Re: Survival of the Fittest

Iain Davidson (idavidso@METZ.UNE.EDU.AU)
Wed, 13 Sep 1995 09:41:48 +1000

Nick Corduan writes:

>In other words, do the "fittest" cultures, just like the fittest biological
>specimens, tend to survive, thrive, and dominate? I'm not geting into issues
>of atrocities toward indigenous peoples here, if I can at all help it. What
>I mean is not, the "best" cultures," but rather the "fittest" cultures --
>those best able to handle the rigors of life.
>It seems as if a strong case could be made for this. (European culture was,
>perhaps, more "fit" -- in this sense -- than that of Native Americans. For
>instance, the Europeans were far better suited to handle contact with
>"foreigners," to adapt, to fight with unity, etc...)

I have puzzled about this a bit, without finding the right way to express
it. I am an archaeologist and always disposed to see a time perspective as
important. In some senses I suspect that evolutionary arguments,
paradoxically, do not. Here is the reason. I have suggested (Archaeology
in Oceania 1989) that the conflict between Aboriginal Australians and
nonAborigines at contact was a conflict of ownership rules. The
nonAboriginal rules were always going to win, because they involved
protection of individual ownership and insensitivity to other forms of
ownership. Does this make them more "fit"? In the short term undoubtedly.
But in a longer term I do not know (someone else made this point). I have
always taught that Aborigines survived for 40 000 years in australia before
the nonAborigines came (except that Aborigines were nonAborigines when they
came because they came knowing nothing about Austrlian conditions). I am
much less sure that the nonAboriginal appropriation of resources (which is
the result of their/our principles of ownership) can even contemplate
surviving 40 000 years. So on a long time scale, nonAboriginal ownership
may well not be fit at all. So how do we measure fitness? Or to put it
another way, how adapted is adapted?

As I say, I have not found the right way to express this argument, or
resolve it. Perhaps members of Anthro-l can help.

Iain Davidson
Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology
University of New England
Armidale, NSW 2351
Tel +61 +67 732 441
Fax +61 +67 732 526