The Science of Martin Luther King & Justice

The science behind two Dr. Martin Luther King quotes deserves more attention. 

One is famous:   

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

The other should be more widely known:

“Darwin was no Darwinian.”

Both are important, especially when combined, because, to paraphrase King:

The arc of our evolution has long bent towards justice.

This short Scientific American blog post explains. “Social contracts are written into our biology. As is the justice they need.” Humans have been team survivors for 10,000 generations. That has crucially shaped our genes and culture, including our tools and social coordination rules. Unjust teams didn’t tend to survive. Counter-dominant coalitions arose to combat tyrannous injustice. Justice, wrote Hesiod, poet of the ancient Greek masses, was “Zeus’s greatest gift” to humanity. Greatest or not, without it human nature wouldn’t be what it is. And we wouldn’t exist.

How “Darwin was no Darwinian” is explained in this brief post. Dr. King is historically, scientifically, and morally correct. It’s a bad break for Darwin, and us, that his name is used to distort his ideas. Particularly as applied to humans, and to justice. Darwin wrote “the social instincts, the prime principle of man’s moral constitution…naturally lead to the golden rule, “As ye would have men should do to you, do ye to them likewise.” That seems not so  “Darwinian.” Darwin knew we are by nature self-deficient and interdependent and that we only survive in collaborative teams.

As Bill Gates put it: “there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others.” It’s time we refocused our reason, economics and politics to include the other-interestedness and cooperative justice that we’ve long needed to survive.


Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

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