Is evolution really connected to survival of the fittest? I have been thinking a lot about evolution recently. The first thing which sparked my interest was an interview with Richard Dawkins on the radio. As a young student at Oxford University, he described how he felt he had fallen into the most wonderfully rigorous and challenging environment, where seminars with his tutor exemplified this notion of survival of the fittest. Each individual’s ideas would be subjected to rigorous challenge to test their validity and one visiting expert who came to address them got no further than his opening sentence before being challenged about his assumptions and did not get any further during the ensuing hour of debate. With Dawkins Sun exalted in Aries, it is easy to see how this environment felt like manna from heaven. He went on to explain that he had developed his theories contradicting Group Theory when realising that animals or insects (as vehicles) are working on behalf of genes which seek to replicate themselves. Thus a gorilla might fight or kill to ensure the survival of his genes over those of unrelated rivals. As Dawkins talked I was struck by the fact that our theories and our view of the world are strongly informed by our pre-dispositions. Without the value of a tool like Astrology, which unlike other tools posits variations in the way we think without judging other positions to be simply wrong or misguided, it is difficult not to get trapped by the bias of our own pre-disposition or to allow for it in our thinking and so step outside its prejudices. For Dawkins, with the Sun in Aries, it has to be about survival of the fittest and what better depiction of Aries could there be than both the environment he was informed and attracted by with its intellectual rigour and his book, The Selfish Gene. The presumption was that since this held in a number of instances it applied to all instances. Everything was about the selfish gene.
Now this is not to denigrate Hawkins work, which has clearly been of great value but only to suggest that it is not the only way of looking at the world and it holds dangers if it dominates. This is what I want to talk about in terms of evolution and the current square between Pluto in Capricorn and Uranus in Aries because I think that evolution and “survival of the fittest” are at the heart of this square and what it is prompting us to become conscious of.
I want first to talk about a few other factors that have prompted me to be thinking about evolution over the last year or so – no self-respecting Sagittarian jumps straight to the point without telling all the fascinating (for me anyway) threads that led to this point. So, after listening to Dawkins, I was prompted to think about my own perspective. Was it true, I wondered, that I would act or would be prompted to act, as a vehicle for my DNA, to preserve my genes? I had to conclude that I would not. Whilst I love my parents, my sister, my nephews and nieces and my own children, I would not necessarily prioritise them over others. In many cases, I put time, energy and my resources at the disposal of complete strangers. This is because, for me, it feels like we are all family, like there is only one of us. So, traveling as much as I do across the world and encountering people from different cultures and backgrounds, I feel just as strong a connection with them as I do with my own family. Indeed, my money, my energy and my actions don’t tend to be exclusively dedicated to promotion of my genes, even indirectly through group or social structures. Similarly, I might also prioritise animals or nature on a parallel footing with human beings, so it is not just species prioritisation. Now, this is not to suggest that Dawkins is not right; it is clear that at an instinctive and practical level, a significant proportion of my time, energy, resources etc. are dedicated to my family, it is rather that this is not the only truth and nor am I, like a rat say, limited by instinctive responses, I can choose to use my consciousness to inhibit my instincts (if I am aware of them).
Some months after the Dawkins interview, I was reading an article in the New Scientist about Hipster toads. The article explained that these Hipster Toads grow spines during the mating season and fight each other, but the winner then protects the eggs of its rival as well as its own. The article went to convoluted lengths to attribute this to Darwinian evolution and the selfish gene paradigm. This is not an isolated example; I have seen many convoluted attempts to bend reality to fit the paradigm of natural selection rather than keeping an open mind. This is not to say that Darwinism is necessarily wrong, but only that there may be other factors at play that we do not yet know. I would advocate the same open-mindedness towards Astrology. Astrologers like Ptolemy were clearly wrong when they went to great lengths to defend the idea that the Sun revolved around the Earth and this involved convoluted explanations to justify the prevailing paradigm. Again this is relevant (I am just reassuring non-Sagittarians/Jupiterians) since it caused me to think about the real nature of evolution and how we challenge our own thinking about it.
