Most human conflict stems from one thing: limited resources. Even local issues usually boil down to this single factor.

Discussions on the future of Squaw Valley turn heated because there is only one Squaw Valley. See story, here.

Recent layoffs at Clear Capital, one of the region’s largest employers and the poster child for economic diversity, made the community nervous. Yet the real estate valuation company had to make hard choices based on a shrinking housing market leading to reduced market demand for Clear Capital’s services. See story, here.


Limited resources lead to competition and strife. If you were raised in the western world, I’d wager that right now you’re thinking about Darwin’s pervasive theory: survival of the fittest. Fights over resources, favor given to traits that impart advantages, and eventual extinction of the weak are tenets that are ingrained in our culture.

Yet back before Darwin became the godfather of popular thought, there was an alternative theory emphasizing cooperation, not competition, as a driving force of evolutionary change. This view was epitomized in a popular book published in 1902, “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution,” by Russian geographer and anarchist Peter Kropotkin. According to his book, “those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest.”

While not denying the role of competition, he argued that the cooperative counterpart of natural systems had been underemphasized. Darwin’s theory doesn’t explain why a rabbit brings potentially lethal attention to itself in order to warn his fellows of a predator. Or why humans often sacrifice their individual advantage to help others.

“There is an immense amount of warfare and extermination going on amidst various species; there is, at the same time, as much, or perhaps even more, of mutual support, mutual aid, and mutual defense,” Kropotkin wrote in Mutual Aid. “Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle.”

Kropotkin believed cooperation to be the most important factor in evolution and the ability to survive; he also believed cooperative behavior developed the highest intelligence.

So the lesson we can take from this 20th century Russian thinker is that working together makes us smarter, more alive, and extra fit. That doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe, in a world of dwindling resources, kindness could become an unlimited one.

~ Darwin or Kropotkin? Comment below.


  • Mayumi Peacock

    Hailing from a U.S. military family and a graduate of the University of Florida, Mayumi Peacock has lived in several corners of the country and globe, yet Tahoe/Truckee has been her home since 1999. She is founder and publisher of Moonshine Ink, the region’s award-winning independent newspaper, which continues to be created by, for, and of the community. Other passions include family, animals, books, healthy living, and humane food.

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