Classical economics argues that the economy is an equilibrium system—that for every winner there must be a loser. In this episode, author and professor David Sloan Wilson joins Nick live on stage at Town Hall Seattle to argue that economies are actually evolutionary systems—and once we shed the winner-take-all philosophy that has dominated Econ 101 classes for a century, we can change economic policy for the better.
David Sloan Wilson is an American evolutionary biologist, a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University, and co-founder of the Evolution Institute. In addition to his latest book ‘This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution’, he has also written ‘Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society’, and ‘Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives’.
Further reading: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/246844/this-view-of-life-by-david-sloan-wilson/9781101870204/
Complexity Economics Shows Us Why Laissez-Faire Economics Always Fails
Nick Hanauer: Some of the most remarkable thinkers, economic thinkers in history definitely understood to a varying degree that evolution played a role in human economies.
David S. Wilson: This view of life actually does not slot into any current political positions. It’s not left, right, center or libertarian.
Speaker 2: From the offices of Civic Ventures in downtown Seattle. This is Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer. Where we explore everything you wished you had learned in ECON 101.
Nick Hanauer: In this episode of Pitchfork Economics we’re going to move away from an analysis of the behavior model of neoclassical economics, Homo economicus, and move towards an examination of the system. And the traditional way of understanding economies for economists as closed equilibrium mechanistic systems. And, we now know with scientific certainty that that’s not what characterizes a human social system.
Human social systems are actually, open, complex, adaptive and really best understood as ecology’s, forms of ecology’s, and as such they are basically evolutionary systems. And that’s why in this episode, we’re focused on evolution. Because with respect to human economies, if you don’t understand the dynamics of evolution, you really can’t understand how a human economy, certainly a market economy, works.
And that’s why, today I am joined by a remarkable person and old friend, the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson who is the Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of the Evolution Institute and who is the author of a variety of books, including a brand new one called “This View of Life.” But he is among the world’s leading researchers on evolutionary theory and recently we did a town hall, teasing out some issues in his new book “This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution.” And okay, so here’s our discussion.
David S. Wilson: Thank you.
Nick Hanauer: Oh golly. Thank you. Thank You. Well it occurs to me David that, first of all thank you all for coming and thank you for all the work it’s taken to make town hall both what it was and what it is. You’ve totally crushed it, and it looks so great, it’s so exciting to be in this venue. But it occurs to me, David, that many people in the audience might be puzzled about why somebody who cares about economics so much, and is a capitalist, is in conversation with somebody who cares so much about evolutionary biology and also cares about economics. How do these two things intersect? Why do we have so much in common?
David S. Wilson: Well that’s, economics, from eco, from home, the same root as ecology, and what we’re both driving towards, and what is the only thing that makes sense is a view of economics, which is continuous with a human society, what it makes for there to be a good society. And, to live in a sustainable relation with the earth. That’s economics as it should be. Of course, that’s not economics as it is. We all know that, I think that’s become painfully obvious to almost everyone.
The real question is, what replaces it? What’s the more consilient view of economics? When you think, when you ask a question, what would be the truly genuine scientific foundation for just about anything? It would be a combination of complexity theory, which covers physical systems in addition to living systems. And evolution theory which covers all living systems, including everything we associate with humanity. And so that is what it would mean to complete the Darwinian revolution. To take this tool kit, as I put it, give it a practical cast.
Nick Hanauer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
David S. Wilson: That has proven itself in the biological sciences. And then to expand it, to include everything associated with the word human, culture and policy. That is what it means to complete the Darwinian revolution.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah. Interesting. So, I want to take a moment and just reflect on what my personal transformation was like with respect economics in a niche matter. Because I grew up, as did almost everybody, buying the idea that it was largely correct the way that economists had modeled the economy as this closed, linear, mechanistic system and I’ll never forget, and none of it ever really made sense to me but I didn’t think about it that deeply. And then I read my first book on complexity theory and it was like scales fell from my eyes. Because it became very clear that once you understood the system as a complex, evolutionary system everything made sense. It all intuitively fell into place for me.
