People who think of themselves as tough-minded and realistic tend to take it for granted that human nature is selfish and that life is a struggle in which only the fittest may survive. According to this philosophy, the basic law by which people must live, in spite of their surface veneer of civilization, is the struggle of the jungle. The "fittest" are those who can bring to the struggle superior force, superior cunning, and superior ruthlessness.
The wide currency of this philosophy of the "survival of the fittest" enables people who act ruthlessly and selfishly, whether in personal rivalries, business competition, or international relations, to assuage their consciences by telling themselves that they are only obeying a law of nature. But a disinterested observer is entitled to ask whether the ruthlessness of the tiger, the cunning of the fox, and obedience to the law of the jungle are, in their human applications, actually evidence of human fitness to survive. If human beings are to pick up pointers on behavior from the lower animals, are there not animals other than beasts of prey from which we might learn lessons in survival?
We might, for example, look to the rabbit or the deer and define fitness to survive as superior speed in running away from our enemies. We might point to the earthworm or the mole and attribute their fitness to survive to the ability to keep out of sight and out of the way. We might examine the oyster or the housefly and define fitness as the ability to propagate our kind faster than our enemies can eat us up. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley described a world designed by those who would model human beings after the social ants. The world, under the management of a super-brain trust, might be made as well integrated, smooth, and efficient as an ant colony and, as Huxley shows, just about as meaningless. If we simply look to animals in order to define what we mean by "fitness to survive," there is no limit to the subhuman systems of behavior that can be devised: we may emulate lobsters, dogs, sparrows, parakeets, giraffes, skunks, or the parasitical worms because they have all obviously survived in one way or another. We are still entitled to ask, however, if human survival does not revolve around a different kind of fitness from that of the lower animals.
-- S.I. Hayakawa, from Language in Thought and Action
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