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of shifting the blame for social instability onto the victims of
a global process driven by the north (Duf¬eld 2001: 71).
This chapter will argue that the global economy is the
social analogue of an ecological system, in which the costs
and bene¬ts of individuals™ strategies are shaped by the niche
they occupy in a changing system. It argues for an ecology
of social behaviour that can account for the development of
stable strategies over time, but can also assess whether some
local social systems are inherently unstable or whether they
are destabilised by changes in their larger social environment.
It is, in other words, about the evolution of order and dis-
order in social systems. The biologist John Maynard Smith
noted the power of the analogy between rational action and
genetic adaptation in his work on the application of game the-
ory to animal behaviour: the utility of a strategy in economics
is analogous to the contribution a behaviour pattern makes
to reproductive success in evolutionary theory. Rationality
(seeking the strategy which best meets the individual™s eco-
nomic interests) is analogous to the process through which
natural selection blindly acts upon alternative, genetically
determined patterns of behaviour to favour the most adap-
tive variant (Maynard Smith 1982: vii, 2). As Nasar pointed
out, the most favourable strategy may be determined by the
state of interaction between individuals.
˜Evolution™, as used in this chapter, refers to Darwinian
evolution, not progressive evolution in Herbert Spencer™s
sense, where social systems are driven by an internal dynamic
toward ever-increasing complexity. In Darwinian theory the
Order and anarchy
80
individual actor is the object of analysis, the ˜unit of selec-
tion™. Change arises from the consequences of variation in
individual behaviour in a speci¬ed environment. For humans,
and for many other species, the environment is both physical
and social. In neo-Darwinian theory, random genetic variation
creates a variety of bodily form and behaviour within a pop-
ulation. Environmental conditions determine which varieties
are better able to reproduce and raise offspring to maturity
than alternative forms, and it is the genes responsible for the
successful variants that are passed on to the next generation
in greatest numbers. In the social theory of Bourdieu and
Giddens it is learned cultural strategies that are transmitted
with greater or lesser frequency during social interaction.

Sel¬sh genes and their ecology
The following paragraphs discuss whether the natural envi-
ronment has emergent properties, similar to those of social sys-
tems, which arise from the interaction of different organisms.
Concluding that this is the case, it is argued that ecological
systems provide better models of process than the simplis-
tic concepts of development and function on which Herbert
Spencer relied.
There are two extremes in contemporary neo-Darwinian
theory, the ˜sel¬sh gene™ and the ˜¬tness landscape ™ schools.
These competing ideas have generated debate in evolution-
ary theory as to whether the primary motor of evolutionary
change is the gene, or the ecological system that exerts selec-
tive pressures on the organism. The debate parallels a problem
in social theory. Should analysis focus solely on the individ-
ual decision-maker, as in classical economics, or note that the
outcome of his decisions is determined by the emergent prop-
erties of social interaction highlighted in game theory and
Self-interest and social evolution 81
structuration? In genetics, Richard Dawkins (1976) advocates
the ˜sel¬sh gene™, whose only ˜goal™ is to ensure it is transmitted
to future generations, regardless of its effect on the organism
that carries it. Dawkins does acknowledge that genes interact
with one another within the developing organism (Dawkins
1976: 271), but this is incidental to his general argument. The
biologists Stuart Kauffman (1993) and Simon Conway Morris
(1998), on the other hand, argue that the environment to which
organisms adapt is transformed by other organisms.
Leigh Van Valen showed one cause of progressive change,
the ˜Red Queen™ scenario (Van Valen 1973). Here a preda-
tor population and its prey become increasingly specialised,
as each exercises a selective effect on variation in the other.
Cheetahs preying on gazelles favour survival of the fastest
gazelles by killing those who are slower. This in turn exerts a
selective pressure on cheetahs, favouring the fastest hunters.