And i think that, from my perspective, obviously I’m not an academic economist or an evolutionary biologist but I have been an activist for a very long time. And have traded in how you change people’s minds and change policy and change frames of debate and change narratives. And really, what was so salient for me, was the difference in the metaphors that these different systems of thought represent. And how imprisoning that old set of metaphors was, right? If you assume that the economy is essentially a mechanistic, equilibrium system then it will be by definition a system of decreasing returns. Where one thing comes up, another thing goes down.
Like wages, perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “when you raise wages, you kill jobs.” That heuristic is a product of that mechanistic thinking, it’s a product of equilibrium thinking and it flows inevitably and directly from it. And if you get the world to subscribe to that metaphor and that view, then they will explain the world in a very particular way. But if you understand the system, as you described, as a complex, adaptive ecology. A system of increasing returns, then saying “raising wages will kill jobs” would be the moral equivalent of claiming that when plants grow, animals shrink.
This is not the way it works, obviously. These things in an ecology are in a different kind of relationship. And you have, you talk about, the science to narrative chain as one of your most important tasks. So can you relate to that?
David S. Wilson: Of course. And of course, you said a lot there, science to narrative chain, science is necessary but not sufficient, they must also stories basically. Cultures are conveyed through stories and you need to have strong narratives and that has to be connected to science in a responsible way. And I think that my entry into economics started about ten years ago in your book The Gardens of Democracy with Eric Liu was something that we discovered as it did, actually, a great job of building up the narrative end of the chain having soaked up a lot of this reasoning with complex systems and evolutionary reasoning. But I actually want to-
Nick Hanauer: To be clear, all we did was crimp from him. So.
David S. Wilson: So, and then we’ve been, actually, interactive with, full-disclosure, we’ve been interacting with each other for ten years and a common cause of replacing one paradigm with another. And to set the stage broadly for that first paradigm, when we think about Darwin and what a great man he was and how insightful he was we also know that he was a product of Victorian culture and he could not see through some aspects of his culture, nobody could. So, nobody back then, I mean everybody back then thought that European culture was superior to other culture. That cultural evolution would take the form of some kind of progressive, progression from savagery to civilization. I would just, in the bones for Darwin to think that men were superior to women, he never questioned that, and so on.
So in hindsight, we need to be able to separate what actually followed from the theory, from what the Victorians could not see through. And so the question is, “what’s our culture that we can’t see through?” And what that is to a remarkable extent is individualism, this axiomatic belief that you don’t really understand something until you understand it in terms of individual’s actions and motives.
The fundamental unit is the self-entrusted individual and everything, including everything that we associate with society and economics is some product of individual self-interest. Also, that if we let individual self-interest just happen and somehow, as if stirred by an invisible hand, that will work out for the common good. That’s the guiding metaphor of laissez-faire economics. But it goes beyond that, and if you look very broadly at social history, what you find is that individualism was spreading everywhere in the middle of the 20th century.
If you go back to the beginning of the 20th century you get figures such as Emile Durkheim and people who really thought of society as the unit. Society is something which, actually, doesn’t produce very well to individuals. But then you’ve got this wholesale replacement, including my own field of evolutionary biology, that was the era of the selfish gene, of individual selection. [Gordon Irvyens 00:11:08] is in the audience somewhere, so he was a major figure back then. In the social sciences you had something called methodological individualism.
Nick Hanauer: We still have it. It-
David S. Wilson: We do.
Nick Hanauer: Concept in possible economics.
David S. Wilson: So that was like-
Nick Hanauer: Could you explain methodological individualism just briefly for these folks?
David S. Wilson: It’s the, basically, that you need to understand everything in terms of the motives and actions of individuals.
Nick Hanauer: Right. But there are no social facts other than the ones derived from-
David S. Wilson: Right, right. And Homo economicus, the famous Homo economicus is a version of methodological individualism. And so, the new paradigm based on complexity and evolution is nothing less than a robust replacement for methodological individualism. I think that’s how we see it in it’s broadest form, and that we have to see society’s and nature, but nature and human society, is very complex system. They’re evolving systems, evolution goes beyond genetic evolution. All the fast-paced processes going on around us that we call cultural change, and do you know, personal change.
