ON DARWIN’S 200TH ANNIVERSARY...?
EVOLUTION AND DEVELOPMENT...!
Though, Einstein once quipped: "God doesn’t play dice," Nature seems to coil onto itself. Its teleology resides in the relentless repetitions of beginning, growth, and senescence cycles. Nature’s purposelessness feeds into Life’s goallessness. The thick soup is engulfed in mystery. To beg the question: What then of Evolution? A good question whose time perhaps has yet to come to be confronted. While the evolution’s how is being deciphered, its what for, well, is still in the realm of the undecipherable. On the surface, Nature’s adventitious processes appear to end in its own intricate loops. Despite the preponderant systemic tendency toward order out of disorder -and which percolates through the chain of Life- the ascendant increasing complexity, from lower to higher forms, appear to be fortuitous? What to make of Nature processes’ tendency toward some sort of linear progression, called it, development, that is taking place beside and along evolution?
Do Nature’s processes extend to human social groups? Lamarckism and Social Darwinism, or the application of evolution to human social groups, assuming competition as the main driving engine for survival and prosperity. These ideas were not new comers to contemporary civilization, some of them had preceded even Darwin and Darwinism. Darwin viewed competition, among individuals and groups, if it’s responsible for anything, their cooperative and altruistic traits. Ethics aside, the contention that human social groups undergo, in their own right, similar processes to Nature’s crucible churning, was always a complex and value-ridden quest, still perhaps worth pondering. For instance, why and how some groups were capable of focusing their energies, just as individuals, on cooperation -and on the arduous climb of the civilizational ladder- while others, in the same vain, dissipated their energies on archaic and ultra-worldly pursuits? This also poses the question: If Nature has a built-in mechanisms through which it winnows its products, what it’s for human social groups? Do civilization and development act as Nature’s Occam’s razor? What, then, constitutes social development and how to be pursued?
This brings Evolution and development into focus. Juxtaposing the two terms together raises suspicions and is fraught with all kinds of perilous pitfalls. The etymology of the two terms makes them very much blood kins. Moreover, in actual fact, the two terms are related to each other in many ways, and constituted a broad binomial, though one appears natural than the other human-made, do work synergetically. Thus evolution, when viewed in human social groups, becomes the adaptation to change, through competition (Natural Selection), to Life’s endless mutations. That’s development! If Life’s adventitious evolution obeys Nature’s ironclad laws -the fit between life and its environment (ecology) the process by which Nature regulates its products- the strive among social groups must obey its own intrinsic ironclad laws too, of human making. Thus in parallel to Nature’s processes -which had worked their purposes blindly for a long time- until one of their byproducts was ushered into acquiring the rudimentary trappings of self-awareness. Humans, as the only conscious life, have also worked their way(s) slowly but persistently not only to become masters of their own destinies and captains to their ships, but also to assume the mantle of stewardship to Nature itself!
The path treaded by evolution was not always hunky-dory, rather was strewn with all kinds of oddities and corpses of its ‘victims’- the maladapted and misfits. So also the grinding process of the social change slogs along, as cruel sometimes as it may have been in Nature, with different speeds and forms, sometimes continuous and other times bouncing in leaps and bounds. While fossils record these Nature’s fits and starts, archeological artifacts, on the other hand, record the material culture of the many gone by generations’ strives.
Civilization, as supernature, at its most simple terms, is nothing else but the human-made means to cope with Nature’s apparent indifference. Its processes, while help social groups to survival and flourish, in their essence, are not much different from those still ruling the Natural World. Jared Diamond, in his book of 2005, entitled appropriately: COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fall or Succeed , has expounded on the reasons and causes of why some civilizations and societies went bust. He dealt with five collapsed societies: Greenland, Maya, Anasazi and Eastern Island. All of these had one thing in common: they, in one way or another, had mismanaged their natural resources. No matter what civilizational level a society is in, in order to survive and prosper, it’s to find the proper manner and sustainable balance between its needs and resources. Today, as civilization goes, the world is far from the early days of evolution when humans roamed the earth foraging on its bounties without restraints, yet humans still depend on those same bounties. Though, those early families had given way to clans, moieties, hamlets, villages and towns, as history rolled on to the 21st century’s present humongous megalopolises. No matter how sophisticated a civilization becomes, however, one thing still rules it supreme: its total dependence on Mother Nature. Whether for food, energy or raw materials; or even the water to drink and the air to breathe, humans so far have not found another source for such bounties outside of this Earth. Thus managing Nature and its resources for all and each society separately, has become, literally, a call for survival. The buzzword nowadays is SUSTAINABILITY, which is nothing more than the need for humans to properly manage their endowments in wise and careful manners.