Conway Morris (1998) explains the Cambrian explosion of
diverse early life forms around 550 million years ago as a con-
sequence of the appearance of the ¬rst predators undermin-
ing existing adaptations. Suddenly, there was huge selective
pressure favouring those organisms that could evade or repel
predators, leading to a proliferation of new species. Hence,
contrary to the thrust of Dawkins™s approach, the interac-
tion of organisms is acknowledged to shape the direction
in which any population evolves. Kauffman writes, ˜In co-
evolutionary processes, the ¬tness of one organism or species
depends upon the characteristics of the other organisms or
species with which it interacts, while all simultaneously adapt
and change™ (Kauffman 1993: 33). Kauffman extends this prin-
ciple to the co-evolution of genes in the organism; it is in genes™
˜self-interest™ to ˜co-operate™, to ensure the organism survives
long enough to reproduce. It is at this point that game theory
and structuration become relevant to evolution.
Order and anarchy
82
A ¬tness landscape is a theoretical model that represents
adaptation in an evolving population. Populations climb peaks
in their landscape as they become increasingly well adapted
to a particular ecological niche. If there were no interaction
between species during biological evolution, each population
would eventually stabilise on the highest peak in its land-
scape, eliminating fellow members stranded on lower peaks
(the ˜sel¬sh gene™ or neo-classical view in economics). In prac-
tice, however, the reproductive success of each species is partly
determined by the ¬tness of other species such as predators,
with which it interacts, and which change the shape of the
landscape.
Adam Smith™s theory of economics can be compared to the
˜sel¬sh gene™ approach in evolutionary biology. The butcher,
the brewer and the baker pursue their self-interest indepen-
dently of one another, but we have their self-interested activi-
ties to thank for our daily meat, beer and bread. Marx™s critique
of Smith relied on what can, in retrospect, be regarded as a
˜landscape™ approach that recognises positive feedback. Indi-
viduals competing for their self-interest differentially affect
each other™s life chances, creating the industrial equivalent of
an ecological system. A ˜sel¬sh gene™ model implies, as does
neo-classical economics, that genetic variability will eventu-
ally stabilise around the best available adaptation to the eco-
logical niche and does not predict cumulative change of the
sort addressed by Marx in his model of class con¬‚ict arising
from the Industrial Revolution.
The concept of evolutionary landscapes was ¬rst expli-
citly used in the social sciences in Richard Nelson and Sidney
Winter™s evolutionary theory of economics. According to
the evolutionary theory of economics the ˜rationality™ of
behaviour is not measured in terms of the individual™s inten-
tions (as in classical economics), but in terms of the outcome
Self-interest and social evolution 83
for the business or individual™s economic survival in an envi-
ronment that contains competing ¬rms or individuals (Nelson
and Winter 1982). When a ¬rm searches for innovations it
is not perfectly informed about all possible alternatives, but
draws at random from techniques similar to those it already
uses. The consequences of any choice are not fully known.
Different ¬rms respond differently to the same ˜murky sig-
nals™ in the economic environment (Nelson and Winter 1982:
276), allowing a range of behaviours to be explored across the
industry as a whole. Innovations put into practice also trans-
form the landscape within which other ¬rms are operating.
In the global economy, the ˜¬tness™ of local social strategies is
thus determined by interaction with other players.

Selection and cultural continuity or change
Human social behaviour is determined by a combination
of genetically determined and culturally learned strategies.
