Re: Survival of the Fittest

Robert Johnson (johnsorl@COLORADO.EDU)
Tue, 12 Sep 1995 17:56:23 -0600

On Wed, 13 Sep 1995, Iain Davidson wrote:

> 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