Equality and Mutual Aid: Indispensable for Species Survival

January 28, 2010

Growing up in the U.S. American culture seriously conditions us into its key features of individualism, acquisitiveness, and competitiveness. For how much longer we will be able to survive in our politics of selfishness and plunder one can only wonder?

A new book by social epidemiologist, Richard Wilkinson, The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier (New Press, 2005), concludes that the stress experienced from inequality is the leading deep cause of sickness and illness, far greater even than more conventionally attributed causes such as environmental toxins.

Social and economic inequality is extraordinarily corrosive. It affects our health because the quality of social relations is crucial to well-being. The psychosocial impact of stratification, a structural malady that has coincided with the advent of urban civilization some 5500 years ago, effects deeply how people feel and is devastatingly stressful. It is an overriding cause of ill health and breakdowns in social relations.

Wilkinson concludes that modern societies, despite material success, are social failures.

Equality (Justice) is our greatest healer!

A book published more than a century ago, Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution by Russian Prince/anarchist Peter Kropotkin (1902), in essence makes the same point from an evolutionary perspective.

From the conclusion of Kropotkin’s masterpiece: “Man is appealed to be guided in his acts, not merely by love, which is always personal, or at the best tribal, but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support – not mutual struggle – has had the leading part. In its wide extension…we also see the best guarantee of a still loftier evolution of our race.”

And from the introduction: “It is not love and not even sympathy upon which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience – be it only at the stage of an instinct – of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all.”

Our species’ survival hinges on a leap in consciousness that recognizes that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (MLK, Jr.). Equality is not just a nice idea, it is indispensable for our survival. Empathy is an embedded foundational human characteristic for assuring equality. Cooperation, sharing and mutual aid in social relations, are keys to equality and sense of well-being. This is the revolution within our evolutionary journey begging to be accessed within our individual and collective consciences.

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