Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Lesson in Mutual Aid

"The war of each against all is not the law of nature. Mutual aid is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle"
Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid

"She reckoned it was a young animal and possibly wanted to bring it up," Gilchrist said. "It is something to do with the canine-human bond." "Other dogs might have just left her there to die. ... She's obviously a very special dog," Gilchrist added. "She is a very street-wise dog, that is for sure. The other dogs in the compound did not look very well, but she is the fattest of them all — she obviously knows how to look after herself."

"The importance of the Mutual Aid factor -- "if its generality could only be demonstrated" -- did not escape the naturalist's genius so manifest in Goethe. When Eckermann told once to Goethe -- it was in 1827 -- that two little wren-fledglings, which had run away from him, were found by him next day in the nest of robin redbreasts (Rothkehlchen), which fed the little ones, together with their own youngsters, Goethe grew quite excited about this fact. He saw in it a confirmation of his pantheistic views, and said: -- "If it be true that this feeding of a stranger goes through all Nature as something having the character of a general law -- then many an enigma would be solved. "He returned to this matter on the next day, and most earnestly entreated Eckermann (who was, as is known, a zoologist) to make a special study of the subject, adding that he would surely come "to quite invaluable treasuries of results" (Gespräche, edition of 1848, vol. iii. pp. 219, 221). Unfortunately, this study was never made, although it is very possible that Brehm, who has accumulated in his works such rich materials relative to mutual aid among animals, might have been inspired by Goethe's remark. " Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin 1902

It's the feel good story of the day, of the week, of the month. It has gained world wide news coverage and resulted in the saving of both the dog and the baby. Both were abandoned, but thanks to the the natural instinct of soldiarity between species, which libertarian communists call Mutual Aid, a stray dog in Kenya saves a starving baby. It is not just a canine human bond, it is a bond between members of a speicies as well as an interspecies bond, which Peter Kropotkin shows in his ground breaking work on the sociology of evolution: Mutual Aid

This much overlooked work, which has won praise from such modern biologists as Stephen Jay Gould, immediately came to mind when I read this story about dog saves human.

Besides being a tale of morality that ellicits our sympathy and empathy, it is also a story about how the struggle of all against all, the survival of the fitist is not the morality of nature, but of capitalism as Kropotkin exposes in his work. He calls it a study of evolution and sociology, and it is a counter theory to the social Darwinism of the capitalist apologists such as Malthus and Spencer.

Kropotkin was not the originator of the idea of Mutual Aid, nor of its basic theory, he was its greatest defender and adaptor, but unfortunately like many Russian science theories it was not accepted in the West.

It still is not taught as an evolutionary theory or as part of the theories of evolution in schools or universities. You will probably come across references to Lamarck before you come across references to Mutual Aid.

"Consequently, when my attention was drawn, later on, to the relations between Darwinism and Sociology, I could agree with none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this important subject. They all endeavoured to prove that Man, owing to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all recognized at the same time that the struggle for the means of existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of every man against all other men, was "a law of Nature." This view, however, I could not accept, because I was persuaded that to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked confirmation from direct observation.

On the contrary, a lecture "On the Law of Mutual Aid," which was delivered at a Russian Congress of Naturalists, in January 1880, by the well-known zoologist, Professor Kessler, the then Dean of the St. Petersburg University, struck me as throwing a new light on the whole subject. Kessler's idea was, that besides the law of Mutual Struggle there is in Nature the law of Mutual Aid, which, for the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest. This suggestion -- which was, in reality, nothing but a further development of the ideas expressed by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man -- seemed to me so correct and of so great an importance, that since I became acquainted with it (in 1883) I began to collect materials for further developing the idea, which Kessler had only cursorily sketched in his lecture, but had not lived to develop. He died in 1881.