Schools of thought differ on the relative strength of the ingre-
dients. Social theorists such as Giddens minimise the genetic
component, evolutionary psychologists minimise the cultural
component, while behavioural ecologists and dual inheri-
tance theorists give a substantial role to both (Laland and
Brown 2002). The relative weight that should be attributed to
genes and culture in human social behaviour has been hotly
debated. The evolutionary psychologists Lida Cosmides and
John Tooby have accused social scientists of treating the mind
as an empty vessel, to be ¬lled with learned social rules. Cos-
mides and Tooby™s main targets are Durkheim and the US cul-
tural anthropologist Clifford Geertz (Cosmides, Tooby and
Barkow 1992: 25“8). Cosmides and Tooby argue the opposite
case: evolution has given the human mind a complex structure
with many speci¬c skills which enable the individual to decide,
Order and anarchy
84
for example, whom to mate with, when to co-operate with oth-
ers and how much parental care to expend on each offspring
(Cosmides, Tooby and Barkow 1992: 73). Human cognition
has a standard design that emerged from the selective pressures
experienced by hunter-gatherers (64). Modern variation only
occurs in ˜minor, super¬cial, nonfunctional traits™ (Cosmides,
Tooby and Barkow 1992: 38, cf. 78).
While the capacity we possess for constructing social rela-
tionships is undoubtedly genetically determined, the content
of these relationships is cultural. Given the manifest variabil-
ity in features such as social kinship, I prefer the approach
taken by behavioural ecologists that acknowledges that local
adaptations in social behaviour are generally achieved through
learned strategies.
The fact that speci¬c social strategies are learned does not
preclude the probability that over time strategies that favour
individual survival in society will tend to displace less adap-
tive strategies. If such strategies demand co-operation or reci-
procity, self-interest can generate social order and an evolu-
tionary theory of social interaction is possible. To the extent
that social strategies are learned, Darwinian natural selec-
tion must however be treated as an analogy, not a cause of
social change. Where a Darwinian approach is applied to
culture, a mechanism for the ˜selection™ and transmission of
learned traits, analogous to differential reproductive success
and transmission of genetic traits, must therefore be identi-
¬ed (Elster 1983: 22). Perhaps those who happen by chance
to use better-adapted artefacts, or social strategies such as
particular types of ¬ctive kinship, have greater reproductive
success than do those who use less appropriate variants. The
traits are transmitted when their children unconsciously copy
the parents™ behaviour. In this view, variants arise by chance,
through imperfect copying (see discussions in Basalla 1988:
Self-interest and social evolution 85
135“9, Elster 1983: 10). Intentional choice may speed up the
rate at which more ef¬cient strategies are adopted, but it is the
consequences of people™s choices that determine the strate-
gies™ viability, not the actor™s intentions. Following Nelson
and Winter (1982: 10“11), Basalla (1988) and Elster (1983)
conclude that cultural change actually arises through a com-
bination of random and intentional behaviour. In a stable sit-
uation, copying the tried and tested strategies of the previous
generation is less risky than innovation (Boyd and Richerson
1985: 95ff ). When the actor is uncertain, and does not know
the probability of alternative outcomes arising from a course
of action, choices between actions become increasingly ran-
dom (Elster 1983: 70“6). We need not assume social change is
always driven by far-sighted consciousness, merely by actors
favouring social strategies that appear to give the best outcome
available under local circumstances (Layton 2000).

The ¬tness landscape as a model for social change
In order to understand why local forms of civil society persist
or dissolve, one must consider both their appropriateness to
local conditions, and the impact upon them of changes in the
wider social environment. Dawkins compared the spread of
˜memes™ (learned patterns of behaviour) to the spread of sel¬sh
genes, somewhat like an epidemic. W. H. Durham is a leading
exponent of the ˜dual inheritance™ approach that argues genes
and culture both in¬‚uence each other™s evolution (Laland and
Brown 2002: 281). Durham objects that the epidemic model is
based on ˜radical individualism™ and generally ignores power
and coercion, which are emergent properties of social inter-
action that can in¬‚uence the course of natural selection. ˜In
cultural systems . . . signi¬cant evolutionary forces can and
do arise from unequal social relations™ (Durham 1991: 182“3).
