Most people feel that it is their moral obligation to help those who can’t help themselves; we help others to have healthy, happy, productive lives out of a duty to our fellow human beings. I agree, but forget morals — helping our peers survive and thrive even makes cold, logical sense.
Evolutionary biology and Darwinian theory might have you believe otherwise: the fit succeed and survive, the weak fail and perish, and by interfering with this process, we hold back the advancement of humanity. But the true evolution with which we need to be concerned is our new stage of evolution: ideological.
Our culture, knowledge, and understanding of the world evolves much like how our meaty, fleshy, biological brains evolved: the swapping of information. When breeding biological organisms have sex, their genes — components of biological information — combine to form a new, sometimes superior, whole. When two ideas love each other very much, their basic components also combine to form something new.
Take these words that you’re reading now, for instance. These words were typed on a computer keyboard — a descendent of the typewriter and the integrated circuit. The typewriter was borne of the written word and pressable button mechanisms. And the website on which these words are being displayed to you was borne of HTML, the TCP/IP protocol, and a whole slew of other ideas. I could go on ad nauseam, but I’d hate for the ideas of monotony and the back button to combine.
In order for ideas to have wild, depraved orgies of knowledge and make little baby ideas, two things are necessary. The first is
alcohol freedom of information; ideas need to be able to flow back and forth and be built upon without absurd and pointless roadblocks. The second is one that’s oft neglected: freedom of people to form ideas and communicate them.
Billions of people lack the ability to live up to their potential to form ideas and contribute them to humanity. Lack of food, water, and healthcare means people are too distracted by their basic survival to analyze the world. Lack of education makes it difficult to come to valuable conclusions. And sometimes, even when these resources are available, they require hundreds of hours of mindless, meaningless work to pay for — drudgery and stress which snuffs out the most brilliant of minds.
And that, right there, is the key: every day, hunger, sickness, poverty, and oppression holds back brilliance. The pool of ideas from which we have to choose from is limited, severely, by social problems. We only have the perspectives and worldviews of those who have the means to contribute and speak up. Entire swaths of the world, in parts of wealthy and impoverished nations alike, could be the incubators for world-changing ideas. Instead, they are silent, or they speak in voices unintelligible and unheard.
In biology, homogeneous populations are vulnerable to one disease, one environmental change, one crisis, because the entire population shares the same weakness. It’s the same with ideas: if we don’t constantly bring in new and unique viewpoints to challenge our commonly-held beliefs, culture, and knowledge, we run the risk of veering off in a dangerous direction as a species, not noticing a fundamental flaw in our ideas, and doing stupid, stupid things as a result.
I believe that we don’t need a reason to help other people live healthy, happy, and productive lives — it’s just the right thing to do. But there is a reason. Even from an objective, amoral, rational, logical, cold, mechanical, detached, inhuman perspective, it is in our best interest to keep our fellow human beings alive and well, so that they can contribute to our global conversation and further the evolution of our ideas.