Archived: On the Subject of Modern Human Evolution

This entry was part of my previous journal, but I felt that it deserved to be carried over. The original entry was unrefined and unorganized, so what follows is a revised version which was published at ‘short.attentionspan.theater’*.

Please bear in mind that this essay no longer accurately portrays my feelings on the subject, but is merely a record of some of my thoughts at the time. I acknowledge that while some of my ideas may have been insightful in some ways, they were also woefully shortsighted and inadequate.


On the Subject of Modern Human Evolution:

In one part of a multifaceted series of discussions with a few intimate friends the other night until 3am, we fell back upon the discussion of modern human evolution and our disgust at where we are headed. It basically comes down to this: in all modern industrialized nations we have eliminated natural selection from the equation. It is no longer survival of the fittest, but rather survival of all. Artificial selection still exists, of course, but rather than using it to increase intelligence, reason, empathy, kindness, patience, and other “virtues” we are selecting the selfish, violent, aggressive, intolerant, and stupid to succeed.

Since there is only one species of human, we are theoretically an unsuccessful organism and on the brink of extinction. That is only one basic measure of success though, and it would be foolish to say that we are not one of the most pervasive organisms on the planet. But ultimately, I think that the desire to protect all progeny of the species is still genetically encoded within us. Because we have this impulse, and we (those of us in modern industrialized nations) have the means to do so, we do. The thought of just letting babies die still makes me uneasy, but it is unnatural to ensure the survival of every child born.

Let me quickly set the stage with a few key concepts of evolution. Evolution is not progress; evolution is successful adaptation to environment. Evolution works best (or rather “naturally”) when [1] organisms vary [2] there are more offspring born than can survive [3] parents pass their traits (variations) on to their offspring and [4] those with the most useful variations survive. In our modern society, we have virtually eliminated step number two which in turn eliminates step number four.

There are two general means for survival in regards to breeding: mass breeding and child rearing. You can either have large litters or else have small numbers of babies which you protect until they can survive. In general terms, the more intelligent a species (or variant of a species) is, the more the trend becomes single birth and child rearing. Appropriately, the less intelligent organisms have the trend of relying on large numbers of children. It seems to me that this occurs within our society as well, and would work out just fine, except that we have put in place methods to ensure the survival of nearly all offspring. And so the population of the less intelligent (or perhaps just less responsible rather than less intelligent- either way, these are the ones who should not be passing on such traits) organisms is exploding.

As far as survival in regards to behavior and lifestyle, intelligence and social grace is often helpful but not by any means the penultimate tool. Selfishness, aggression, violence, and intolerance are very helpful to certain species in the animal kingdom when resources are limited or stressed and competition is high. And so in such a context, these traits might not be considered undesirable. In contrast though, man (as a species) in a “civilized” society, prides himself on no longer having to rely on such traits. Such traits are seen as bestial and “uncivilized”; they are inappropriate because we have shaped our environment in a manner so that they are no longer needed. And so, by sexual selection (the choosing of our mates), the trend in a civilized society would begin to move towards the “ideal” traits of kindness, empathy, intelligence, and etcetera. However, because there is no selective pressure on offspring, the pressures of sexual selection are pushed into the background.

So now those with the less desirable traits have out bred those with the traditionally ideal traits. Furthermore, those with the less desirable traits [it seems to me] prefer to breed with others who have the same traits. In general, these people are having children sooner and more often than those with the “ideal” traits. Those without the “brains” are living just as long as those with the “brains”, or at least long enough to breed and raise their own brood to breeding age. And so, it seems that evolution is sweeping us–I like to consider myself as one of the organisms that carry some of the “ideal” traits–under the rug.

It’s a confounding situation, and I honestly do not know whether I think that what we have created is for the best or not. Perhaps a natural disaster would make things more ideal. After all, I do not think that I could just let a child die if I knew that there were a way to save it, even if perhaps that child does not deserve to survive in terms of “being the fittest”; in fact, it still seems silly and cruel to say that any child does not deserve to survive, regardless of the context.

It is a shame though, because maybe a little natural selection isn’t such a bad thing. I just find it saddening that we have created an environment that encourages regression rather than progress. We have all these “brains” and good intentions, and we use them to eliminate those very same “brains” and good intentions.

* short.attentionspan.theater was an internet periodical and discussion forum, but is now defunct.

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