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Humans have grown beyond the survival of the fittest instinct and instead can ensure the weakest also are equals

Manipur Must Think Beyond Zero Sum Games and the Notion of Survival of the Fittest

The logics of conflict, it is often said, can hardly be with justice adjudicated by ordinary law. The exception called for is also evident in the popular saying that everything is fair in love and war, for in the end, presumably it is only winning that matters. Call it the law of the jungle, but it is a fact that the history of life itself has been a long winding tale about winners. Only the fittest have survived to tell the tale.

It also has not always meant the biggest and the strongest survived. The extinction of the dinosaurs as well as the falls of invincible empires in recorded history all are testimony. Who knows, in the end, it may just be uncomplicated one-cell creatures, and viruses that prove to be the fittest.

For close to 60 million years, humans have been at the top of life’s chart but in evolutionary terms, 60 million years is negligibly short. In Bill Bryson’s easy to grasp scale in his bestseller: A Brief History of Nearly Everything, if the entire history of the earth were to be represented by the stretch between fingertip to fingertip of a man of average height with outstretched arms, then the single average stroke of a medium-grain nail-file on a nail would be enough to wipe off the entire human history. It is unimaginable but true that even 60 million years is insignificant on the canvas of creation of earth and the universe.

It is rather oxymoronic, but the fact also is, 60 million years since the extinction of the dinosaurs may be extremely insignificant and short on the timeline of the creation of the universe, but in terms of human history this period is extremely long and significant. Forget about the 60 million years, it is difficult to imagine the significance of the 60,000 years human since the human brain underwent a quantum change to become capable of creating and understanding symbols in a phenomenon now described as the Cognitive Revolution. Indeed, even the last 12,000 years since the last minor Ice Age receded and the race of human civilizations was flagged off, has been an extremely long and short time at the same time, depending on which viewpoint it is seen from. Forget also the 12,000 years, even the 100 years or so of recent human history the present generation’s viewpoint is can be seen as extremely significant and at the same time insignificant.

Humans have chosen to believe they are an exception. And they are indeed becoming an exception amongst all creation at least in at least on significant area – they no longer are confined by the instinctual evolutionary paradigm of survival of the fittest. Curiously now, the human drama is no longer only about the survival of the fittest genes. If this were so, there would have been no place for refined emotions such as compassion, empathy, sympathy, love etc. Consequently, as in the animal world, handicapped children would have had very little chances of survival.

The phenomenon of adoption, (or the transfer of parental affection to non-offsprings) known for perhaps as long as human civilization, and now a raging benevolent fashion, thanks to celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Sushmita Sen etc and before them Paul Newman and many more, for instance is totally contrary to the law of natural selection, where each living thing is supposedly in a perpetual competition to propagate its own genes.

Maybe in evolutionary terms, these qualities are deviants that will lower the defences of humans in the survival of species struggle. All the same, let us admit it, humans are different, and that this species has gone beyond the principles of natural selection. Call it strength or weakness, but this is also what makes humans stand out. Hence our objection to the survival of the fittest theory as an inevitability, or of the argument that war calls for exceptions in law that go against the tradition of liberal humanism.

There are obviously many who disagree, especially those who think in terms of deadly conflicts as resolutions to disagreements and disputes. They also generally think in terms of what is now popularly referred to as the “zero sum game”. From this perspective, in a competitive environment, one competitor’s gain has to be the other competitor’s loss.

The offshoot of this vision is also another rather sinister war game: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Such players push their “friends” to be the enemy of their enemy as well. Maybe the “zero sum game” is unavoidable in a straight equation where there are only two players. But when there are many more players than just two, things get a lot more complicated, and the “zero sum game” often becomes unproductive.

American mathematician and genius, John Nash, who at one point sunk into dementia and lost his mind but recovered to be the sharp mind he always was to win economics Nobel Prize for his theoretical contributions, said as much in his biography by Sylvia Nasar titled “A Beautiful Mind”, which now has a prominent place among Hollywood classics. Individual players in any multi-players game, do not function as isolated, independent units, but conform to a larger pattern or ethics on the acknowledgement and restraint that “I think that he thinks that I think that he thinks…”

Breaking this unseen bond, even between rivals, whichever player it is that resorts to it, has never proven productive for anybody. This principle of economic rivalry can very well shed some valuable light on why the strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, so repulsively rampant in Manipur, is resulting in so much chaos and disillusionment.

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