Human social development has been and still is a complex phenomenon. The process’s crude outlines entails all society’s ability to muster its resources, regulate its activities, and channel its energies toward a preestablished goal or a set of objectives. To roll toward these ends, a society has to be conscious of its location in space and time, to reassess its own weaknesses and strengths. In other words, it has, first to take stock of its resources both natural and human; and second, to relate them to its present and future needs. One of the most critical factors in social development is POPULATION. The number of people a given locale, geography, can sustain. As life gets more sophisticated, complicated, population is becoming also more crucial, for development, more importantly than their mere numbers, is their quality! How well a group of people are prepared to face their environment still makes all the difference between a stagnated unruly bunch and a vibrant society. Reproduction, population’s replenishment, remains the beginning and the end of all human activities.
From time to time some Libyans write about development, treating the topic gingerly and in a salutary manner, as if it’s a happenstance event than a well-thought about and well-planned social affirmation. Thus development is taken as synonymous for modernization, mostly of the political system so as to improve its performance to deliver better social services and goods, etc. The process, as it’s described, comes close to a linear progression with limited variables that are simple enough to depend mostly on the will of the decision-makers. In other words, development is a matter for the political leadership to deal with. Such a premise isn’t far from the usual half-cooked opinions, however, when combined with other assumptions would reveal a pattern of dominant attitudes, taken together, if not completely erroneous, are not very helpful either to a meaningful social transformation. For instance, one of the outrageous and false premises assumes the country to be one of the few lucky and highly endowed lands -God’s bounty!- with both human fortitude and natural resources.
Not only locating the whole onus of development mainly in the political arena, though a crucial, and indeed without it nothing important can happen, yet political whims alone wouldn’t come close to exhaust all the factors that enter into development. If developments’ essence resides in the way individuals and society face their problems then their culture and attitude must be also of primacy importance. If people are expected to readily adopt and adapt to change and its demands then their mental attitudes must be affected to accept innovation. One of the philosophers, in dealing with the question of technology had used a telling example in discussing how mental baggage defer in approaching a set of conditions. He posited an interesting enigma! If the population of an Asian country -I believe was Bhutan or Nepal or Burma (?)- was exchanged with that of Great Britain, the argument went the British would have coped with the new circumstances and would have found solutions to the problems posed by this new environment, while the Asians presumably would have screwed up an already well-built country of the Brits!
Such a contention imposes a much stricter scrutiny to the claims of a country such as Libya, when pretends to ‘modernize,’ keeping the social-cultural fabric intact while in the same time looking for a new order. Marching forward, looking backward! In a spot like Libya, made out mostly of desert, where even water, the most basic commodity conducive to life, is as scarce as green in its landscape, the population’s attitudes and quality become crucial to how far they can go in coping with an inhospitable landscape. For, without ingenuity and creativity no amount of oil or even hardwork would turn the desert to bloom. If such blase’ attitudes still persist, it’s only because of the ominous curse of oil. It has already done great social and mental damages in inflating Libyans’ egos and installing false hopes. The bogus hypnosis of oil caused the population to assume that oil’s eventful happenstance would be enough substitute for all other natural resources.
Libya, perhaps, from the beginning of its ‘settlement’ until mid-20th century (1954 census, the first after independence, came less than a million and quarter) no more than a million souls roamed its deserts, surviving at the margins of civilization, barely scraping a subsistence existence. The scarcity and sparsity of people and resources were responsible for the scant material culture of the groups which inhabited the place. There’s very little evidence to the existence of highly refined remains of any material culture to speak of, such as cities, architecture, monuments, artifacts, etc. The abject landscape hadn’t afforded any accumulation to mention beyond subsistence levels of existence.