Continuing this theme of evolution, I was also considering something which has held question marks in my mind since I was very young and that is the process by which we select our partners in life. The research suggests that there are key traits that we find attractive and that the basis for this is because they are key to evolutionary fitness. So we tend to find people with symmetrical faces attractive since this suggests the fittest genes and best DNA, also we tend to find slim people attractive and in some cultures well covered is attractive etc. etc. Yet, it is clear that it is not only symmetrically faced, slim people who mate and have children. Indeed it seems to be the case that physical features are only part of the story. When we dig more deeply it is clear that many psychological factors play a role, as do the charts for those who know astrology, so the picture becomes more complex. Now this might be a case for the selfish gene playing out its own selfish agenda except for the fact that the propagation of the human species does not seem to be on the basis of only certain people having children so that only a certain “fit” proportion propagate, or we evolve towards certain physical characteristics. Is it perhaps that we prioritise the human race as a whole? Some of our actions towards other species would tend to suggest so, except that there are clearly people around who are willing to prioritise animals/insects/trees etc. over humans. This suggests to me that the picture is not quite as simple as a case of the selfish gene and this is central to my thinking. I do not think we are the empty vehicles of DNA as Dawkins suggest. I think we have choice, choice to be conscious of our instincts and choose how we act on them. Or, if there is a selfish gene operating then this gene seems complicit in creating the provocations for us to evolve consciously.
The last factor I want to talk about with regard to evolution is that of tool making. Most scientists concur that the differentiation of modern man, came with our ability to create and use tools. Indeed, each evolutionary step in human history is associated with technological breakthroughs. To this day, there seems to be a dominance of market forces which dictate that any human activity that can be automated will replace the need for humans to continue to labour at that task. In response to this the bones in our bodies have become more gracile and much of the physical activity/labour undertaken by modern humans comes from choice rather than necessity.
So far so good, but what does this mean for the current Pluto/Uranus square? One last (I promise) example of what jogged my thinking on evolution further (I like to think of this blog as an evolutionary blog – perhaps eventually as long as human history!). I recently ran a programme on change for a leading global law firm which is one of my clients, as part of this we were asking the participants, who were support staff (administrative rather than dealing directly with clients) about the current environment in the firm. What came out was that they felt that there had been and continued to be constant change. On the whole, these were not changes they liked. They felt that the firm had lost its interest in and care for staff. It felt more impersonal and people felt there was no sense of personal loyalty or care. The key driver was reducing cost. As a result individuals felt they were in an increasingly pressurised environment with more expected from fewer people and interactions felt less personal and more transactional. At the same time, they recognised the pressures on the firm as a whole of competing in a global environment where there was pressure on fees for the firm and clients were driving down costs themselves. The leading law firms were paying higher and higher fees to partners and so the fear of missing the boat had become enormous, the fear that the firm would not be able to compete and attract talent was driving cost reductions further and further – the justification was cited regularly as the “war for talent” (despite the main research for the concept of the “war for talent” coming from Enron – a spectacular example of short-term profiteering at the expense of the company survival and the wider economy).
It is easy to feel, and many people do, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that we are all doomed. Yet, each generation has seen the next generation as having lost touch with human values and being on a race to the bottom so I do not subscribe to this doomed picture of the world. Yet at the same time, who or what is this monster that seems to be eating us all up against our will at such a rate of knots? Can its rampaging appetite never be sated? Stand up and take the applause Mars and its veiled partner Pluto (oh and with Capricorn and Uranus thrown in to flavour the dish). What I began to see today was that this monster eating us up that nobody likes but everyone feels powerless to alter is none other than fear of missing the boat; the endless, timeless pressure to compete to survive – the selfish gene. What occurred to me is, are we really powerless to prevent this? Well yes and no. It is clear from history that we cannot rid ourselves of Mars or Pluto or any planet for that matter. In that sense, ruthless and destructive as it is, we are constantly born and being killed off in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth. In many ways it is the same for the Earth hurtling round the Sun in a manic cycle with no pause, going from Spring to Autumn – Aries to Scorpio. On Chrissy Philp’s model of the brain she calls the Aries-Scorpio complimentary connection Time since it is a continual process of birth, of a new moment “now” and then the death of that moment. So no, I do not think we are going to escape this cycle. However, I have written before about the fact that I think aspects in astrology are a focus for consciousness. What I see is that the Pluto in Capricorn – Uranus in Aries square is a focus for consciousness and what is being asked of us is how do we want to deal with competition and fear – can we bring a new consciousness (Uranus in Aries) to this age old primal urge for survival and tool making (Pluto in Capricorn)? Wherever it is being expressed in the world, the fight is about survival of the fittest and the fear of being obliterated (of dying). This plays out in the Middle East where those who were the most powerful (the winners of the survival of the fittest contest) cling precariously to power in the face of new combatants who want to supplant them and now feel they are fitter to run things. Each side fears that if they do not win the result will be disastrous – they will die. In Europe, the banks were driven by fear of missing the boat – keeping up with everyone else making profits. In the UK ocal councils invested in Icelandic banks to keep up and get the best rate of interest, in turn Icelandic banks took on monumental debt beyond their means because they wanted to be able to compete with their bigger cousins, the global banks. At the same time, people took on unrealistic debt to buy houses they felt they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford and so on. It is a constant selfish gene stuck in a cycle of racing for survival. Yet, do we have to play it this way? At an individual level we know that our personal development rests on our ability to become more conscious of our own instincts and emotions because by doing so we have choice about whether to act on these instincts – we can inhibit them (that is choose not to act on them rather than repress them).
