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Kropotkin Observes Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid for a More Just World pt. 2

First Published at Cultured

Image by Nadar via Wikipedia

Scientist, revolutionary, and historian — one could describe Pëtr Kropotkin as such and more. Born of Russian nobility, he could have written his ticket in life. He could have become a general in the military, but instead, he dreamt of a world free of violence and governmental power.

Observations of the natural world informed his political opinions. Kropotkin embarked on biological expeditions in Siberia. He realized something which challenged the prevailing idea of “survival of the fittest.” Quite the opposite, in fact.

Prior to embarking, he prepared himself to witness the predatory competition humans then thought of the natural world. Instead, Kropotkin observed many instances of reciprocity and mutualism within the animal kingdom and beyond. He soon understood that cooperative traits helped organisms better adapt. Animals would huddle together for warmth, for example.

Several visits to remote peasant villages showed this principle at work in the human world. No local government forced the cooperation of villagers. But they voluntarily associated and helped one another.

This caused him to rethink “natural selection” as those best at working together rather than those best at competing individually. Kropotkin refers to this concept in his seminal scientific work, Mutual Aid A Factor of Evolution.

From prince to exile to revolutionary, Kropotkin lived an outsized life. After escaping imprisonment for his political views, he spent decades traveling the world running from the Russian police. A master of disguise, he would give lectures to young minds when not evading the authorities.

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