If development is made up of people + resources then both must be garnered toward such a goal. No society had reached the take-off stage, the phase necessary for economic and otherwise development to occur, without some good amounts of accumulated investments and of due sacrifices. These sacrifices touch on both tangibles and intangibles from cultural renewal upheavals to economic hardships. Belt tightening amid cultural turmoil. The neutralizing of the old must be accompanied by the mustering of the investments needed to replace it: the improvement of human qualities- less numbers and better educated people- and to building the general infrastructures and production facilities. The critical factor here is such steps cannot be achieved without containing the consumption. That’s, consumption must be less than the resources available. Hence, the number of people must be correlated with the actual resources available, both natural and man-made. Thus, the question: What are the limits to the number of people a country can support?
Back in the mid-eighteenth century, 1751, Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc., had pointed out how habits and customs play minor roles in population growth when compared to the means of subsistence. Thus, he argued: "There is...no Bound to the prolific Nature of Plants and Animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other’s Means of Subsistence." Franklin had noted early on how critical the importance of reproduction on the country’s future. Population and its growth affect all social aspects from budgets, hospitals and schools, to job distribution and wage rates, etc.
Franklin had influenced a slew of other thinkers on the subject. For example Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson and Richard Prices, just to mention a few. Another controversial figure, whose thoughts on the subject are still with us, was the Anglican minister, Thomas Robert Malthus. In an Essay on the Principles of Population , (1802), he agreed with Franklin by using the same above-mentioned quote to bolster his stand on the subject. He was also the one who advanced, what is known as the pessimistic view, that states: Population always increases faster than the means of subsistence. Or as he put it, population increases geometrically while the means of subsistence increase only arithmetically.
Can Libya support, with decent living standards, its present population load of six million and counting? The answer has already been given, in part, by its history. For all the recorded time Libya had no more than one to two million people! Its population explosion is of recent advent, most of it took place after the oil discovery. The recent changes in economic fortunes have made it possible for the population to increase dramatically. The manna, from the sands (oil), coupled with an imported technoloy and know-how have skewed the natural balance curve by further exasperated its impact. Now that this manna is fast approaching its peak, what will happen when it starts dwindling? The critical question: If oil is a passing event, in the overall scheme of nature’s bounties, how, then, is Libya going to cope with what it already has and what is in the coming? If the past and present are any indications, most probably its coping mechanisms will be no more than its miserable present and no less than its bleakly future.
If Libya doesn’t plan wisely, its future will not be different from the today’s crowded hot spots of the so-called failed post-colonial states. The turmoils wracking havoc in spots where population and resources went out of wack: Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel states, etc... Too many people competing for very limited resources. All of these spots are testimony to the dangers awaiting for those others who will not heed Nature’s call: balancing population and resources. Libya has already exceeded its historical population capacity by far, if it’s still going, it’ because of OIL. Soon more people will be jockeying for the dry sands, chaos and anarchy will finally reach the Mediterranean shores
The global community in general and each country on its own has to take matters of resource depletion seriously. The present rate of resources depletion has superceded by far Nature’s capacity for replenishing them. This can be attacked on two fronts: reduction of both consumers and consumption. Population growth rates, particularly in 3-World countries, are beyond their economic rate of growth which will only exacerbate further the delicate balance between humans and their resources. Thus, one of two scenarios will ensue: either further continuous progressive impoverishment or start planning to reduce their footprints on the ground. This brings us back to Libya, unless it plans to remain for the foreseeable future filling the ranks of 3-world, with all its horrible misery, is bound to think again its present population policy. For its present population seems to exceed its capacity to service them adequately, by offering them decent education, health, care, etc. up to contemporary standards. What is to be done? Thinking and planning for tomorrow today. Libya must adopt some family planning measures to reduce its present population -and preclude further increase- to a perhaps half the present load in the next 50 years or so. Reducing population growth rate is a necessary but not sufficient measure. Concomitantly to this, other programs must be installed in place, as decrease in consumption, increase in savings’ rate, but most importantly the overhaul of the education system to be geared to its economy. Libya must come out with a tailored population and an economy adequate for the 21st century. For the ultimate goal must be not only to work better and harder but above all to bring its population to an earthly satisfaction and thus happiness! Etc. etc...