|Homo Erectus - evolutionary dead end?|
It is generally agreed that we have evolved to maximize our
contribution to the gene pool. Ignoring creationism for the moment, this truth
is self evident, if you consider that animals (or strictly the genes which they
carry) that were not good at contributing to the gene pool would obviously die
out in favor of those which were.
In 1492AD, each species on the planet, and each race of humans was uniquely and
tremendously adapted to their environment. Then the Americas were colonised.
Since then, mass migration and technology have changed our environment faster
than our genetic ability to adapt to that environment.
The fact that 'we ourselves' caused the change is irrelevant. Yeast fungi
'chooses' to produce the alcohol which eventually poisons it in the
fermentation process. Not all changes are in the genetic interests of the
entity that changed them.
Nor is this to say that the population has not exploded due to these new
conditions - yeast has not evolved to grow in sterile laboratory test tubes,
but its population grows very quickly in that environment.
So the human species has been thrust into the modern world, but is actually
evolved to something closer to the African savannah, primitive Europe, or
Mankind is an extraordinary creature - weaker than the similar sized animals
around him, much slower than those animals, with very poor defences, no claws for
defence or tree-climbing, teeth which are so far set back in his head as no be
almost useless for fighting, a lack of fur which would see him freeze to
death in a single night in conditions which other animals would thrive, and an
incredibly fragile, and critical, organ on top of his head.
Mankind has been equipped with two things which help him survive (and
therefore reproduce) in a primitive world: dextrous hands, and a logical mind.
These, and these alone set this pathetic, naked and shivering biped apart from
all other animals.
Minds are much like computers, and run programs to tell them what to do. But
man's mind was not programmed to maximize his reproductive potential - it was
merely a enhancement to the brains of the animals it evolved from. And it was
programmed to fill the basic animal needs - water, food, security, shelter,
sex, and social status.
And on the savannah this worked very well. And it adapted well to the cold
of Europe, and into Asia. A
human who had water, food, shelter, sex and social status did genetically
better than humans who didn't have these things.
But man's new cognitive abilities were so powerful that it enabled man not
just to adapt to his environment but to change that very environment. Formal education, television, motor
cars, nine-to-five jobs and international trade weren't on the 1492 agenda.
An animal's mind stuck inside the body of a man might be a plot for a B-rate
sci-fi film, but in a sense all of us have the mind of a primitive in the
lifestyle of a modern man. Our desires have become somewhat divorced from
genetic advantage, and our choices are frequently not those which genetic
success would suggest.
A full belly is a desirable goal for a human on the savannah, but in the modern
world can lead to obesity, and premature death. A preference for sweet food is
a good thing if the sweetest available thing is ripe fruit, but in an age of
boiled lollies it will rot your teeth, and may make you mal-nourished.
And many of the primitive desires can be satisfied by effectively
'cheating' the system. Two technologies in particular have satisfied sexual
drives - the electric motor and the color photograph (or more recently the
video internet download). Even when sex is with a partner,
contraceptive technologies (and the ability to abort) mean that sexual desires
can be met without increasing genetic success. Frequent sexual activity in the
pre-industrialized time would almost invariably result in having children, but
in the modern age we often observe just the opposite. The swinging bachelor
recognizes that his sexual desires would actually be hindered by the presence
of children, and chooses not to have them.
So man has become equipped with a huge reasoning capacity, which has
evolved because it gave him a genetic advantage in primitive times. But man is
still using that reasoning capacity to meet the the goals which his ancestors
needed to meet in order to survive - goals which may not equate to genetic
success in the modern world. The mind is designed to maximize the
number of descendents, but programmed to find food, shelter, sex and
Just as the yeast changes its environment and poisons itself, so too some
groups seem to be dying out. The population in
poorer parts of the world is still growing exponentially, but the birth rates
in rich western
countries is well below replacement level. This is not because of any lack of
freedom to fulfill their
genetic function, but precisely because they do have the freedom to make their
own decisions, and to control their fertility.
Should we care? To answer that would involve a moral judgement about what
people's goals should
be. Libertarians generally avoid making moral judgements (beyond the obligation
to not steal). Some racists and white puritans seem to be very alarmed
about this. Others don't really care.
And what is the future? It depends on the world migration patterns, but the
future does not look white or red - it looks to be a mixture of yellow, black,
and brown, and the poorer the group, the faster they are breeding.
Perhaps we should just bless the poor - for they shall inherit the earth.
Or maybe the common element is not poverty but ignorance, and George Orwell will
be proven correct: Ignorance is strength.
Anyway, it's something for Homo Superior to ponder as you exercise your free will to prune yourself
off the evolutionary tree.