Because every one of you is a flexible unit, an evolving unit, and so there is such a thing as your personal evolution in addition to our cultural evolution. So to think that just about all of this reflects evolutionary processes and evolution can be the problem in addition to the solution. Because evolution doesn’t make everything nice. Very often, evolution results in behaviors that benefit me, not you. Us, not them. Short term, not long term. And so evolution is taking place all around us, but if we don’t manage it, then it takes us where we don’t want to go.
So many of our problems are adaptive in the sense of the evolutionary world. They’re getting individuals, or groups, or various entities, they’re succeeding for them. But at the expense of others, and so the large system as a whole is now compromised. So the only alternative is to become wise managers of evolutionary processes. We must learn how to align these courses of evolution so that they take us where we want to go in terms of our large scale and long term societal goals.
And if you don’t know about evolution, if you’re not smart about evolution, we will never get this.
Nick Hanauer: Right. And it, you drew some really fun distinctions between what was adaptive and what was non-adaptive. The distinction between helping your family and nepotism, for instance.
David S. Wilson: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, taking care of yourself, that’s a good thing. Self-dealing, that’s a bad thing. Helping out your relatives, that’s a good thing. Nepotism is a bad thing. Helping out your friends is a good thing. Cronyism is a bad thing. Almost everything we associate, for example, with corruption is actually, people obey and the dictates a very smaller social unit. The moral dictates, there’s very little that’s actually true individual selfishness. Most pathological things are actually forms of cooperation taking place at a small scale. But that’s become a collective selfishness.
And the only solution to that is, actually, when you spin that out and maybe I think you can see it already, is to adopt a wholer ethic. Because that is the top unit. We really have to be planning our actions with the welfare of the whole earth in mind. And then, coordinating the lower level units, the lower level units don’t go away, they’re extremely important. And in fact, among the most important of these lower level units is the small group. If we want to talk about a fundamental unit, it’s not the individual, it’s the small group where individuals work with others, and are [inaudible 00:15:06] of their actions and they do important things together. That is the fundamental unit that we need to nurture, basically.
Nick Hanauer: Can you tease out this very important idea of multi-level selection? Because I think it has enormous explanatory power.
David S. Wilson: Sure.
Nick Hanauer: In human society.
David S. Wilson: Yeah, and then we have been talking about it all along but the way I communicated in the briefest possible way is to ask you to imagine you are playing a game of Monopoly, you’ve all done that, so, and the purpose of that game is to get all the real estate and drive everyone else into bankruptcy. So, get yourself in that Monopoly mood, that’s a form of competition among individuals within a single group. Now imagine that you’re playing a Monopoly tournament, there’s many games being played. And the trophy goes to the team that collectively develops their property the fastest. So imagine playing that game. And right away, I think you can see, that almost every decision you make in a Monopoly tournament is going to be different than the decisions you would make playing this single game of Monopoly.
And so that is the difference between within group competition, so when evolution is operating at the most local scale of individuals in a single group, that’s favoring forms of selfishness that we associate with a single game of Monopoly. Just about everything that we recognize of virtue, is actually vulnerable to exploitation at this scale of within group.
And Darwin understood that, Darwin said “the morally virtuous person is not more fit than the more selfish person within a single group, it’s only groups of virtuous individuals that are more fit than groups of less virtuous individuals.” And of course, that just elevates selfishness up to the group scale, it doesn’t eliminate it, it just elevates it. But, so there is the fundamental logic of multi-level selection is this dynamic where lower level selection is resulting in behaviors that are actually disruptive higher up the scale.
That is the opposite of the invisible hand. The invisible hand tells us that, basically, the pursuit of self-interest robustly benefits the common good. And what multi-level selection theory tells us is this is profoundly not the case. That has to be the most toxic idea-
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: That has ever gained prevalence, ever. It’s very consilient with the Dalai Lama’s book, Beyond Religion, ’twas an ethics of the whole world.
