Club of Rome Salon: Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker

My response (spoken freely) to Dialogue between Joerg Geier (Moderator), Prof. Lorenzo Fioramonti and Petra Pinzler , on “Wellbeing” ( “Salon” of the German Chapter of the Club of Rome, Nov 30, 2020):

Thank you, Joerg, for inviting me to respond. I am afraid I feel unable, after the great dialogue between Lorenzo and Petra, to contribute to the discussion about “Wellbeing”. I can only agree with what the two have said.

Perhaps I can offer an observation which I am sure most of you also had: It has become fashionable and chic to complain about a lack of wellbeing; – and blaming the existing politicians for that. And that at a time where consumption, leisure, and media amusement have reached much higher levels than ever before. 

Perhaps I can offer one explanation. It’s the super-competitive mindset that has become dominant in our societies. From the kindergarten age on, we are pressed to achieve. We are constantly expected to deliver more and to compare one self with the “competing” children or adults all the time. That destroys wellbeing!

Behind this, as I see it, is a wrong interpretation of Darwinism. Darwin is understood, chiefly in the Anglo-American world, as saying that ruthless competition is the basis of evolution, meaning it’s a good thing. In reality, Darwin gave his theory of evolution the final shape after his visit to the Galápagos Islands where he found birds, all stemming from finches, having gone through an evolution that would have been impossible in the presence of competing birds from the South American continent. The absence of superior competitors as the condition for exclusive evolution!

The biological reality is that symbiosis and cooperation between species can be a lot more successful that permanent competition!

What is worse is “Social Darwinism”, conceived of by Herbert Spencer (and later practically executed in a criminal fashion by Adolf Hitler and his gang). Social Darwinism means ruthless competition as the basis for social evolution. 

It reminds me of a book by the American author Mary E. Clark, an anthropologist. In her book In Search of Human Nature she considers the early evolution of humankind since the Stone Age and says (in short) that those communities survived which learned and perfected cooperation instead of competition. That’s the opposite, so it seems, to the brutal, and primitive competition ideology. I sense that we in Continental Europe enjoy an advantage over the Anglo-American world where Social Darwinism is seen as a “law of nature”.