eisler and Kropotkin agree that humans are not naturally selfish, that we can live cooperatively. Somewhere, and I now fail to find the passage where she writes it, Eisler writes of a belief that there are no evil people, only those who have become enmeshed in an exploitive economic system and who see no other way of ordering our society.
I will accept that people are not born evil. But there is too much selfishness in a widening of the gap between rich and poor that makes no sense now even for the short term, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains:
Given how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed, it’s hard to see where we get sufficient demand to support a vigorous recovery. Outlays from the federal stimulus have already passed their peak, and the Federal Reserve won’t keep interest rates near zero for very long. Although consumers are beginning to come out of their holes, it will be many years before they can return to their pre-recession levels of spending. Most households rely on two wage earners, of whom at least one is now likely to be unemployed, underemployed or in danger of losing a job. And even households whose incomes have returned are likely to be residing in houses whose values haven’t—which means they can’t turn their homes into cash machines as they did before the recession.
“According to the United Nations Gini Coefficient, which measures the national distribution of family income, the US had the highest level of inequality of the highly industrialized countries, based on the data available in 2008. It was ranked slightly more unequal than Sri Lanka, and on a par with Ghana and Turkmenistan. (1)
In the 70s, US economic global supremacy was waning, in large part, due to increasing competition from Europe and Japan as they recovered from the devastation of World War II. This made the “opulent minority” rethink the New Deal-bone they’d tossed to the majority of Americans, and they brought in Ronald Reagan to put in force a Raw Deal that began a cascade of deregulation, privatization and consolidation that put America back astride the global economy by putting America’s wealth gap on the way back to the Gilded Age. Today the “opulent minority” appropriates everything it can get its hands on – “legally” – while the middle class holds on by its fingernails and the rest of us go over an economic Niagara Falls without a barrel into “Third” World-style poverty. Government is no longer the referee that promotes the general welfare. Government is the facilitator for the “opulent minority,” ensuring that they can extract every last penny from the people they impoverish.
Since 1980, the richest Americans have seen their incomes quadruple, while for the “lowest” 90% of us, incomes fell. The average wage is lower today than it was in the 1970s, while productivity has risen almost 50%. (2) In 1983 middle class debt held at 67% of income. In 2007, middle class debt had gone over the falls to 157% of income. (3) In 1950 the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s was about 30 to 1. Since 2000 that average has ranged from 300 to 500 to one. (4)
“As of late 2009, the number of billionaires soared from 793 to 1,011, and their total fortunes from $2.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion. …Despite the crisis, the list of billionaires has grown by 200 people and their aggregate capital has expanded by 50%. This may seem paradoxical but only at first glance. This result was predictable, if we recall how governments all over the world have dealt with the economic crisis.” (5)
This is the result of a deliberate strategy, one Washington has executed many, many times, though usually in “Third” World nations, by using “Free” Trade Agreements (FTAs) and its front groups, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Purchased politicians plunge their countries into unsustainable debt. Under Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), national industries are sold to transnational corporations and privatized. Social programs are cut to the bone or eliminated altogether. Interest rates are ratcheted up and the economy collapses on itself like the World Trade Center while banks and corporate buzzards fight each other to pick the carcass clean.
Indeed, David DeGraw quotes Noam Chomsky as saying, “The war against working people should be understood to be a real war…. Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class…. And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.”
The rape and pillage of society and of the environment that Eisler describes in The Real Wealth of Nations and that we see in the sheer callousness in the increasing gap between rich and poor and toward the unemployed even under present economic conditions remove any doubt about the goodness–or lack thereof–in the elite in this country. They who accept as collateral damage the toll of unemployment and poverty deserve a special place where their dominator religions consign sinners, the sooner the better, and preferably in this life and in full public view.