The Atomistic Ant

July 19, 2010

Was there ever an ant that was self-sufficient? I guess this is just part of the subset of objections to evolutionary theory that talk about interdependent parts. They say the eye is too complicated to have been evolved, because it has too many parts that depend on each other to function. I don’t know if anyone has come up with a theory about how eyes work or could have been evolved.

Anyway, ant production. We know that specialization, trade, and cooperation allow a higher level of production. How many ants would it take to be self-sufficient? Not one. Not 10. Maybe not 100? It seems like 1,000 ants could be self-sufficient. But that’s just a guess. So the puzzle for me is, how did ants learn to work together? And was there a first ant or group of ants, who could have produced for themselves but worked together so that they could live in luxury for a few generations? How did their offspring become so weak that they could no longer survive independently of each other? Alternatively, are modern ants just the same as ancient ants, but there used to be a lot more ant food around, and using it efficiently wasn’t so necessary? Sure, an individual ant couldn’t survive today, but if you put him in a room with a big pile of protein and sugar, he might be up to the task. Or maybe not.

It seems obvious enough that the current human population of the earth couldn’t be supported without team production. Does that fact alone imply anything about distributive justice? Marxists seem to think it does. But I’m not sure what.

Evolve this!


2 Responses to “The Atomistic Ant”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    You should learn to google better.

    Also, offhand, I like it when I can trace your thought to a particular conversation or facebook post.

    I think the main point of Zach’s Marx selection was this: He asserts that social structure is forward-moving and evolutionary as opposed to static and preordained. He believes that this undermines natural law and historical critiques of Marxism (or for capitalism); since the world is progressive, why should we not engineer a better world? On this point, he’s probably quite correct, though I don’t think the natural law and historical critiques he’s responding to are particularly strong. For me, the strongest critiques are skeptical ones – how, exactly, are we to engineer this bright new future, and what happens if we screw it up?

    But the point you raise, which I think was at best ancillary to the quote, is also interesting: If we envision human beings as essentially social animals, who evolved to depend on one another for survival, it does seem to suggest a different set of “natural” obligations to one another than if we were truly self-sufficient. I think the Marxists would jump from a “don’t interfere with me” ethical principle to one that imposes active duties to take care of one another and help each other. Which is well and good if capitalism is actually founded on principles of “leave me alone.”

    But it’s not. In fact, the capitalist model of human social interaction is at least as robust as the Marxist one. Rather than ants banded together with some unified consciousness, the chaos of individuals pursuing individual goals through voluntary cooperation and trade resolves into its own sense of order. So “an airplane is complicated” doesn’t really score points on capitalism proper, though it certainly works against shallower thinkers of the “get off my land” school.

    You don’t have to watch the whole thing, though you won’t be disappointed if you do.

  2. Man, Wikipedia’s got it all.

    I probably need to study political and moral philosophy more. I’m thinking of making several statements about where I stand on these issues, but I’m not confident that they make any sense, so I’d like to be able to tie them into some respected tradition. My best guess is that my moral philosophy is “Humean Intuitionist.”

    One general point I’d make and that I make a lot is that I’m very skeptical of the usefulness of derivations of morality. At any rate, I don’t think I’d make an argument like “God exists, therefore natural law exists, therefore we should obey the following rules…”

    BUT! That doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t talk that way, at least sometimes. As I also emphasize a lot, I think people have enough time and energy to really think deeply about what they are doing in approximately one or two of the hundreds of important areas of life. And for stuff we can’t be spending all our time thinking about, we need to use heuristics that are as simple a shortcut to the right answer as possible.

    Anyway, I think that the objection to Marxism that you mention, i.e. the practical one, is strong. I don’t think you can do what Marxists want to do with the stuff they are using to do it.

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