17 November 2006


Secularism, Capitalism and Socialism

Some of our members have been arguing about the political implications of Secularism. Specifically, whether it leans more towards socialist ideals than capitalist free competition. There's a highly optimistic piece in the latest New Scientist (18 November issue) which may help to resolve the argument.

The article, by Geoffrey Miller, is one of a number of short articles by scientists who have been asked to forecast the next 50 years. Some of the other articles also relate to evolutionary psychology.

Applied evolutionary psychology should revolutionise life in three ways by 2056. First, Darwinian critiques of runaway consumer capitalism should undermine the social and sexual appeal of conspicuous consumption. Absurdly wasteful display will become less popular once people comprehend its origins in sexual selection, and its pathetic unreliability as a signal of individual merit or virtue.

Second, studies of human happiness informed by evolution will reveal ever more clearly the importance of "social capital" - neighbourliness, close-knit communities, local family support, and integration between kids, adults and the elderly. This will, I hope, lead to revolutionary changes in urban planning, leading to a New Urbanist revival of mixed-use landscapes. Enlightened citizens will demand to live in village-type spaces rather than alienating suburbs of single-family isolation and unbearable commutes.

Third, evolutionary moral psychology will reveal the social conditions under which human moral virtues flourish. The US will follow the UK in realising that religion is not a prerequisite for ordinary human decency. Thus, science will kill religion - not by reason challenging faith, but by offering a more practical, universal and rewarding moral framework for human interaction. A naturalistic moral philosophy will replace the rotting fictions of theological ethics. In these three ways, applied evolutionary psychology will help Enlightenment humanism fulfil its long-stalled potential to make us all brighter, wiser, happier and kinder.

These ideas follow on from two recent posts here about ethics and mind. I see that Richard Dawkins is among the panel next Thursday on Melvin Bragg's "In Our Time" programme (Radio 4) where the subject is "Altruism".

So the argument is that secularism does indeed promote values over amorality. OK I'll buy that.

So what about socialism v capitalism? Is there anything to say on that question?
The implication I took from the article is that the distinction between capitalism and socialism is outdated. At least when those ideologies are spelt with an initial capital letter. Better understanding of human needs and motivation, and environmental constraints, could lead to new economic structures and new forms of social organisation.

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