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Excerpt from The Myth of Human Supremacy

Gifts (p. 100)

From chapter "Value-Free Science "

All give. From each according to its gifts, and the needs of the community. To each according to its needs and the needs of the community. These gifts can include for the very young of some species, their lives are their only gift, as among tadpoles or many others, the overwhelming majority of them give gifts of their lives in the form of food not long after they are born.

Can you imagine a model of ecological sustainability like this? And can you see where I’m going with it? Even Richard Dawkins states in The Selfish Gene that a community of givers (or to use his term “suckers”) would be ecologically stable, so long as it encountered no “cheats,” whose presence would destabilize and then destroy the formerly stable community. In fact, a community of all “suckers” would be the richest and most fecund, as all would receive the most benefit.

Humans are in this gift economy, too. They give just as everyone else does. From each according to its gifts, and the needs of the community. To each according to its needs, and the needs of the community. Humans are completely integrated into the community. This was, for example, how the Tolowa lived where I live now. When humans are integrated they all, as Dawkins says in his example, “do quite nicely.” And indeed, the word “sucker” does seem inappropriate.

Now, what does Dawkins’s model state happens when cheats move into a previously stable community where givers live, to a forest, to a bay, to a grassland? Because these cheat are “getting all the benefits” and “paying nothing back”—and does this sound like the behavior of anyone we know?—they will deplete the “suckers” (the givers) until there is nothing left.

As we see.

The cheats will prosper at the expense of the givers, and eventually the cheats will so destroy the givers that they will destroy their own ability to cheat, and thereby wipe out themselves as well.

As we see.

Here’s the thing: Dawkins has perfectly described what this culture of cheats is doing to the planet. If a primary argument for selfishness is that a world filled with givers would collapse when a cheat arrived, and the dominant culture is clearly a cheat who has arrived and is causing the world to collapse, wouldn’t that in fact be an argument that prior to the arrival of the cheat the world just might have been full of givers?

And how did he think there got to be so many salmon in the first place, so many fecund forests, rich grasslands, vibrant marshes, rivers and oceans full of fish? Where did these come from? They came from the members of these forests, grasslands, marshes, rivers, oceans living and dying and making their homes better places by their lives and deaths. By all this giving.

And now the world is doing what his model predicts. What else does he think is happening, as salmon populations collapse, as do those of migratory songbirds, and as the oceans die?

Why doesn’t everybody see this? I guess the answer might be that any culture that would kill the planet would use any means necessary, including, of course, philosophy, to avoid perceiving the consequences of its actions, and to ignore even the most straightforward logic.

As we see.

* * *

Please note in addition to all of this that even according to the model used by Dawkins, the “cheats” need not be more intelligent nor in any other way superior to the “suckers” in order to effectively drive both of them to extinction. The “cheats” do so merely by cheating.

I’ll be explicit: the fact that members of this culture have through cheating gained a competitive advantage over other humans and nonhuman beings in no way implies any form of greater intelligence or any other form of superiority. It implies what it is: cheating gains a competitive advantage at the cost of future extinction of those from whom the cheater is taking, and then also the cheater himself.

* * *

How you perceive the world affects how you behave in and toward the world. If you perceive competition as the world’s guiding principle, compete you will; if you perceive the world as being full of ruthless competitors you must overcome and exploit, you will do your part to ruthlessly overcome and exploit them. If, on the other hand, you perceive the world’s guiding principle to be that of giving to the larger biotic community, you will give to the larger biotic community; if you perceive the world as being full of others who give to make it stronger, healthier, more alive, then you will do your part to make it so.