The Inclusive Society: Switching from Selfish Competition to Mutually-Beneficial Cooperation

It is widely believed that the number of jobs is limited, and therefore when some people succeed by acquiring well-paying jobs, or any kind of job, this inevitably means that others will necessarily fail. This belief seems to be confirmed when those who live in a capitalist society look around them or read or watch the news, where they often hear about mass layoffs, job losses, and business failures. And yet, the fact of the matter is that, over time in all economically successful countries, as the population has gradually increased, so too has the total number of jobs, including well-paying jobs. In other words, there is no limit to the number of jobs that can exist in a society, country, or the entire world. Granted, this increase is not always sufficient to provide enough work for all those who want and need to work, meaning that there is a disparity between the number of people who want to work and the number of well-paying jobs that are available, and neither does it necessarily provide well or even adequately remunerated jobs that allow people to obtain the things they need to keep both body and spirit together, while living a meaningful, satisfying, and dignified life.

Born in 1820 into a lower-middle-class Nonconformist English family in Derby, [Herbert] Spencer had a lifelong hatred of state power. In his early years he was on the staff of the Economist, a weekly periodical that was fanatically pro-laissez-faire. […] It was Spencer, and not Darwin, who actually coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest,’ and Spencer quickly saw how Darwinism might be applied to human societies. His views on this were uncompromising. Regarding the poor, for example, he was against all state aid. They were unfit, he said, and should be eliminated: ‘The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.’[1]

Although there are few people today who would espouse such extremist views about the poor, at least not openly, as the founder of the theory known as Social Darwinism did, there are nevertheless many people who concur with Spencer in believing that the poor and other less fortunate members of society should neither be helped nor be given money by the state or government. Like Ebenezer Scrooge before his Dickensian transformation, they callously declare, “Bah, let the poor starve and thereby rid the world of their useless and parasitic existence.” But these ignorant people make the mistake of assuming, from a person’s present condition and limitations, that that is all one is capable of doing.[2] In doing so, they have completely overlooked the effect of inhibition in limiting the things that all people are capable of doing. To a person who has grown up hearing other people speak only one language, all the other languages that are spoken in the world become difficult or impossible to learn. But this does not mean that the person was never capable of learning all those other languages. In the present day, examples of non-native language acquisition, such as indigenous people who learn Spanish in Latin America, ethnic Japanese who learn Portuguese in Brazil, and native Africans who learn French, are far too numerous for anyone to maintain such a naively mistaken belief. Another common example, which is found all over the world, is that immigrant children, whose parents aren’t able to achieve fluency in the language of their new country, because the children are exposed to it from a young age, can speak it fluently without an accent, that is, in the manner in which it is spoken by the other people in their new country, who were born and grew up there.

But what is true of language acquisition is true of all other human abilities, for language is only one of the many different things that human beings are capable of doing – provided, of course, that one has the opportunity to observe others performing the skill or behaviour, preferably from a young age. In other words, the assumption of innate or genetically-determined abilities and limitations, which is the shibboleth on which the philosophy of Social Darwinism is based, is completely false.

In order to make the switch from ruthless competition to mutually-beneficial cooperation, we must first recognize the falsehood of the widespread belief that allowing, encouraging, and imposing competition among or on people, whether they are individuals, workers, employers, companies, or those who live in different countries, will produce the best result, whether socially or economically, for there are many instances where this is very far from being true. In addition, we need to recognize the harmful effects of contempt in reducing the opportunities that are available to a generally scorned group of people, such as blacks, women, immigrants, the poor, lower-caste persons, and religious or linguistic minorities. Moreover, it is also important to recognize that the winner-take-all model, which has become increasingly prevalent, whether in sporting events and competitions, lotteries, game shows, political campaigns, legal cases, tests and examinations, award ceremonies, and other artificial human constructions, where we see one individual or group take the grand prize, while all the other competitors are left with nothing but their frustration and their thwarted desire to succeed, is a completely artificial model that has little or nothing to do with existence outside of these artificial constructions.[3] In the real world outside of human culture, which often creates its own very peculiar reality and rules of behaviour, there are many species, groups, and individuals that are able to succeed and survive, while producing offspring to perpetuate their kind.

For example, it is not the case that only one wolf pack or ant colony dominates an entire region and collects, catches, and devours all the available food. Instead, there exist many wolf packs or ant colonies, just as, in any region or ecosystem, there exist many different species that are able to coexist in harmonious balance. Later we will see that Darwin’s belief in the primordiality of competition in Nature is wrong, for Nature is far more generous than we human beings conceive it to be, by allowing and encouraging a tremendously wide variety of different life forms to exist at any given time.