In one point only I could not entirely endorse Kessler's views. Kessler alluded to "parental feeling" and care for progeny (see below, Chapter I) as to the source of mutual inclinations in animals. However, to determine how far these two feelings have really been at work in the evolution of sociable instincts, and how far other instincts have been at work in the same direction, seems to me a quite distinct and a very wide question, which we hardly can discuss yet. It will be only after we have well established the facts of mutual aid in different classes of animals, and their importance for evolution, that we shall be able to study what belongs in the evolution of sociable feelings, to parental feelings, and what to sociability proper -- the latter having evidently its origin at the earliest stages of the evolution of the animal world, perhaps even at the "colony-stages." I consequently directed my chief attention to establishing first of all, the importance of the Mutual Aid factor of evolution, leaving to ulterior research the task of discovering the origin of the Mutual Aid instinct in Nature."
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin 1902

The tale of the dog and the baby in Kenya illustrates this point well. Kroptokin asserts that all species are social species, and that the individual is supported in their individuality through the socialism/social construction of the species. It is a radical idea, one that says evolution occurs through species cooperation not competition. And that such species Mutual Aid occurs also between species, including those such as herbavores and carnivores which may normally prey on each other.

And it applies to those species who are territorial in giving up territory to those who need it. It would be interesting to note how this may have occured recently in Indonesia where the Tsunami drove animals into the mountains not their usual territory.

Kropotkin contends Mutual Aid between species is evidence of social morality appearing in nature.

Moreover, it is evident that life in societies would be utterly impossible without a corresponding development of social feelings, and, especially, of a certain collective sense of justice growing to become a habit. If every individual were constantly abusing its personal advantages without the others interfering in favour of the wronged, no society -- life would be possible. And feelings of justice develop, more or less, with all gregarious animals. Whatever the distance from which the swallows or the cranes come, each one returns to the nest it has built or repaired last year. If a lazy sparrow intends appropriating the nest which a comrade is building, or even steals from it a few sprays of straw, the group interferes against the lazy comrade; and it is evident that without such interference being the rule, no nesting associations of birds could exist. Separate groups of penguins have separate resting-places and separate fishing abodes, and do not fight for them. The droves of cattle in Australia have particular spots to which each group repairs to rest, and from which it never deviates; and so on.(30*) We have any numbers of direct observations of the peace that prevails in the nesting associations of birds, the villages of the rodents, and the herds of grass-eaters; while, on the other side, we know of few sociable animals which so continually quarrel as the rats in our cellars do, or as the morses, which fight for the possession of a sunny place on the shore. Sociability thus puts a limit to physical struggle, and leaves room for the development of better moral feelings. The high development of parental love in all classes of animals, even with lions and tigers, is generally known. As to the young birds and mammals whom we continually see associating, sympathy -- not love -- attains a further development in their associations. Leaving aside the really touching facts of mutual attachment and compassion which have been recorded as regards domesticated animals and with animals kept in captivity, we have a number of well certified facts of compassion between wild animals at liberty. Max Perty and L. Büchner have given a number of such facts.(31*) J.C. Wood's narrative of a weasel which came to pick up and to carry away an injured comrade enjoys a well-merited popularity.(32*) So also the observation of Captain Stansbury on his journey to Utah which is quoted by Darwin; he saw a blind pelican which was fed, and well fed, by other pelicans upon fishes which had to be brought from a distance of thirty miles.(33*) And when a herd of vicunas was hotly pursued by hunters, H.A. Weddell saw more than once during his journey to Bolivia and Peru, the strong males covering the retreat of the herd and lagging behind in order to protect the retreat. As to facts of compassion with wounded comrades, they are continually mentioned by all field zoologists. Such facts are quite natural. Compassion is a necessary outcome of social life. But compassion also means a considerable advance in general intelligence and sensibility. It is the first step towards the development of higher moral sentiments. It is, in its turn, a powerful factor of further evolution.
Chapter 2 Mutual Aid Among Animals
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin 1902

Such is the case with our stray bitch in Kenya who rescues an abandoned baby to suckle with her pups. She went to great efforts to save a puppy of a different species. But as the story says she was also suckling two other stray puppies. Unfortunately only the baby survived. Such effort to drag a baby back to her nest, and to feed and protect it is beyond the so called maternal instinct, or even the domestication bond between humans and dogs. If ever there was a clear cut case of evidence for Mutal Aid this is it.

"When the dog picked up the baby in a dirty bag, it came and dropped her behind the wooden building where the dog has its puppies," Mwalimu told The Associated Press Monday.

The dog reportedly dragged the baby across a busy road and through some barbed wire to the shed in the poor Nairobi neighbourhood where puppies from two stray dogs were sheltering.

The infant was discovered after two children alerted elders that they heard the sound of a baby crying near their wooden and corrugated-iron shack. Residents found the baby lying next to the mixed-breed dog and a own pup.

