Last weekend the Guardian newspaper initiated a debate, Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis, publishing a pamphlet with contributions by "prominent thinkers exploring key questions about ethics today".
I agree entirely with them that ETHICS is fundamental to solving the problems of modern society - on which, not just our well-being, but our very survival depends. However, useful ethics cannot exist in the vacuum of idealised, romaticised, theologized, or purely opportunistic values and assumptions, which characterise the Guardian's assemblage of "prominent thinkers", but must be rooted in the Darwinian nature and demands of the individuals and groups to which they apply.
Why Darwinian? Because man is a product of Darwinian evolution and thus essentially Darwinian in nature. Any ethics not based on this reality lacks sound and sustainable foundations.
Before continuing, let me clarify what I mean by "Darwinian", because the word has been terribly misused and abused - to the extent that there are now powerful taboos against using it in any social or political context, because of its association with a ruthless struggle for survival and advantage over others, which is incompatible with a just and harmonious social and political order, social Darwinists having used it to justify social and racial inequalities, and the Nazis their ideology of a master race with the right to subjugate or exterminate what they deemed to be inferior races.
There is certainly a brutal and ruthless side to our Darwinian nature, but our capacity to love, reason and empathise with others are also its products. Human nature, our emotions and behaviour patterns, are adaptations to an environment very different from the one most of us live in today; we need to recognize this and develop an understanding of it, and its profound implications for understanding our situation and civilisation (i.e. the political and economic power structure which underlie it), instead of ignoring or denying them, as we do at the moment.
There are two principal reasons why we deny it: one is the conscious fear that recognising the Darwinian nature of our situation would legitimize and revitalize the past assumptions of social Darwinists, or even of the Nazis, which has led to massive social, political and professional taboos (in the relevant disciplines) against doing so.
The other reason is the, largely subconscious, fear of exposing the actual, though perverted, Darwinian nature of our civilization, i.e. of the political and economic power structures which underlie and permeate it, but which our dependency on, familiarity with and rationalisation of blinds us to, our large "prime-ape" brain being naturally disinclined to undermine the socioeconomic order and environment, on which its owner depends, by recognising its true, Darwinian nature.
We need to understand our own Darwinian nature, how it has shaped the existing political and socioeconomic order, and how it plays out within it, having effectively replaced the natural environment in which human nature (emotions and behaviour patterns) evolved. Only then, on the basis of this understanding, will we be able to develop a rational, humane and, necessarily, Darwinian ethics, which might yet save us from the dire situation we are in.