Nick Hanauer: Interesting. I want to tie what you just said about the invisible hand back to economics and our podcast and what we’re trying to do in Pitchfork Economics is knock down a lot of the most pernicious ideas of neoclassical economics and neoliberalism. And, one of the anchor concepts, the thing which all neoclassical economics and neoclassical economic modeling depend upon is the idea of the representative agent, rational man, Homo economicus, perfectly selfish, perfectly rational after and the reason that that idea is so pernicious is that if you assume that is true and you embed that idea in the minds of people in the culture, and they look around the world at all the prosperity in it, then they must conclude, by definition, that it’s billions of individual acts of selfishness that magically transubstantiate into the common good and into prosperity.
But if you understand the world from an evolutionary perspective and if you understand human beings as evolved creatures, and you understand them as we are, as evolved to be moral, other-regarding reciprocal and cooperative. Because that’s the only way our society’s can survive, and if you embed that in the culture and people look around the world at all of the prosperity in it then you must conclude that is was billions of collective acts of cooperation that generated all of that prosperity.
And that it was the invisible hand of reciprocity that generated the prosperity around us, not selfishness. And from that, those metaphors and those heuristics and those intuitions you end up with a very different culture, very different policy frame work and a different politics. And this, circling back to why I think the evolutionary point of view is so important is if you don’t understand the system as evolutionary you can’t get to those insights or perspectives.
David S. Wilson: Yeah. It’s such a shift. Let me tell a couple stories from my book that nail this, especially at the scale of small group. One of my favorite stories from the book is about a colleague, a neuroscientist named Jim Coan at the University of Virginia. And he was seeing an elderly patient, World War Two veteran, that was suffering late-onset, post-traumatic stress disorder. And the old gentlemen was totally resistant to therapy of any kind, he wouldn’t do anything that Jim was asking him to do. And finally, he blurts out “I want my wife to come with me.” And Jim had never had this request.
And when you think of therapy as always the therapist working with the individual client, there’s individualism right there. But this man was saying “I want my wife with me,” so Jim said “okay” and his wife came and at first he treated her like a bystander and nothing was working any better. And then his wife said “let me hold his hand.” So she held his hand, and he opened up to therapy. He actually became more responsive than most of Jim’s other clients and so Jim was amazed and he embarked upon a set of experiments with just everyday people not suffering from any kind of disorder.
In which he’d put them in a brain scanner, an FMRI machine, and he would stress them by Anaphylactic shock. There’d be electrodes strapped to their ankle and so they, this is a very stressful situation for them, and now he could see what was going on in their brains. And he did this under three conditions: alone, holding the hand of a stranger or the holding the hand of a loved one. And holding the hand of a loved one had this tremendous, calming effect. And so, based on this, Jim developed a theory called “Social-baseline theory” which means this, is the one constant in human evolution. All of the different regions we live in, all climatic zones, dozens of ecological [inaudible 00:21:50]. What’s the one constant of human evolution, is that we were always living in small, highly-cooperative groups. And so that took place so long that our brains evolved to factor in, not only their personal resources, but their social resources. The brain actually does not make a distinction.
In another set of experiments by a colleague of Jim, [Ellis Jaysice 00:22:14] in Graphic Details. So, imagine that I take you to the base of a steep hill and I ask you to estimate it’s slope. And I ask you to do this under a number of conditions. Carrying a heavy backpack or not. Having fasted or not. Having had a workout or not. And, in each of those three cases we’re depleting your personal resources. Now, naturally, when we deplete your personal resources, you should be less inclined to climb the hill, right? But the way the processes that is to see the hill as more steep.
Okay, that’s just the way we are. So, that’s part of not wanting to climb it, we estimate it’s slope as deeper. Now we add a fourth condition, standing alone in front of that hill or standing with a friend. So now what you’ve done is you’ve added a social resource, not a personal resource. And when you put the friend next to you, “let’s climb that hill, that hill is flat as can be.” So what the brain has done, is it doesn’t make the distinction. And now, when we look at the literature that shows you how toxic loneliness is, how it’s one of the great epidemics.
