An economic argument often presented for the promotion of capitalism centers around the idea that capitalism breeds excellence, innovation, and thought. Those notions claim that capitalism is natural to our systems of order, that it exists in animal and plant ecosystems in the form of competition and “survival of the fittest”, and that these forces guide animal and human societies alike. But the concept found in Darwinian thought isn’t complete, and the emphasis it places on individual struggle and competition is lacking and narrow, if not entirely incorrect, in my perspective.
This competition-based view is only one part of the story in a far greater epic of evolution and life. The missing piece is a tale of cooperation, mutual aid, mutual struggle, and mutual confidence. Meaning, the forces that have shaped evolution and society have relied equally, if not more, on working together, than on competing for our own individual interests. What we have been taught about capitalism, or what has been imposed on is, simply isn’t true.
Recently, at the Appalachian Studies Association annual conference, I woke up to the foggy stupor of a dream that caught my attention for its metaphorically relevant nature.
With a ping my eyes shot open, and I considered what I had just seen.
In a large stone building, I had been running down the steps when abruptly the steps ended with a dramatic drop to the floor below. The other Fellows were meeting downstairs and I was stuck up here.
I called the Appfellows leader, Kierra.
Courtney: Hey, Kierra. The steps aren’t here and I don’t know how to get downstairs!
Kierra: Okay, don’t worry, we can figure this out.
She called back a few minutes later to tell me that they would meet me at the steps. I ran back to the location and down below I could see Kierra and Samir.
They held out their arms.
Courtney: What? No, it’s like 40 feet, I am not doing that!
Kierra: Come on, it’s okay, jump. Everyone else already jumped. [Meaning the other Fellows.]
Courtney: [Thinking there had to be another way down] But how did you get there? Who caught you, when you jumped??
And my dream ended there. I don’t remember actually making the jump, but it doesn’t seem to matter anyway. The point that my inner self was trying to make is simple, and it really highlights the movement for a better world that so many people, our fellowship cohort included, believe in.
In Peter Kropotkin’s book, Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, he writes,
“And yet the ants, in their thousands, are not much destroyed by the birds, not even by the ant-eaters, and they are dreaded by most stronger insects. When Forel emptied a bagful of ants in a meadow, he saw that “the crickets ran away, abandoning their holes to be sacked by the ants; the grasshoppers and crickets fled in all directions; the spiders and the beetles abandoned their prey in order not to become prey themselves; even the nests of the wasps were taken by the ants, after a battle during which many ants perished for the safety of the commonwealth. Even the swiftest insects cannot escape, and Forel often saw butterflies, gnats, flies, and so on, surprised and killed by the ants. Their force is in mutual support and mutual confidence.”
I am not saying we should create an army (or am I?), but the point is that the lies of individual competition are at the root of the current structure in America. While I am very often intimidated by community organizing work that requires me to “put myself out there,” I know that it is important to challenge the ideas of individualism and learn to ask what we need of each other; ask for help, ask for consideration, and ask for support. And in turn, offer that to others as much as possible. Because at the end of the day, someone has been in your position, someone has taken a leap before you came along, and someone will be scared to jump long after you are gone. But we are a force so very great in our numbers and even greater in our love for humanity and our desire to see it thrive. So, let’s remember the power we have. Let’s be like the ants.