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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Enron and Darwinism: A perfect fit?

I've sometimes said that Darwinism is the Enron of biology, but I hadn't realized that the Enron guys themselves were actually Darwin freaks. A friend tells me, re the Enron doc, The Smartest Guys in the Room,
Of interest to me was the unapologetically explicit philosophy of Darwinism which was prevalent at Enron from top management to commodity traders.
Hmmm. Every year, in the Freelance Survival 101 course that I teach at Write! Canada, I spend a certain amount of the available time disabusing students of the view that Darwinian competition is the best way to understand how business works.

The business environment with which I am familiar - and in which I have managed to thrive as a freelance writer for nearly four decades - is best seen as an ecology, not a Darwinian jungle.

The secret of thriving in an ecology is to know how the system works, your place in it, and the safe limits for any activity.

Example: I am only occasionally in direct competition with other writers. Most of the time, they have the same interests as I do, and the whole publishing industry has certain interests in relation to other industries and to government - and to the publishing industries and governments in other English-speaking countries. So we all work together most of the time.

Lone Darwinians are usually pole-axed.

And the Enrons didn't know that? Oops, I am admitting that Darwinism is nonsense. It isn't safe for you to hear me. Don't listen to me if your job requires you to believe that Darwinism is the best idea anyone ever had, as American philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it.

Here is an interview that attempts to rewrite Darwin, to rescue him:
METRO: You stressed that Skilling's misreading of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene changed him: Skilling got his ideas from it, in the same way the robber barons of the Gilded Age misread Darwin.

GIBNEY: And a close reading of Adam Smith shows it's not a "What, me worry?" world. Yes, Skilling misread that book to believe that if everyone is as selfish as possible, the best possible social outcome will emerge. There's a lot in Darwin about cooperation as a viable genetic strategy.

METRO: The stuff anyone who goes on a rainforest tour learns, about symbiosis and interlocking systems. It's all just beyond the ken of these guys.
Actually, Darwin agreed with Herbert Spencer that Darwinism was about "survival of the fittest."*

Agree? Disagree? If you need to rewrite Darwin to make him fit YOUR philosophy, why do you? What's going on in your head at this point? Why don't you just junk all that crap, and admit that you live in a designed universe. And so?

*You will, of course, hear modern hagiographers of Darwin attempting to soften or dismiss all this, to accommodate Darwinism to the nanny state. They need Darwin so badly, he can't just wrong, so he needs to be rewritten so that he is right.

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