Does 'might' make 'fit'?

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Mon, 18 Sep 1995 14:37:16 -0230

In a recent post of mine, in answer to the suggestion that private property
systems in land necessarily have superior survival value over collective
ones, I pointed out (in regard to the example of Australia, where a
collective system was forceably replaced by a more individualistic one) that
the fact of a repalcement of a collective by an individualistic system does
not, in itself, prove the latter had any evolutionary superiority. Rather,
the individualistic one may have suceeded simply because it was imposed by
force. In a response, using the example of Soviet forced land
collectivization, Karl Schwerin ask rhetorically if 'might' makes 'fit'.

I just want to make clear that the point of my post was to suggest that
these two ideas (fittness, and imposed by force) ought not to be confused.
Whether a property system that is, in social evolutionary terms, more 'fit',
and whether one has been imposed by 'force', are two entirely different
analytic issues. One might wish to argue, in specific cases, that the two
can be related, by claiming that a system is evolutionarily 'fitter' because
it is more economically productive, thus giving the group with this system
greater access to military force. However, such an equation between material
production and access to military force presupposes certain non-universal
cultural values. Where force has been used to impose one sytem so as to
replace the other (as is was in both the Australian and Soviet cases, but in
different directions as regards property systems), we are thus not entitled
to simply say that the one that relaced the other is, ipso facto, 'fitter',
at least not without resort to futher explanation.

Sorry to belabour a point which seemed to me obvious, but Schwerin, caught
up in his perfectly justifyable moral condemnation of Soviet history (and I
will refrain from waxing indignant about all the historic cases of genocide
involved with the forced imposition of private property systems), appeared
to have missed it.

Adrian Tanner, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University, St John's,
Newfoundland, Canada. A1C 5S7. email Tel 709 737
8868 fax 737 8686