Unwanted infants are often abandoned in Kenya, with poverty and failed relationships frequently to blame. Kenya's weak law enforcement and poor social security system mean most people who forsake their babies are never caught.

The stray dog that saved the child also was being cared for Tuesday, a day after its last surviving puppy died for unknown reasons, said Jean Gilchrist of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals.

Animal welfare officials named the dog Mkombozi, or "Saviour," and gave the dog its first bath and de-worming.

"She looks a bit depressed, so we'd like to examine her to see if she has a temperature or any other problem," Gilchrist said. "She wasn't happy when we all poured into the compound. She decided to leave, but kids in the compound brought her back for the bath because she was full of ticks."

Felix Omondi, an 11-year-old student with his dog now named Mkombozi (Saviour) in a compound on the outskirts of Nairobi, Tuesday, May 10, 2005, after She was treated and washed by medics from Kenya Society for the Protection and care for Animals. The nursing dog foraging for food retrieved an abandoned baby girl in a forest.

So much for the individualist ideology of Herbert Spencer, Ayn Rand and the egoists, that say its a dog eat dog world,that the individual only does what feels good for them. It is a fallacious theory, with little empirical evidence other than philosophical assurances that it is the way things are aka; "There is No Alternative", as Maggie Thatcher said.

Such is not anarchist morality, as Kropotkin takes pains to prove over an over again in Mutual Aid.
A stray dog in Kenya shows more anarchist morality than one will ever find in the pages of Reason magazine or the novels of Ayn Rand. Now that's irony.

Anarchist morality is the cooperative communalism of humans as social beings which allows us to express our individuality through Anarchist Communism.

"Communism is capable of assuming all forms of freedom or of oppression which other institutions are unable to do. It may produce a monastery where all implicitly obey the orders of their superior, and it may produce an absolutely free organisation, leaving his full freedom to the individual, existing only as long as the associates wish to remain together, imposing nothing on anybody, being anxious rather to defend, enlarge, extend in all directions the liberty of the individual. Communism may be authoritarian (in which case the community will soon decay) or it may be Anarchist. The State, on the contrary, cannot be this. It is authoritarian or it ceases to be the State.

Communism guarantees economic freedom better than any other form of association, because it can guarantee wellbeing, even luxury, in return for a few hours of work instead of a day's work. Now, to give ten or eleven hours of leisure per day out of the sixteen during which we lead a conscious life (sleeping eight hours), means to enlarge individual liberty to a point which for thousands of years has been one of the ideals of humanity.

This can be done today in a Communist society man can dispose of at least ten hours of leisure. This means emancipation from one of the heaviest burdens of slavery on man. It is an increase of liberty.

To recognise all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream. It becomes possible only after the first step has been taken: when man has his means of existence guaranteed and is not forced to sell his muscle and his brain to those who condescend to exploit him.

Lastly, to recognise a variety of occupations as the basis of all progress and to organise in such a way that man may be absolutely free during his leisure time, whilst he may also vary his work, a change for which his early education and instruction will have prepared him - this can easily be put in practice in a Communist society - this, again, means the emancipation of the individual, who will find doors open in every direction for his complete development.

As for the rest, all depends upon the ideas on which the community is founded. We know a religious community in which members who felt unhappy, and showed signs of this on their faces, used to be addressed by a "brother": "You are sad. Nevertheless, put on a happy look, otherwise you will afflict our brethren and sisters." And we know of communities of seven members, one of whom moved the nomination of four committees: gardening, ways and means, housekeeping, and exportation, with absolute rights for the chairman of each committee. There certainly existed communities founded or invaded by "criminals of authority" (a special type recommended to the attention of Mr. Lombrose) and quite a number of communities were founded by mad upholders of the absorption of the individual by society. But these men were not the product of Communism, but of Christianity (eminently authoritarian in its essence) and of Roman law, the State.

The fundamental idea of these men who hold that society cannot exist without police and judges, the idea of the State, is a permanent danger to all liberty, and not the fundamental idea of Communism - which consists in consuming and producing without calculating the exact share of each individual. This idea, on the contrary, is an idea of freedom, of emancipation."

Communism and Anarchy
by Peter Kropotkin

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

Too bad the Neocons aren't as decent, and should I say "humane" as this dog!