Unedited notes on the term survival
updated August 23, 2004
The idea of survival encompass a much larger world of ideas than avoiding being killed. At issue here is the survival of an individual, the survival of the larger society, or the survival of the entire species. In addition, the compulsion to survive can be thought of as 1. An involuntary reaction or a wired-in reaction to circumstances. 2. The deliberate desire to to further ones existence. These shades of difference are important to understand the definition of survival particularly in view of the intervening issue of altruism in evolutionary theory. A child does not desire to become an adolescent, he or she becomes an adolescent by way of wired-in changes in physiology that occurred as a function of time. In this perspective the compulsion to survive does not have to be a desirable reaction to circumstances as there appear to be forces within people larger than themselves that force them, even unwillingly, to survive. The larger society forces changes in policy to maximize survival and minimize pain suffering and an endless cycle of tragedy. For example, several hundred people are burned to death in a night club because the exit doors are chained shut. If the tragedy is ignored it occurs over and over again. Social time in effect stops completely until a change in behavior occurs. In other words, "adaptation," or in this case writing laws prohibiting chaining doors shut, moves social evolution foreword. There are mechanisms which seem to be an inherent part of human physiology that force adaptation. The avoidance of unpleasant or painful circumstances and an attraction to more pleasant and peaceful circumstances. If exit doors in theaters continue to be chained shut, and theaters continue to burn down, then there will correspondingly be an endless succession of unpleasant circumstances that will never go away until an adaptive reaction in the society occurs. There are limits to unpleasantness that drives people to action. The wired-in reaction to that which is unpleasant helps human beings survive by keeping them on track. Children learn to avoid sharp objects that can cut them, infect them, or cause them to bleed in pain. Pain and unpleasantness plays an important role in the evolution of societies that helps inspire constructive changes.
Human survival is expressed in many varied and subtle ways. The idea that one must mind their manners might seem unimportant, nevertheless, manners help facilitate an increase in social, peace, prosperity and productivity that otherwise would not exist. Even the smallest of rules brings order to a society enabling it to compete and survive amongst other cultures. The competitive process ultimately strengthens the weakest of cultures. As the world grows larger, the technology becomes more complex and the weapons of mass destruction become more powerful these fine shades of behavior are a necessary ingredient in day to day life to keep the world from tearing itself apart and threatening humans with extinction.
The voluntary or involuntary disposition to survive shapes the definition of human value. In the dynamic here-and-now value means "evaluation." Some choices are better than others. If a person values their safety it questions their choice to drive at high speed through rush hour traffic. Value modifies the moral question of choice. If you desire this, you can only do that. You cannot have it both ways. This means that the overly simplistic idea of the is/ought dichotomy and the naturalistic fallacy have failed to address the relation between value and prescribed choice in a way that prevents these theories from being reasonable and relevant.