Order and anarchy
86
Peasants of El Salvador and Honduras overexploit a rugged
environment, not through lack of education or concern, but
because during the nineteenth century the landed elite had
manipulated national land tenure policies, squeezing peas-
ants out of productive land and annexing the good land for
their own purposes (Durham 1991: 362; cf. Migdal 1988: 63 on
land reform in Mexico). This is consistent with the ecological
approach to natural evolution advocated by Kauffman and
Conway Morris. James Scott (1976) showed how the ˜Green
Revolution™, which introduced new high-yielding varieties
of rice to Asian farmers, in some cases exacerbated divisions
between the relatively prosperous and poorer peasants. This
happened where only the relatively wealthy could afford the
chemical fertilisers and the hired labour or simple machinery
needed to cultivate ˜Green Revolution™ crops successfully.
While the ˜Green Revolution™ varieties gave a better yield in
the long run if properly cultivated, they could fail once every
¬ve years. A wealthy peasant might have suf¬cient ¬nancial
resources to survive, but the greater long-term yield would be
no use to a poorer peasant household forced out of production
by starvation in the ¬fth year. ˜Susceptibility™ to innovation
is therefore not randomly distributed. If a few are ˜infected™
with an innovation they change the shape of the evolutionary
landscape and may make it harder rather than easier for oth-
ers to adopt it. The social landscape has been transformed by
others™ agency. Durham, in the example cited above, similarly
pointed out that the powerful may compel the weak to act,
not in their own interests but in the interests of the powerful.
To take these interactive processes into account demands an
ecological approach to social evolution.
Some years ago a study of alternative ways of exploiting
Peruvian rain forest showed that local hunters and horticul-
turalists collect produce worth roughly £452 per hectare per
year without harming the forest. Cattle ranching in the same
Self-interest and social evolution 87
area would only yield £95 per hectare per year while logging all
saleable timber would yield a one-off income of £645 (Peters,
Gentry and Mendelsohn 1989). The indigenous adaptation is
clearly the most productive. The problem for the state is that
none of the foragers™ and horticulturalists™ yield enters the
market and therefore it cannot be taxed to fund state activi-
ties. From the state™s perspective the forest is ˜dormant wealth
lying about in almost criminal uselessness™ (the phrase used
by T. E. Day to describe central Australia in the early twen-
tieth century). The state is therefore likely to use its power to
favour ranching or logging.

Adaptation and alternative strategies
The idea of evolution as progress was so deeply rooted in
nineteenth-century European thought that Darwin had to
write notes to himself not to refer to higher and lower forms of
life (Trivers 1985: 31“2, Laland and Brown 2002: 65). Grabher
and Stark (1998: 57) point out that what they call the ˜neo-
liberal transition model™ of post-socialist change in Eastern
Europe embodies the kind of one-way, progressive evolution
associated with Spencer and Comte, against which Darwin
struggled (cf. Duf¬eld 2001: 161). The neo-liberal transition
model fails to explain the divergent outcomes of implement-
ing a free market in different countries. Smith and Pickles
(1998) make the same point. Western governments thought the
introduction of a market economy, privatisation of property
and democratisation of political life in former socialist states
would proceed as a simple matter of diffusing more rational
or advanced forms of organisation into societies that had been
retarded by socialism: an application of the ˜epidemic™ model.
A realistic ˜¬tness landscape™ has many dimensions, re¬‚ect-
ing the many forces exerting selective pressure on a popula-
tion. There are many con¬‚icting pressures to adapt to various
Order and anarchy
88
environmental constraints or opportunities. No individual
organism or ¬rm can adapt perfectly to all of them, and there
can therefore be several sub-optimal but equally adaptive vari-
ants in a population living side by side. Social change is not
necessarily a one-way process and no social institutions are
universally the best or ˜most evolved™.
Elizabeth Dunn documents a striking example of a sustain-
able alternative socio-economic system practised by Mormons
in the United States. Mormon farmers are ˜tithed™, and their
contributionsgoanonymouslyintocookedandpreservedfood
that can only be distributed charitably within the church.
