04 April 2007

We have won the evolutionary arms race. We won it a while ago. We have come out on top of everyone else. But not only did we, humanity, reach the top of the food chain, we effectively put ourselves outside of it. And though this is the ultimate goal of all survival machines, I am troubled by its possible repercussions. The penalty we might be paying could be great indeed.

In the animal kingdom, evolution is a grave business, a means by which the wheat is separated from the chaff. Everyone around you is growing new guns, and so you had better grow them too. Of course, what really happens is that the mutations that counteract an enemy's weapon simply survive and prosper and become the new norm. Regardless, failure to efficiently cope with current hostile environments will lead to death as you are eaten, becoming the sustenance of your predator and aiding him in creating new weaponry through his offspring. Life is irony.

This system ensures that species are constantly under pressure to be as good as they can, as efficient as they can. The slightest lack of perfection is immediately eradicated from the gene pool, receiving the ultimate punishment. Where I am going is not difficult to see. Humanity, having put itself outside of the animal world of constant danger, having colonized vast straps of land of this Earth into safe havens where all can prosper, has released itself of the pressure that drive the gene pools of species to accept nothing but the best.

If someone has a defect -say he is handicapped- it is no longer a death sentence. Fortunate as this is on a personal and ethical level (and a testament to our power to release ourselves from the shackles of genetic programming in the way we construct our societies and give room to empathy towards the whole of the race), this does mean that the gene pool no longer advances as rapidly and efficiently in terms of quality than when we were under immense pressure to survive. Instead, it is diluted by many less-than-optimal genes that do our species little good. Though there still is a form of natural selection occurring in our mating process, powered by cultural taste, small deficits are easily forgiven. A slight limp, bad hearing, poor intelligence, inability to adapt to new environments: all these things spread just as zestfully as the keenest of genes.

But where does the problem lie? As long as we are able to maintain our way of living; meaning societies and governments of certain freedom and indiscriminate protection, this won't be a problem. Though weak genes have just as large a chance of surviving as strong ones, it is irrelevant because there are no mainstream predators anymore. In the event that we lose society and revert back to living in the animal world (even if there is little world left -say, in the wake of an apocalyptic disaster), the pressure will simply ensure once more that only the strongest genes survive. So far, no problem. The only troubling thing, then, is that our progress on the whole is halted. We run the risk of becoming or even being stagnant. Although there will always be a superior elite that forms the vanguard of humanity, it's not unthinkable that the lack of pressure causes our genes to become complacent, so to speak. Consider the rise of a mutation that would tremendously increase our intellectual capacity, or our strength. Such a person would not have an evolutionary advantage over less endowed genes in our current society, and the gene would spread at the same rate as all the others. In this way, our evolutionary growth is hampered, all because we managed to take the pressure off of ourselves.

Another bit of irony comes to the surface here, because taking off the pressure is exactly what all living creatures strive for. As soon as they succeed however, and achieve a respectable level of security, there will be an inevitable plummet in their growth. The species becomes stagnant, and if their level of mastery over the animal kingdom is great enough, they will not be challenged in this. The goal of life is truly death, then. Or rather, a coma. Who'd have thought?