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Darwinist Tautology

A self-conscious creature may recognize its participation in the system of nature, as an embodied player in the game of selection. From a materialist perspective, for consciousness to exist at all it must have an embodied relation to the world, established through an evolutionary history. And this in turn means: to be an earnest player in the game, playing by the rules and for keeps. Earnestness means viewing the game from within, from the highly identified perspective of an individual playing piece. Identification with the body and its needs is a prerequisite to stay in the game. We are instinctively compelled to take seriously the pursuit of well-being (known to us subjectively as pleasure or comfort), the avoidance of damage or the threat of it (known to us as pain, discomfort, fear), and the supreme goal of reproduction (known to us as sexual pleasure or lust, and longings for family or relationship). There is little room for dabblers in the game of life; they would long ago have been out-reproduced by more earnest lineages—or would never have arisen. This is something of a paradox, given that the human species is a notorious dabbler and also, for the moment, highly successful. The paradox becomes mere irony when one considers the advantages conferred by points of view that are relatively free from automatic compulsions, if only to be identified on higher levels with the survival mandate. For instance, to seek the fulfillment or salvation of the soul rather than the flesh may lead—through the complex series of sublimations and reversals known as culture—to improved conditions for bodies in general and to greater reproductive success of the collective, if not the individual concerned. That we are here because our ancestors reproduced may seem an empty tautology. But it reveals a great deal when we look at what sort of organism we must be in order to have survived to be here posing these questions. Like characters in a novel, we come from a certain background, in this case an animal heritage. This informs all the categories of our thinking, but also inspires a deep rebellion against our upbringing in nature. This conflict continues to plague us with social and environmental consequences. Nothing could better portend a cheerful dénouement of the human story than to understand both this instinctual background and the rejection of it.

RELATED TAGS: [materialist/idealist perspective, embodied player/relation to world, game/contest of natural selection, evolutionary history(ies), homo ludens, agonistic interest, identification with the body, genetic dabbler, survival mandate, (cultural) sublimation, (tautology of) reproductive success/fitness, (genetic) altruism]

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