So if we are able to exercise consciousness we can examine our instincts and choose whether to continue to be dominated by playing them out. In fact everyone of us has choice. This work is what the I-Ching calls “Work on what has been spoiled”. I was discussing this with a partner in Germany at my global law firm client who felt very much overtaken by the monster of “the system”. He described how prison guards at the concentration camps felt the same way – that they had no choice; the system demanded it and no doubt they thought they were doing the “right thing”. I had been reading him a quote from Viktor Frankl, which was topical given his comment about the concentration camps, since Frankl had been a survivor of the Auschwitz and Dachau. The quote was from the book he wrote – Man and his search for Meaning. Frankl’s great discovery, during his experience of concentration camps, was that there was one great freedom that could not be taken away from human beings no matter how appalling the circumstances and that was to choose their attitude towards the experience. He noted that all in the concentration camps faced the same situation (the guards included) but that as humans we are not unconscious victims of our circumstances, products only of our environments, we have choice. This is not control over our environment or circumstances but rather choice over how we respond. The implication for Frankl was that the very worst of human experience in the concentration camps could be turned into something meaningful through our consciousness – Work on What Has Been Spoiled indeed!
When I was twenty-three I was caught in a black hole about “missing the boat”. I was so confused about what to do with my career and there was the pressure of watching peers “catching the boat” and starting to build their careers and the weight of expectations of parents and others. Now, I had the great good fortune to be in wise company (the I-Ching and my friend Chrissy’s input). As a result of my great good fortune, I took to heart the I-Ching’s perspective that “you cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away”. I sat down to do a visualisation; I got nice and comfy sitting on the bank of a river, doing nothing and admiring the beauty of the river. Then I imagined a boat moored by me with all the people I knew on it – friends, family etc. After contemplating it, I then unmoored the boat, threw the mooring rope to all my friends and family on the boat and watched it sail away down the river whilst wishing them all well. I consciously set about missing the boat. I gave up on getting a career, getting a girlfriend and set about dealing with what was in front of me – sorting out my finances and taking responsibility for myself. This involved applying for jobs and giving up on being in film and TV work (which only sporadically paid and did not seem as fulfilling as I had hoped). Each day I applied for three jobs. After a week of this, I received a phone call out of the blue from a temping agency I did not know I had signed up with. They said they had a semi-permanent job doing time-sheet reconciliations for a firm of accountants. It sounded the antithesis of any career aims but just what I was looking for financially. So for ten months I did time-sheet reconciliations. Unbeknownst to me, my career had begun. My job was in a department run by Administration and Personnel at Ernst and Young where I was to work in Human Resources (a fancy new term for Personnel) for the next thirteen years. So when I was fretting and worrying and trying to catch my boat, I was busy missing it, when I decided to give up on my boat I was busy catching it. I realised there was a different approach to take to Life and it was not one dominated by fear and competition but it took courage to hold one’s fear back and not act on it. Viktor Frankl reached a similar conculsion:
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
Looked at through this lens, the current situation we find ourselves in – increased focus on cost and competition and a widening gap between rich and poor where the rich bankers, accountants, lawyers, consultants (oh no that’s me…!), are just as caught by fear and feel they have no choice – is a set up. It is a set up to provoke us to become more conscious, to consider our instincts and their consequences. Personally I am noticing a similar pattern at the Law firms to that which I have seen before in the Accountancy sector and in the Banking sector. I was at Ernst & Young when I saw the profession lose sight of being independent accountants and decide they were businessmen and their aim was profit. In vain, I asked partners at Ernst & Young why they did not value Ernst & Young’s qualities of modesty, integrity and friendliness but saw themselves rather as a pale shadow of the more aggressive and confident Arthur Andersen. The result was Enron and the collapse of Arthur Andersen. The government had to step in to regulate an industry that could no longer regulate its own self-interested greed. Indeed, when I asked at a workshop shortly after how the environment had changed the accountants described that their profession had gone from being one viewed with respect by the community to being seen as something corrupted and close to the worst double glazing salesmen. Some years later (about ten years ago) I was working on a leadership programme with Lloyds Bank. We ran a workshop where we were asking them to think about the broader environment and market place and where they found themselves. In the discussion during the programme they were obsessed with HBOS and how they needed to change away from their current focus on service, ethics and their current strategy of not overextending themselves which came from their experience of having been burned by third world debt lending in the past. I challenged them, saying, what if your current strategy proves to be the right one in the long term – I even used the example of Ernst & Young but no-one wanted to listen. They were a business they said and over the course of a few years working with them I noticed that it was more and more difficult to focus them away from targets, profits and sales. They talked about the customer only as a means to the end of increasing their “share of wallet” – a hideous term meaning, that customers were only of value as a means to line their pockets. In the end the government (us, since what else is the government and where else does it get its money from) had to step in to regulate an industry which had become obsessed with its own self-interest. I notice a very similar pattern now with the Law firms. As one of the partners I spoke to described it “a once noble and important profession has become all about profit”, I see that the same is also true of sport – many now positively value aggression and a “winning mentality”, yet we all feel that something has been lost and very topically, newspapers. Where organisations and individuals put their own self-interested greed first they assume they can do so without repercussions.
