Natural Justice, Fair Play, Empathy, and Personality in a Capitalistic Society

Capitalism like ecology is an implacable system of selection based on how well an individual or a corporation is able to adapt to the current ecological or economic conditions. Sometimes this is a competitive process, but just as likely it is simply how well an individual of a species can make a living using its characteristics and abilities to extract and modify the resources available to generate energy and build bodies or products. In still other cases it is how well the individuals of one species get along with each other in complex societies such as ants, bees, and humans.

We know that in both ecosystems and economies (even capitalism) individuals within the system exhibit greater or lesser degrees of natural justice, fair play, and empathy. Research in many different species and groups of mammals show all of these characteristics exist in animals other than humans. Personality and individual recognition is now known and documented in many social animals, even insects such as ants, wasps and bees. We also know that in both systems individuals who know the rules nonetheless cheat in an attempt to increase the return on their investment of work at extracting resources or producing bodies or products by short-cutting the processes. If caught they get punished. But in a capitalist system, the only legal obligation of a corporation is to make more profits. The capitalist culture expects short-term profits and rewards handsomely. Based on behavior, if corporations were real people, many would likely be diagnosed as pathological. But they are not people, they are economic entities responding in an amoral fashion to the adaptive and competitive pressures driven by a need to maximize profits.

The existence of natural justice, fair play, empathy, and personality strongly suggests that these must be useful in enhancing the survivability of individuals in both systems. It is also observable that in both systems many individuals get hurt and killed, get sick and die, have trouble getting food and shelter, cheat and murder, steal and parasitize, while others do well until they reach an old age and die naturally.

These two systems, ecology and economy, act in parallel manners. Both systems have individuals within them that display a sense of natural justice, fair play, empathy, and personalities. At one time science assumed that these characteristics were unique human qualities. That these characteristics are to some degree shared with other animals and that humans differ in degree only, has a profound impact on how we might think about economic systems. The implication is that there is no qualitative difference in ecological or economic systems based on what we once thought were strictly human characteristics.

If this is the case, the role of human qualities in an economic system has broad implications about the structure of the systems and the interplay of social structures in determining the competitive abilities of the individual in a biological species or an economic species (lucrespecies). Human qualities acting within an economic system that has a capitalistic base does not and, in effect, cannot alter the base competitive force that defines winners and losers. The only way these “human” characteristics will be successfully included is if they exert a positive selective force in adaptation or competition — that is by including them, a capitalist corporation becomes more competitive or more adaptive. In social insects, it is by virtue of cooperatively and carefully manipulating the special roles of both groups (such as workers or drones for example) and within those groups, individual task distribution based on being recognizable individuals. While there may be a queen in these insect societies, the queen is not a ruler. Her role is to establish the nest site, mate with male drones and produce eggs. In fact there is no ruler in these societies, they are governed by an interplay amongst individuals that Marlene Zuk (expert on insect behaviour) describes as “a Machiavellian network of alliances and favours exchanged.”

I wonder how close some of the largest and most complex corporations come to an ant colony with an internal governance based on a Machiavellian network of alliances and favours exchanged, as opposed to a top-down hierarchical system. Hard to imagine, but if the parallel were to hold in an economic system, such a corporation might be really hard to beat. This does not mean everybody is nice to everybody (see the blog on slavery in ant and human societies), it just means that it could be a very effective internal governance and management system for a corporation.

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