The fallacy of thinking of the individual as the standalone unit, the rational decision-maker and so on. This is that entirely. This is the fact that if there’s one policy prescription, only one that you could make, it would be to get people in nurturing [inaudible 00:23:41]. And it’s actually not hard, so that is-
Nick Hanauer: So interesting. And one of the interesting things you point out in the book is that we’re always evolving, and in fact, there’s a lot of stuff that happens to us in our lives that is part of evolution. The eyesight thing, nearsightedness is an epidemic I found fascinating, can you speak to that for a minute?
David S. Wilson: Sure. It’s, and just to give, provide a little bit of background, when we talk about this toolkit that has been developed by, in the study of genetic evolution, which carries over to the study of cultural evolution and personal evolution. That toolkit, just to relate it very quickly, involves asking four questions for any product of evolution. Gordon, wherever you are, is going to appreciate this.
Gordon Irvyens: I’m here.
David S. Wilson: Hey, hey. It’s based on the work of EcoTimber and one of the pioneer’s of animal behaviors. And he said very simply this “everything that evolves by an evolutionary process, has to be addressed in four different ways. First of all, what’s it’s function, how does it contribute to survival and reproduction and if it does. Number two, it’s history, it’s phylogeny, evolution is a historical process. Number three, it’s mechanism, everything that evolves has a physical mechanism, and everything that evolves develops during the lifetime of the organism. So function, history, mechanism, development are these four questions. And that when you employ these four questions for any product of evolution, and you are fully-rounded evolutionist, so you might get that easily. The question is, how do you put it to work?
And the example to which you’re alluding is that it has to do with eye development. Why is it that so many of us need glasses? And that’s not the case if you go to human populations that are living closer to a state of nature. Then, they don’t need glasses, the frequency of myopia is much, much, much less. It varies from about 3% to over 70% in different cultures depending upon some factors.
So what’s going on in these cultures which are causing such a large fraction of the population to have abnormal eye development? Something about environment has been become mismatched, sufficiently different from the ancestral environment so that the development question, the eye developing during the lifetime of the organism becomes subverted, basically. So, what is the abnormal nature of the environment? What could it be? For a long time people thought it was a lot of close-focus work. So in modern times, we’re focusing with reading and all of these things on close objects, perhaps. That’s a good hypothesis.
As it turns out, it’s more likely to be amount of time spent outdoors. That when you’re indoors, and the ambient light level are too low for normal eye development. So there’s a very strong correlation between the amount of time someone spends indoors and the frequency of myopia. And that’s why this guy doesn’t need glasses.
Nick Hanauer: David and I, and there’s a whole bunch of people from around the world that are essentially racing to find and alternative neoclassical economics and neoliberalism. And, but, and the good news is that there is really a shape of that that we can see now. New model of human behavior. Understanding people as evolved to be reciprocal, heuristic, other-regarding and cooperative. A system’s model that sees it is a, ecology is an evolutionary system. Redefining the target of selection from things like GDP which is simply a measure of output independent of creating welfare, to some measure of order, or what we call, solutions to human problems. And understanding the processes that drive the evolution of order or solutions to human problems as an ecological process, as an evolutionary process. It needs to be managed in that way.
And all of those ideas, what I have just said, is completely orthogonal to the basic neoclassical economic construct and neoliberalism but offers I think a much better way to understand who we are, how our societies work and what we should do to get them better organized. So, anyway, with that I think we have droned on long enough. I think we’re going to answer some questions.
David S. Wilson: Great.
Speaker 5: I’m going to ask one question while we get situated, feel free to line up here and bring your questions to the authors, to the author. So I guess I wanted to ask, why should anyone in this audience care about the message in this book as it pertains to their own existence? Because we spent a lot of time talking about economics. Can you talk about maybe the toolkit in reference to how it pertains to everyday life?
