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dshanin's picture

Surplus...not skyhooks?

Frequently in class, Dennett’s analyses of evolution have been expanded to include human societal constructs such as history and culture. While some are valid comparisons I worry that we have lost sight of the basis of evolution. To return to our favorite cranes vs. skyhooks metaphor the crane of evolution is built stepwise upon algorithmic randomness. Society however is not built upon randomness but rather ambition. Until the advent of human society no organism had sought to achieve or possess more than was required to ensure its successful reproduction. Human society however is based on the idea of a surplus, an accumulation of possessions in excess of what could possibly be used for personal consumption. This initially happened during the agrarian revolution when human farmers were able to cultivate their land to a level of productivity that allowed for permanent settlement and gave the most successful farmers more food than they could possibly use. Were society to follow evolution’s model these overly successful farmers would possess no advantage over those who simply met the needs of their family but this was clearly not the case. Instead the super-successful farmers were able to step away from their daily toils in the field. Producing more food than needed for basic survival allowed for the creation of a second class of people who had responsibly other than food production. This early class of teachers, healers and rulers gave rise to society as we know it.

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