In talking to a taxi driver going between clients recently, I was mentioning the Jeremy Paxman interview with Russell Brand. We were talking about the fact that neither of us fully agreed with Brand but that he had hit a chord when talking about the polarisation in society. It was clear Paxman seemed to feel the same way. The taxi driver said that he was not against capitalism but it had now become too dominant and it needed balancing – he agreed with me that we had become too polarised in the gap between rich and poor. We talked about the fact that much of this is to do with competition and fear of not surviving or keeping up. The trouble is that this is a vicious circle, the bigger the gap, the bigger the fear of not keeping up and the fear of loss so the gap widens. and the more we are in survival mode, the more short term and cynical our approach becomes. Yet, I am also conscious that most new awareness or consciousness comes in the form of polarisation which forces us to examine the situation more closely. Perhaps there is an opportunity to evolve here; to use this evolutionary provocation to examine evolutionary provocation and take more conscious responsibility for it.
According to Chrissy Philp’s model, the 6 lines of the Creative (the 1st hexagram in the I-Ching) relate to male signs in the Zodiac ascending according to her model of the brain and the 6 lines of the Receptive (the second hexagram in the I-Ching) relate to the six female signs in the Zodiac. Looking at the I-Ching lines correlating to Pluto (or Scorpio), Capricorn, Aries and Uranus (or Aquarius), we get the following four lines:
Hidden lines. One is able to remain persevering. If by chance you are in the service of a king, Seek not works, but bring to completion. If a man is free of vanity he is able to conceal his abilities and keep them from attracting attention too soon; thus he can mature undisturbed. If conditions demand it, he can also enter public life, but that too he does with restraint. The wise man gladly leaves fame to others. He does not seek to have credited to himself things that stand accomplished, but hopes to release active forces; that is, he completes his works in such a manner that they may bear fruit for the future.
Dragons fight in the meadow. Their blood is black and yellow. In the top place the dark element should yield to the light. If it attempts to maintain a position to which it is not entitled and to rule instead of serving, it draws down upon itself the anger of the strong. A struggle ensues in which it is overthrown, with injury, however, to both sides. The dragon, symbol of heaven, comes to fight the false dragon that symbolized the inflation of the earth principle. Midnight blue is the color of heaven; yellow is the color of earth. Therefore, when black and yellow blood flow, it is a sign that in this unnatural contest both primal powers suffer injury.
Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent. When a man seeks to climb so high that he loses touch with the rest of mankind, he becomes isolated, and this necessarily leads to failure. This line warns against titanic aspirations that exceed one’s power. A precipitous fall would follow.
All day long the superior man is creatively active. At nightfall his mind is still beset with cares. Danger. No blame. A sphere of influence opens up for the great man. His fame begins to spread. The masses flock to him. His inner power is adequate to the increased outer activity. There are all sorts of things to be done, and when others are at rest in the evening, plans and anxieties press in upon him. But danger lurks here at the place of transition from lowliness to the heights. Many a great man has been ruined because the masses flocked to him and swept him into their course. Ambition has destroyed his integrity. However, true greatness is not impaired by temptations. He who remains in touch with the time that is dawning, and with its demands is prudent enough to avoid all pitfalls, and remains blameless.