David S. Wilson: Yeah. And keeping it as quick as possible to entertain as many questions as possible, but at the end of the book there’s a “what you can do” section. And number one, that everyone can do is manage their personal evolution. I think it’s so fascinating to think of each and every one of us as an open-ended, evolving system that is, in which we can manage our personal evolution. And I’m working with wonderful colleagues in the therapeutic community that are thinking of therapy and training as a manage form of personal evolution. So that’s one thing each and every person can do. Each and every person is, typically, a participant in one or more groups. It might you be your family, it might be your business, it might be your church, your neighborhood.
And so, everybody can actually learn how to make those groups function better. And to manage the evolution of those groups, that’s within the grasp of everyone. And then for larger-scale things some people are luckier than others. We have everyone from this gentleman here who’s in a position to make things happen on a very large scale, other people not so much, but still that’s a whole banquet of things that anyone can do. And these ideas are so versatile that there is not a single thing of importance in your life that couldn’t benefit from this kind of analysis.
Speaker 6: Hi, Nick. I am wondering about your optimism around how this common good will work with addressing things like racism, poverty and gun control. In Seattle, we have a very liberal culture around here and we say we want to do a lot of religious things to eliminate opportunity gaps and everything else. But when it comes right down to it, the evolutionary instinct to preserve all of the resources for your own child minimizes and undermines our opportunity to effect serious change. So, I’d love for ProSocial.World to do some work with Seattle public school’s and would love to partner with you guys on other issues. But, I’m trying to do things, in effect, change the local level but there’s a much diverse systems issue that trying to get everybody to shift in that direction feels overwhelming.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah. So let me address that. So, change and improvement happen slowly and on a continuum, and for my own part, I think we can dramatically improve the world. But we’re never going to live in a utopia, and there’s always going to be shitheads everywhere. I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of them. But I do think that there is a step-function improvement we can make in our society. If we understand the system that we live in better and understand better the nature of ourselves. And I just, I’ve been fighting this fight for a long time and what has astonished me is that even the people that were theoretically on my side, believed all this Homo economicus nonsense, right? The amount of cultural academic and academic headwind that we have faced to make positive change, that can be changed.
I really think that if the world, if the universities were not filled with people teaching economic students, that Homo economicus was real, we’re not teaching, with the business schools were not filled with people teaching young business people that the only purpose of the corporation was shareholders. If the nation’s, if our government was not populated by economists that literally believed that raising wages kill jobs and that people were paid what they’re worth, they’re marginal product. We could knock down all of those terrible ideas. If we didn’t, if we looked at the economy as something where we were all connected in it, the better people did over here, the better people did over there, we could make a big, we could make a bunch of progress. And right now, all of the academic ideas are a raid against the kind of progress that you want to see happen. And I think, again, I think if you can knock down a lot of those bad ideas you could make quicker-
David S. Wilson: I think that even then, formidable problems would remain. And so, I think to be optimistic I think is not to be naïve about the, basically the wicked problems that need to be solved. But, so much depends on establishing the right identity, you could take people that basically don’t regard themselves as part of the same group, and because them to see themselves as part of the same group. And for that, I think that that is possible, not always easy, but possible.
There is a pretty good technique for doing it and those techniques work best at the small scale so that you can get people that currently do not see themselves as part of the same group and common cause, and you can get them to do so. And then you can build up from a micro-level, and the micro-level is not the individual, it’s the small group. And then from there, you can build up with the more macro-level and so this is exactly what we’re trying to do. And the best way to do that is actually get started and do it underground, work in real-world situations. So, that’s what we’re trying to do and if there’s, if you want to invite us in, then that’s, we’ll be there. Give us a call there.
Speaker 5: Thank you. So, if you have any other questions feel free to ring up the author, buy some books from the good people of [LA paid book company 00:35:19]. Thank you to Nick Hanauer. Thank you so much, Professor Wilson, for joining us tonight. And thank you all for coming.
David S. Wilson: Thank you, thank you.
Speaker 5: Okay. This event was recorded at Town Hall, Seattle as part of the science lecture series. To learn more, visit townhallseattle.org.
Nick Hanauer: And I think we both answered that question moderately well, but upon reflection, I think, I’m evermore confident that there’s a reason to be optimistic. And that’s because we’re not that far away from making, from turning the corner, I would say. Do you agree?