But Nature is only able to produce this extraordinary variety by limiting what each individual organism, group, or species takes from its environment and from other species in order to exist and procreate. Unlike selfish human beings, there is no other species of organisms that takes far more than it needs, while depriving other living creatures of the sustenance they require to survive. Although there are some species, such as bees and squirrels, whose members do gather and accumulate food in order to survive the long winter, they do not do so excessively, by collecting ten, a hundred, a thousand, or even a million times more food than they need to survive. It is only we so-called superior, enlightened, and rational human beings that engage in this kind of selfish and idiotic behaviour, where a few members have far more than they need, while there are many other human creatures who do not have enough.

There are probably some readers who will object that some creatures, notably whales, consume a great deal more than smaller creatures, such as shrimp. Hence, since such massive creatures exist in Nature, it is entirely in accordance with the natural world that there should exist, in the human world, individuals who consume, or own, in our case, as much as a whale does. But this analogy is mistaken, for no human being is as large as a whale, and therefore no human being needs to consume as much as a whale does. For a whale cannot survive without consuming the vast quantities of food that it does, which is clearly not true of any human being. To give another example, although some trees grow large and tall, thereby depriving other plants of the sunlight they need to grow, there is no tree that collects and absorbs thousands or millions times more sunlight than any other mature tree of its kind. Clearly, if any organism, whether plant or animal, consumed or collected far more than it requires of food, sunlight, water, or some other resource which it needs to grow and reproduce itself, then it would greatly impoverish the total biotic mass, variety, and abundance in the area where it exists, as we humans have done wherever we have established ourselves and proceeded to allow our completely artificial, and therefore unnecessary, human desires to multiply unchecked. The basic rule in Nature is that, apart from humans, every species, and every individual organism, only takes from the natural environment and from other living species what it needs in order to grow and reproduce itself. There is a strict economy and generosity in Nature that we hyper-selfish humans are very far from respecting, as our ancestors formerly did, but which we modern humans have completely lost, as we have become more and more “civilized,” and consequently more and more depraved, while we have become increasingly separated and alienated from Nature.

Provided that human beings have the sense, which we haven’t demonstrated until now, to limit and reduce our numbers voluntarily, there is more than enough money and wealth in the world to provide a comfortable existence for everyone who is alive. The chief obstacle to achieving this desired result is that a great deal of money is not used in the way that it could be used, by helping others rather than merely indulging their owners’ artificial and immoderate desires. Instead, the prevailing capitalist models of behaviour dictate that one should keep whatever one earns and search for new ways to spend that money on oneself, even if one already has everything one needs to live a happy and contented life, or that one should speculate in the attempt to make one’s hoard of money grow even larger, just like a dragon that sits protectively on its hoard of useless gold and jewels, while it breathes fire on anyone who tries to take a tiny part of it, even though the dragon does not need these riches and makes no practical use of them.

So what needs to be done to alleviate poverty and hunger, while providing all people everywhere with the assistance and opportunities they need in order to improve their lives? As the title of the essay suggests, what those of us who are successful need to do is to include people in our daily lives and activities, such as in places of work and education, in particular those who are ignored, excluded, and marginalized. For when these people are included rather than excluded, as is so often the case presently, many of them will become valued, contributing members of society, rather than remaining as non-contributing dependents or indigent itinerants who are scorned by society’s more successful and fortunate members. Of course, these kinds of transformations take time and require patience, just as the acquisition of a foreign language also takes time and patience on the part of the instructor. Moreover, some people will not be able to make the transition successfully. But the experience of human history has been that, provided people are given the opportunity to observe a norm from an early age, along with its many different and occasionally complex models of behaviour, the great majority of them are able to acquire these skills and become contributing members of the society in which they live. And the common belief in the innate intellectual inferiority of certain groups of people, such as scientific studies that purportedly establish the innate intellectual inferiority of black people, are plain and simply wrong; for these statements about people’s ability to learn skills, perform occupations, and integrate themselves into mainstream society apply to all human beings, without exception.[4]

[1] The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century by Peter Watson, chapter 3. HarperCollins, 2001.

[2] Here, the analogy with biological evolution is highly misleading and inaccurate, since the vast majority of organisms cannot adapt their behaviours to changing conditions and challenges in the way that humans can through learning, which permits the sort of progressive, single-generational, and more rapid change via acquired abilities that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck posited – erroneously – as the primary mechanism of evolutionary change.

[3] The dominance of this artificial model has other important results. First, it leads those who have frequently observed it to scorn losers, whether in these contests and competitions or in other areas of life, and thus contributes to determining the standards of social and economic success. Second, it leads the losers and less fortunate meekly to accept their status or situation because they too have internalized the supposedly inviolable nature of the winner-take-all model, and therefore they do not question it, along with the assumption of the primordiality of competition in both the natural and human world.

[4] Of course, there is a very small portion of all societies whose members have difficulty learning, including learning to speak their native language, to whom this statement does not apply. These individuals, who have mistakenly been called “mentally deficient” or “retarded,” are simply not capable of imitating others, as most humans can.