May 4, 2012

Social Constructs and The Natural Order: Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems

This is the second in a series of planned philosophical essays and therefore will not make sense if you have not read the first one.

Social Constructs and The Natural Order

Table of Contents
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems
Part 3: Free Will, Choice, and Self Determinism Within Social Constructs
Part 4: The Role of Science and Religion
Part 5: Social Constructions Involving Race, Ethnicity and Culture
Part 6: Social Constructions Involving Gender and Sexuality
Part 7: Thoughts on Creating more Ethical Systems

The Evolution and Survival of Systems
As the flight begins, all is well. Our would-be airman has been pushed off the edge of the cliff and is peddling away, and the wings of his craft are flapping like crazy. He's feeling wonderful, ecstatic. He's experiencing the freedom of the air. What he doesn't realize, however, is that this craft is aerodynamically incapable of flight. It simply isn't in compliance with the laws that make flight possible - but he woud laugh if you told him this. He's never heard of such laws, knows nothing about them. He would point at those flapping wings and say, 'See? just like a bird!' Nevertheless, whatever he thinks, he's not in flight. He's an unsupported objected falling toward the center of the earth.
-Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Soul by Daniel Quinn

The story of an aviator who, after being pushed off a cliff while believing that he was in flight, provides a wonderful illustration for what I want to talk about with this article. But let's backup a little first.

To begin with, it was evolution that gave forth to rational consciousness and rational consciousness that gave forth to social constructs, which require the faith of rationally conscious beings in order to exist. These social constructs would of course have originally been designed by our rational consciousness in order to help us survive.

Now for the obvious conclusion, that social constructs should follow similar rules in terms of how they would survive and perpetuate themselves. It should also be equally obvious that there would be some significant differences as well. For example, the method by which social constructs are able to perpetuate themselves - propaganda, language, indirect persuasions, and way to many others to list here - are radically different from those of biological organisms, which rely primarily upon the transfer of genetic material from one generation to the next in order to perpetuate and survive.

However, that is where the differences end and the similarities begin. The most basic rule of biological evolution - that biological systems/organisms change over time and that those organisms which take on traits that give them a better chance of survival - relative to the other biological systems that they are competing with - will be most able to pass on their biologogical traits.

This too applies to social constructs. Social constructs wil compete with each other for believers, as well as natural resources, which means that social constructs will inevitably follow the same principles as biological organisms. That is, social constructs which take on characteristics that will best enable them to survive - relative to the social constructs they are directly competing with - will have a better chance of "surviving" and perpetuating themselves onto future generations.

While this may seem tautologically obvious, there is a key catchet that is often overlooked, namely that in evolution, negative characteristics or traits that do not help the organism/system to survive, can still be sustained, provided they do not cause the extinction of said organism or system.

Furthermore, social constructs can take on traits that may allow those social constructs to survive in the stort term while having others that guarantee extinction in the long term. It is possible for sustainable social constructs to be created that have traits that have negative effects, for both the constructs and those who believe in them.

This all leads me to the point I want to end on. Much like the doomed aviator in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, it is possible for us to construct the means of our own doom. Our faith that certain social constructs are necessary for our survival will not save us if we are wrong.

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