David S. Wilson: True Personism is when you just don’t know the way forward.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: Optimism is when you do know the way forward, even if it might be extraordinarily difficult. This is why we both have an underlying optimism, despite the fact that this is the worst of times.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: We’re one step away from it being the best of times.
Nick Hanauer: Yes.
David S. Wilson: Because all we need to do, all we need-
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: Is to have an appropriate target of selection to replace DNP and faulty targets with-
Nick Hanauer: Yes.
David S. Wilson: Really the benefit of the whole system. And then, design the fitness landscape so that this amazing engine of, you might say, free enterprise is oriented towards hitting that target. And there’s examples of this already having happened. I think we need to go back in history and realize there’s a reason why we call this the Second Gilded Age. Let’s revisit the First Gilded Age, in which inequality had reached such a point that really of the western societies seem to be on the verge of collapse.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: And it was against that background that FDR was elected. And I’m told that when he was elected someone said “sir, you’re going to be either the best President or the worst President.” And he said “I’m either going to be the best President or the last President.” Because that’s how bad it was.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah. So, why should our listeners care so much and why should they take the time to understand evolutionary theory? Why is it indispensable to understanding life as a human?
David S. Wilson: So, I like to quote Einstein, the most quotable of all scientists, who said “the theory decides what we can observe. Nothing is obvious all by itself. We see everything through the lens of one theory or another.” And when you, that speaks to the need for the right theory. But the wrong theory, or the wrong worldview then things make sense that lead us down the wrong path to do things that become part of the problem. With this view of life, evolutionary theory does, it provides the right theory. And then, we can make the wise choices we need to make. And when you adopt that worldview, then it becomes as an intuitive as any other worldview. So I end my book by saying, “I look forward to the day when the whole world will be saying, along with Thomas Huxley, how stupid of us not to have thought of that.”
And so, I think that’s our optimism. It’s not that it’s easy.
Nick Hanauer: No.
David S. Wilson: But, it’s as if, yes there’s a path. And we can follow that path, and so that can be tremendously motivating no matter how challenging it is. Then, that’s the kind of optimism that we both share.
Nick Hanauer: One of the reasons that I’m very optimistic, is that I do think that there’s a relatively easy step-function in improvement available to us by simply teaching the people that already are on our side, why a lot of the worst neoliberal instincts that they continue to cling onto, because that there’s been no alternative, are wrong. And that, in my experience doing this work, what’s really struck is that how many of my allies were owned, essentially, by the ideas of my opponents. And that, and how those perspectives constrained progress. And I think that if we can get the word out about some of these ideas, collectively, it’ll be a lot easier to move forward.
David S. Wilson: I think that’s an important point to end on, Nick. That this is not actually even a matter of intentions, that someone can have the best of intentions, but by viewing, by having the wrong theory then-
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: They get led astray for that reason. And so, some of the most progressive, change-oriented, whole earth oriented people actually are not part of the solution because they don’t have this particular perspective. I always want to stress that this view of life does, actually, does not slot into any current political position. It’s not left, right, center or libertarian. And for that reason, it can draw upon all of people from all of those positions.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah.
David S. Wilson: This is really something new that should be checked out no matter what your current political persuasion.
Nick Hanauer: Yeah, I agree.
Speaker 2: Pitchfork Economics is produced by Civic Ventures, the magic happens in Seattle in partnership with Larj Media. That’s L-a-r-j Media and The Young Turks Network. Find us on Twitter and Facebook @civicaction. Follow our writing on Medium @civicskunkworks. And peak behind the podcast scenes on Instagram @pitchforkeconomics. And one more, you should definitely follow Nick on Twitter @nickhanauer. As always, a big thank you to our guests and thanks to you for listening from our team at Civic Ventures, Nick Anhauer, Zach Silk, [Jasmine Weaver 00:41:14], Jessyn Farrell, Stephanie Irven, David Goldstein, Paul Constant, [Steven Paolini 00:41:19] and [Annie Fabley 00:41:20]. See you next week.