All four lines contain important warnings about the dangers we face. When I look at the four of them they seem very pertinent to our current world view and its dangers. When Pluto moves into a new sign it is calling for transformation in that area of life. We are invited to drag up from the underworld all that has been unconscious and become putrid. When Pluto was in Sagittarius, religious fundamentalism and the role of religion and the way it had become corrupted from something which inspires us to a universal, loving acceptance of each other, had become distorted into something which separated and divided us. As Pluto has moved into Capricorn from 2007 we have been invited to look at the corruption in government and business. With Uranus in Aries squaring this, it has been a major call for new consciousness since Uranus in Aries rules violent shifts and revolutions. The top line of the Receptive is key here. Tools and structure are here to serve us, as is business. In most businesses profit has become the driving motivation. It has usurped the the true role of businesses, which is to serve us and their customers. Indeed, business is extoled and seen as the model for every area of life. Modern business leaders are consulted on every subject; Education, Sport, Government, Architecture and cost and profit have become the dominant factors, yet each of these areas is corrupted if the dominant focus becomes money. This is the point that the I-Ching is making, that Capricorn (embodying the Receptive on Chrissy Philp’s model) must serve rather than lead. To see the results for our wider society of putting profit first we only have to look at the collapse of the banking system, where a focus on profit as the guiding principle and competition as the guiding instinct impacted us all. In the same way, we can see the impact of our modern approach to building houses, where estates of low cost, uniform housing create ugliness all around us. We are being challenged to see that we cannot escape the broader responsibilities of our actions. That lining our own pockets on an individual basis creates consequences for all of us, including ourselves. Big businesses have lost sight of morality or their broader responsibilities to society. The recent scandals in terms of the evasion of tax on the part of large businesses demonstrated that they do not view tax as a contribution to the societies they gain their profits from. But they are not alone. Businesses reflect our individual attitudes. Like the prison guards at Auschwitz and in any similar situation, there is always individual choice. It happens because we are all unconsciously acting in our instinctive self-interests. How has this state of affairs come about? How have we become so detached from the consequences of our actions? For this, I want to refer to Rick Tarnas, who describes the way that we have lost touch with the Numinous.
Our current dominant Scientific paradigm is one which sees the Earth as inanimate and discreet. Religion is dismissed as unscientific (Dawkins God Delusion is symbolic of this trend). Many cannot conceive that the world is alive or that there are repercussions to our actions. Our dominant philosophy is one which sees the world in terms of a random series of cause and effect, with no sense that our actions have wider or more universal repercussions. Only one mode (for all that it is important) of understanding the world is seen as valid, instead of integrating that powerful and important mode as part of a number of modes of understanding the world. Science and technology along with business has fallen prey to the dangers of leading rather than serving us.
How do we change all this? Paxman asked Russell Brand what the new model was. Brand was unable to respond and where he did, his responses mirrored age old political dividing lines rather than genuinely new models. Yet, Paxman’s demands reflected the difficulty of the situation. When I worked at Ernst & Young and in the work I did at charities and other institutions, I began to see that replacing one system with a new system does not work. That only a shift in consciousness creates change. Once individual consciousness shifts then new systems and structures to serve that end emerge. This is the point, that Capricorn (systems and structures are there to serve us not to lead). It is the age old battle between Uranus and Saturn. Saturn or Capricorn solidifies and serves new ideas and concepts (Uranus) but over time these gradually stifle and calcify, until they become an impediment to progress. At this point Uranus is needed to bring new energy and revolution. Yet, if Capricorn resists and fights, there is damage to all, as the I-Ching describes. It is easy to see this in the Middle East where there is damage caused to everyone by the fights going on. Instead, what is needed is a shift in consciousness, an awareness that the universe is alive, that there is a consequence to our actions beyond our full understanding. We need to be shaken by the awe of knowing that we do not know and guided by our intuitive connection through our hearts to the whole universe. Above all, we need to become conscious of our fears and instincts and to choose whether we want to act on them – to work on what has been spoiled in us. We are entering a new phase where the companies we operate in and the challenges we face transcend our local and national boundaries. With this new challenging environment, comes greater competition, greater fear, greater impersonality, yet we do not have to fall prey to fear and to the pressure of fear for survival that this new context brings. We need instead to focus on that which is universal to all mankind. The language of “winners”, “ambition” and “aggression” which has become so prevalent in business is a language of division and isolation. The I-Ching says instead that “you cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away”. Only when we realise this and we realise that we are all one in our heart can we move away from the idea that we can profit at the expense of others without hurting ourselves as well. It is called enlightened self-interest. I think it is time for an enlightened selfish gene! I leave the last comment to the I-Ching:
Thus the superior man reduces that which is too much and augments that which is too little. He weighs things and makes them equal….in this way he establishes order in the world: he equalises the extremes that are the source of social discontent and thereby creates just and equable conditions.