Soon after Charles Darwin published his work pertaining to evolution, the Russian biologist, anarchist, and seminal thinker, Peter Kropotkin, managed to create a work on evolution of equal, some say greater, merit. The Kropotkin volume, to which the author rendered the unassuming title, Mutual Aid: a Factor of Evolution, is rich in accounts of how the dynamic of mutual aid helps species to survive and flourish, from ants up to higher mammals. Unfortunately, upon publication, Kropotkin’s work did not attain the popularity of Darwin’s work - especially here in the West, where history has shown that it was most needed.
The question that goes out now is, how would the shape of modern society have been altered had Kropotkin’s thesis been properly disseminated? One can imagine the way members of western, more capitalistic-oriented society, might have framed their perspective, given mutual aid instead of survival of the fittest as an underlay for social and economic operations.
The time is ripe, and over-ripe, to acknowledge this productive means of re-framing perspective as we move forward in social evolution. In schools, Kropotkin and Darwin could be compared. In the scientific community, more and more, the window on mutual aid could help fill a long-standing void. Now, while we are poised on the verge of a much-needed re-invention of society, the Kropotkin vision waits to be incorporated.
Closing thoughts on the subject from the pen of Kropotkin:
“In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense -- not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavorable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.”
– Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.
The notion that we evolved from apes is at best an intriguing act of creative fiction. The idea is akin to the fantastic construct that prevails today, although increasingly dying away, that the material world is real, and that matter is the basis of life as we know it. What Olympian feats of imagination, these notions!
Spiritual scientist, Rudolf Steiner, asserted that in ancient times we (and the Earth) existed in a spiritual state. As the Earth became increasingly physical, we descended into the form we now hold. During this process, while we humans held back from incarnating, the animals preceded us. Starting out on the same plane as us humans, the animals, in a sense, sacrificed themselves by going ahead with the grand experiment of incarnation. We are now indebted to our animal “relations” for helping prepare the stage here, until an optimal time could ensue for us to incarnate.
There is observational evidence that evolution has proceeded as a descent. For example, that monkeysdescended from man is indicated by the way their babies are quite human-like in appearance, whereas the adult is much less so. This developmental process is, in a sense, a re-enactment, a recapitulation of descent.
To paraphrase Steiner, we did not rise from monkeys, we descended from angels - and are now on our way to returning to that state, that “fifth kingdom” (only, now, unlike the earlier state, with full possession of an individuality).
At present, humanity is called upon to remedy the amount of “de-evolution” that is taking place. By this, I am referring to our assault on diversity and intricacy in the natural world.
Reductionism in materialistic science and reduction in the natural world go hand in hand.
Boundaries delineating the four kingdoms - mineral, plant, animal, and human - have gray areas. Carnivorous plants have an animal-ish aspect, as do nitrogen-fixing legumes. Further, at this time, while a "quickening" of evolution is taking place, there is an increasing level of “astrality” (the essence of animality, in spiritual terms) manifesting in the plant world.
Meanwhile, animals are becoming more egoic (the central differentiation between animals and humans), especially those with more association with the human community - pets, livestock (that are treated compassionately, not those of the mass meat industry), and those entailed in inter-species communication forums. People are coming into closer relationships with animals, exploring new dynamics, opening to new experiences, being more open to learning what an animal has to teach.
Even so, it also needs to be said that the wild animals are also in a state of evolution toward an egoic level of being.
A pivotal question for scientists of the world is: What motivates, say, a tree, to reproduce?
Why bother “perpetuating the species” - as so often is cited for a reason why beings in nature do what they do. Just why would it bother? Why not just live its life and die?
A scientist will say, over and over, that various species do all these things to perpetuate the species in an optimal way. But doesn’t this, in itself, suggest an unfathomable degree of mystery? That is, what induces this perpetuation in the first place? What “altruism” or what-have-you, brings on this motivation for a being to sacrifice some energetic part of its being to undertake this propagation?
There is also a dynamic we could call “re-evolution.”
The elm tree, having long grappled with a critical challenge posed to its very existence, will return. The elm is returning, in a modified form. As is the American chestnut.
Perhaps these events could be called new incarnations, of sorts.
Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid - an online text
Rudolf Steiner online lecture resource - various topics