Solidarity or conflict?

The nineteenth century bequeathed two opposing models of how nature works. The most influential version is a certain interpretation of Darwin’s Origin of Species characterized by Herbert Spencer. It emphasizes individual competition and frames nature as like a gladiatorial battle for survival, “whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day” (Spencer, 1888). Spencer was influenced by Thomas Malthus, who mistakenly predicted that population growth would lead to global catastrophe. Common to both ideologies is an assumption of scarcity rather than abundance.

Peter Kropotkin offers a very different way of understanding nature. Kropotkin is probably best known for his anarchist ideas, but he was also an influential scientist. He did extensive fieldwork in Siberia and North-east Asia and identified many examples of cooperation between animals. For Kropotkin “survival of the fittest” didn’t refer to the toughest and meanest individual, but to the community that learnt to work together. He called this mutual aid, and he concluded that it was empathy that underpinned this behaviour. Mutual aid sprang up spontaneously across the globe during the Covid-19 pandemic and at the time of writing, there are 2065 groups listed on the UK mutual aid website.

Cover of the book, 'Mutual Aid'

These two very different ways of seeing the world seem to be playing out on the world stage: On one side we see Putin’s imperialist war which implicitly assumes that might is right. Meanwhile, Berlin is preparing beds for 20,000 Ukrainian refugees. Which wins, solidarity or conflict?

Kropotkin didn’t deny that competitive struggle has a role in natural selection but argued that mutual aid was more important. Although there is conflict amidst various species, “there is perhaps even more … mutual support, mutual aid, and mutual defence … Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle” (Kropotkin, 1902).

I’m saddened that Kropotkin’s insights aren’t more widely implemented. Instead of emphasizing the value of mutual aid, the prevalent ideology of the Global South prioritises individualism. This doesn’t nurture our well-being or indeed our basic humanity. Moreover, it may ultimately lead to total climate collapse. But we have a choice and mutual aid is both intellectually satisfying and life-enhancing.

Most Popular Posts of 2020

The most popular post on my blog this year is from a guest, Stephanie Gottlob, an improvisational movement artist. Although it’s not something I wrote, I’m delighted that this post has done so well as I’m keen to promote Stephanie’s work. I’d guess that part of its popularity is the interview I did with Stephanie for The Embodiment Conference in October, but all that really did was to inform a wider range of people about her fascinating work. I like to think that it’s only when you promote something of quality that you get attention. Stephanie and I are in regular correspondence and rest reassured she’ll be featured here again in 2021. Meanwhile, check out Stephanie Gottlob’s post.

In second place is my post on Embodied knowledge, which is gratifying as this is something I’ve been working on for decades. I finally managed to put together a sketch map of different models of embodied knowing. To be honest I wondered if anyone would pay any attention to it, but I’ve had some academic interest and this post has been read by a lot of you. Thanks! A related and perhaps more accessible post on the same subject was the fourth most popular post: “We know more than we can tell”: Why embodied knowledge matters. I’m pursuing this research in 2021 and I’m planning to organize an online conference on embodied ways of knowing. More on this as it develops.

Left brain – right brain: In therapy was the third most popular post last year. No surprise I guess as neuroscience is fascinating and rather fashionable at the moment! I’ll be looking more into neuroscience this year, especially the ways in which it might illuminate the ways that the embodied pathways of connection function.

Do you have a favourite posts that I haven’t mentioned? Or maybe your favourite made the list of top posts? I’d love to hear your comments!