Can Humans Evolve?
Darwin’s observations and assessment of the workings of Nature brought new clarity to a previously confused science of biology. His service to the field was of value because he not only recognized that there was a real mechanism driving the appearance of new species, but because he described it simply and clearly. Clarity is so rare in science that we marvel at Einstein who could bring his lofty understanding of invariance in physics to the common reader in his book Relativity, or at Stephen Hawking’s exposition of cosmology in A Brief History of Time, or at Darwin who, in Origin of Species, brought this ancient mystery to a satisfying close.
If my reader is doubting how difficult it may be for a skilled scientist to clearly describe an advanced scientific concept, I would suggest an excursion to your public library and a cursory review of G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form or William H. Calvin’s The River that Flows Uphill or Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. To explain the highly complex, one must truly understand it. Most science is incomprehensible even to those who dabble in it. Special words are invented which appear to be specialized jargon but which actually mask the real confusion still underlying the concept. Phlogiston is an early term appearing to explain something while actually hiding a completely failed understanding of oxidation. Modern science is no different. Term after invented science-y term fails to convey meaning to the intelligent common reader because it has synthesized so many scientists’ fuzzy simplified preconceptions that it actually has meaning only for those in that isolated, manufactured, and possibly misguided world.
Darwin explained what we call Evolution (what he called Natural Selection) as a convergence of three environmental components: creative, conservative and selective. The creative component is mutation. Solar radiation, natural radioactivity and simple cock-ups in the biological cell will result in variations on an existing species. Creatures will be born with odd deformities caused by fundamental genetic corruptions. The conservative component is found in the being’s DNA which records, for future use, that corruption. The selective component (and this is the really clever bit) is the environment itself, which will test the mettle of this deformity and, if it is found wanting, cut it off with prejudice.
The deformity that better fits its environment will prove superior to its competitors and will be able to reproduce and thrive. The deformity becomes the norm. The ill-fitting deformity will be selected out. It will die before it can reproduce. It will represent one of millions of daily failed biological trials. Every creature will be tested and re-tested because the environment includes not just the weather and the terrain but competitive fellow creatures. The young male will be tried by other males competing for the available female and in the vast majority of birds and mammals, the female will ultimately choose which male will enter the gene pool and which will die without progeny.
The Manufactured Environment
We humans are very resourceful in that we have gathered resources from our environment and formed a new environment. Unlike the bowerbird or the pilot fish, each of which constructs an elaborate presentation from their environment for the purpose of attracting a mate, we humans construct our mating displays permanently. Our buildings, our automobiles, our clothing and our artificial scents undergird our daily mating behavior.
Our environment has been so corrupted that we alone, among all other species, distinguish between our environment and the entirely separate natural environment. Even a simple family home built in the middle of an alpine forest is not considered a natural structure like the mud nest of a magpie-lark, but rather something which is not natural. Unlike all other species, when a human is born with a genetic disease, our modern society thwarts the environment and saves that individual from the scythe of selection. When a human male demonstrates that he is capable of the ultimate limits of violence and stupidity, the human female swoons nonetheless. Modern imbeciles who have participated in the destruction and degradation of whole cultures and individual innocent humans have been allowed entrance to the human gene pool. Tucker Carlson, William Kristol, Donald Trump and George W. Bush have all been permitted, within this manufactured environment, to reproduce. Even Hitler had a girlfriend.
Neither the harsh impediments of predators nor climate nor genetic frailty are capable of defining an individual human trial as a failure. Even the human female (the ultimate gatekeeper into the mammalian gene pool) has, in this complex and confusing world, thrown up her hands and confessed that requirements for entry are pretty vague. Humans, more than any other creature, value our own kind and, for admittedly virtuous reasons, act to preserve each life using extraordinary means. We have constructed an environment so isolated from natural selection for every single human variant that we must now ask the question: Can humans evolve?
A Manufactured Evolution
We humans have chosen to isolate ourselves from the very natural selection that has served life-kind for millennia assuring that each living thing best fits its environment — or dies trying. The dies trying part is the one to which we humans object. So, without natural selection, what keeps our creative and conservative components in check? I noted above that the mammalian female is the gatekeeper to the gene pool. To be fair, though, throughout history the human female has been relegated to oppressed sexual object, especially in those cases where the male was particularly nasty. Alexander the Great, as he conquered villages, saw to it that he and his commanders impregnated as many females as possible by force so as to assure that their offspring would endear them to that village over time. Genghis Khan, Napolean, Hideki Tojo and Arab sheikhs with their harems were also preoccupied with impregnating captured women in order to expand their influence. So while the mammalian female is usually the controller over all new gene-pool entries, among war-like humans, their hallowed and worthy role has been degraded.