Mormons discourage dependence on state welfare but ˜the
church recognizes that unforeseeable circumstances some-
times force people to rely on others for assistance in meet-
ing basic needs™ (Dunn 1996: 29). Free-riding is not allowed:
˜Recipients should be actively searching for ways to improve
their situations.™ However poor, recipients are expected also
to give. Direct repayment is not expected; when former recip-
ients are back on their feet they give, not as reciprocation,
but as fresh giving. As Dunn writes, ˜It is the direct oppo-
site of time and labour which is exchanged for wages™ (31).
Mormons pride themselves on being model citizens, but see
their practices as steps in the direction of their ideal society,
away from negative consequences of capitalism. ˜The Mor-
mons seek to expand their “civil society” (although this is
not a term they would use) not by opposing the state, but by
creating an alternative domain to the state™ (Dunn 1996: 46,
her parenthesis).
John Eidson and Gordon Milligan (2003: 47) note that one
of the surprising results of privatisation in the former Soviet
bloc is the survival of the legal successors to the collective
farms of the socialist era as voluntary producer co-operatives.
Many family-based farms have been set up in former East
Self-interest and social evolution 89
Germany since reuni¬cation, but in 2001 over 50 per cent of
arable land in the new federal states was still cultivated by
co-operative or corporate farms, most of which were the suc-
cessors to socialist co-operatives. Co-operatives have access
to more capital than family farms, and their managers are often
experienced entrepreneurs whose parents were middle-class
peasants prior to collectivisation.
Processing co-operatives making cheese, wine and other
agricultural products are also common in France, where
they operate alongside private enterprises. Processing co-
operatives are widely promoted by the French government
as a means of ensuring the viability of family farms. Dairy
associations have existed since 1264 in the part of Franche
Comt´ where I conducted ¬eldwork (Lambert 1953: 175; see
e
also Latouche 1938, Lebeau 1951). These associations made it
possible to pool the milk of several households and produce
large, hard cheeses that could be sold to merchants for export to
other parts of France. During a period of economic uncertainty
around the time of the First World War, many associations
ceased co-operative production of cheese and handed over
responsibility for making and selling cheeses to entrepreneurs.
In most cases the building fortunately remained the property
of the association or the village commune. The disadvantages
of entrepreneurial production became apparent during the
German occupation of the Second World War, when many
entrepreneurs, like shopkeepers, pro¬ted from the clandes-
tine sale of dairy produce on the black market, and kept the
money for themselves (Lambert 1953: 176). After the liber-
ation there was a widespread movement in Franche Comt´ e
to restore co-operative control over the production and mar-
keting of cheese. Although entrepreneurs retained control in
some villages, their actions are limited by competition with
neighbouring co-operatives to provide the best price for milk,
Order and anarchy
90
and the knowledge that they, too, could lose their position.
Entrepreneurs and co-operatives shape each other™s strategies
and co-exist rather like different species in the same economic
landscape.
An interesting case where the co-existence of two modes
of organisation proved unsustainable is the development of
the ˜second economy™ in Hungary during the ¬nal years of the
socialist regime and the consequent weakness of private enter-
prise. Hann (1990) describes how workers in Hungarian state
¬rms set up small private enterprises that could pro¬t from
the shortcomings in state production and distribution. The
state tacitly encouraged this. However, the second economy
was symbiotic with or even parasitic on the state economy,
because workers borrowed equipment and diverted supplies
of materials from their principal state employer. Moreover,
the success of the second economy tended to weaken commit-
ment to less well-paid work in normal working hours. Hann
argues the collapse of socialism was partly due to people ™s
unwillingness to adhere to one ideology during daytime and
another (free enterprise) in the evenings. However, the col-
lapse of the state command economy weakened the capacity
of small enterprises to function, because of their dependence
on the ˜parent™ state ¬rm. Once the parent ¬rm collapsed, its
dependent enterprises were starved of resources. This seems
a little like ivy strangling the tree it grows upon! It helps to
explain the weakness of the East European market economy

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