The concept of natural selection is not limited to animal species. It involves any group, from species to sports teams to social-economic groups, societies. More important, it does not refer to the strongest or most fit individuals within any of these given groups. It is sad, but the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ has come to define modern social thought, and has done so in complete error and misunderstanding of the concept.
It is interesting to note the phrase, ‘survival of the fittest’ was coined by British philosopher Herbert Spenser, who used it to explain his economic theories. Darwin borrowed the phrase to help explain the concept of ‘natural selection.’ The phrases ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘survival of the species’ have fallen out of favor with biologists, as they do not fully convey the idea more commonly expressed as ‘natural selection.’
Many people today think that ‘survival of the fittest’ is the idea that the strongest individual within a group survives. In a raw, bottom line sense, this is true. But it falls far short of explaining ‘natural selection.’ The benefits are limited only to that individual and die with them. The football team with the best quarterback, but the worst linesmen and worst receivers gains little benefit from their star quarterback. His fitness serves no purpose except to him alone.
Those who take this concept into Ian Randian social-economics completely misunderstand the idea of species survival. A social or economic system that contains a few strong individuals is not a stronger, better society. On the contrary, it is generally a weaker one, the strengths of those individuals being bled from the surrounding group. Their strengths do not spread out. They deprive many of those within the group the tools and resources necessary to benefit the society as a whole. Any dictatorship demonstrates this principle.
The machinery of natural selection is absolutely dependant on the widespread deliverance of beneficial traits within the group. The stronger individuals must support the species, and disseminate their strengths to the greater group in order to improve the specie’s survival potential. The same is true of social and economic groups. The strength or wealth of individuals within the group has no benefit to the society unless they are passed on. The tricks, tools, traits, and conditions that benefit the wealthy must be made available to the group as a whole in order for the society to become stronger.
This all brings to mind two other phrases, ‘strength in numbers,’ and ‘one for all, and all for one.’ It is sad that these phrases have not invaded our modern economic and social discourse to the same extent as that of a misunderstood, abandoned phrase. The strongest society, the one that will survive, is not the group that contains the fittest individuals. Instead, it will be one with the overall group that is most fit.