So with neither ruthless Nature nor an unbroken wall of strong selective females, we are driving without a steering wheel: the direction of humanity determined by whatever encountered rut is most pronounced. Surely we can come up with some cultural process that may serve as a benign selection mechanism. Perhaps we avoid selection per sé. Perhaps there is a way to encourage or influence rather than select. Perhaps by encouraging an education of all citizens in the liberal arts of at least philosophy, history, rhetoric and mathematics, we may raise up a civilization that may self-select by virtue of its new and enlarged cognitive capacity. Alternatively, we could allow our human race to be crafted by the strongest sociopaths leading us back to the eras of Alexander and Khan; or we could think through other options.
While there are pockets of truly civilized and well adjusted societies with humans who appear to be advancing quite nicely (see Iceland, Sweden, Norway and others of a similar cultural bent), here in the U.S., where your author lives, we see a routine and consistent regression as the species and culture falls back from the New Deal and the Eisenhower infrastructure revolution to the modern era of great conquerors as Jeff Bezos conquers retail, Donald Trump conquers politics, Larry Page conquers the Internet and Tim Cook conquers communications. Ayn Rand’s great men lead the pitiful takers to the battlefield for pointless combat in support of their wealthy masters. That takes us back to at least the 13th century.
So, here we are in the 13th century, conquerors all around and the populace subject to their rule. Are we willing to relive the era of lord and serf all over again in hope of eventually returning to a culture that values freedom a few centuries hence; or, do we want to stop this regression now and pick up where we left off a few decades back? If we are to progress we must evolve. If we are to evolve, we must find a way to improve our selection algorithm while preserving our rightful respect for human dignity. Nature has not failed us but we have abandoned Nature. We abandoned it so long ago that there is no going back. We cannot toss out medicine, machine and money so as to reform into a multitude of hunter-gatherer villages. In such villages, natural selection would again reign, pummeling down the weak and infirm so that the strong may prosper. This, though, is not our way. We humans have largely chosen to help one another, whether weak or strong. We have chosen rightly to nurture all human life even if it means preserving those whom Nature would choose to select out.
We must, therefore, work together to develop a new culture which may serve to amplify the voices of reason and damp the influence of sociopathic charlatans and greedy capitalists. Lacking Nature, we must invent a culture which includes a benign selective component. One example would be to activate the U.S. judiciary. Let us test the lies and false implications of public figures who seek to mislead in order to profit. Let us see if we may define these nefarious operations accurately and truly as fraud. Let us bring charges and try to establish an honorable pedigree of proper discourse. There is also another strategy which may be even more effective, although it may be offensive to the progressive mind.
I believe that the strategy most likely to be effective is an ancient one: propaganda. Believed to have originated in 515 BCE in the Behistun Inscription, it was perfected by the Catholic Church beginning in the 16th Century and then effectively implemented by the Germans and Americans during World War II. It may be wielded by villains; but, it may also be the only route into the rigid and constricted regressive mind. While the Republican Organization is spreading misinformation and outright lies, Progressives must literally market truth. Making rational arguments has failed the Democratic Party and Progressives for decades. People barely holding on to survival will not be influenced by mere facts. For this reason, the impoverished masses have embraced Trump and Q. Desperate people demand simple comprehensible help and that must be provided; not by lying oligarchs but by truthful Progressives who, understanding the mental fog of desperation, must distill the progressive message down to appealing sound bites and memes.
Sound bites and memes will seem disingenuous to a Progressive Liberal but they are the only way to reach the single mother with three jobs or the overworked father whose car may not survive another year with Uber. These people need a simple message now and from there, as they vote for well-marketed progressive candidates who will satisfy their basic needs, we may reach a point where these common people may once again have time and resources for the luxury of becoming educated and enlightened. Such renewed characters may then participate heartily in government and create art, literature and technical solutions that will benefit us all. With such global participation, we may abandon selecting out and create a new human evolution wherein, through genius and genuine love, we may continuously select in while still assuring continuous best fit for our environment.
Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen the new book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
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