Blog #9
(Part 1 of 5) We humans have outstripped our biology: 60

Written by
Lory Kaufman

A) We humans have outstripped our biology:

(This is an enlarged explanation of Blog 8, Idea 1)

Since life began on Earth, all lifeforms have been constrained by the other lifeforms around them. This constraint happens in many ways. Sometimes lifeforms must compete for resources to survive and sometimes they must cooperat e. This was not a conscious effort, but actions which were repeated over thousands and millions of generations, forming habits, biological mechanisms and triggers that became instinct in the lower creatures that came before us. Still now, it is a dance of life that happens in ecospheres the size of puddles to whole watersheds, in supposedly lifeless deserts, at the bottom of the deepest ocean valleys, atop the highest mountains and all along coastal shorelines. The fact that the dance continues over millennium demonstrates how a balance has been found between cooperation and competition, so lifeforms can survive and evolve.

Throughout time, over the last three and a half billions of years since life evolved on planet Earth, many billions of species, both plant and animal, from the microscopic to the largest of creatures, have come, evolved along a line to where they are today, or gone extinct. Sometimes these extinctions happen because a mutation in natural selection didn’t give its host the tools to compete, so that line of natural experimentation ended. Other times a lifeform’s mutation is so successful it flourishes to the point where it becomes a dominant element in an ecosphere, crowding out not only its competitors, but the other forms of life it needed to survive. This can come in the form of overgrazing or a multitude of diseases caused from overcrowding. Whatever the reason, the result is the dominant population crashes, leaving a hole in the local ecosphere. The environment then resets and the struggle of finding a place in the changed environment continues for the organisms left.

In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences. ”
— Robert Green Ingersoll

Humans and our societies are no different. We face the same problems. Since humans evolved some 6,000 generations ago, a large and unknown number of human societies have risen and fallen, victims of the process just described. However, during those thousands of years, because of the unique brains nature’s experimentation developed in us, we humans were able to pass on the accumulated knowledge and forestall many of the crashes that came before. In other words, we learned and had the ability to pass on more complex knowledge than any other creature.
We solved the problem of overgrazing by inventing agriculture. We overcame the apparent weakness of our bodies against larger creatures by inventing complex weapons and defensive strategies. And when diseases from overcrowding threatened population growth, we invented medical and engineering interventions.

But we cannot just blame our different type of intelligence and talent to invent for the over-consumption we’re now engaged in. Another aspect worthy of highlighting was the ingrained philosophy of most ancient cultures, which persists even today, that humans are entitled to dominate nature. It’s what gave people the justification to overexploit the Earth and crowd out the other species we need to survive. It is the “go forth and multiply” and “Man has dominion over the earth” philosophies which we are only beginning to understand the danger of.

This brings up another more recent bastardization of a popular phrase, one made famous by Charles Darwin, known for his theory of evolution.

Contrary to the popular notion promoted in the 20th century by extreme capitalists, the Darwinian phrase “survival of the fittest” isn’t the single force driving evolution. Those with an agenda twisted the meaning of the phrase to justify th eir extreme capitalistic views. Darwin’s observation about competition in the natural world was meant to be balanced with his other observations about how there was actually more cooperation and symbiosis than the winner-take-all concept extreme capitalists were using to promote their singular agendas.

Aggressive capitalism was in full swing before Darwin, but in the 20th century Darwin began to be used as a poster-boy by extreme capitalists, citing the phrase 

“survival of the fittest” 

as a justification for their bullying ways, insinuating that this was nature’s way of doing things, so it must be right and will eventually lead to the lifting up of the poorer masses.

The same misinterpretation tactic has been used for centuries. Going back to the “Man has dominion over the Earth” biblical quote, modern scholars translate the original Arimaic to actually mean, “Man has stewardship over the Earth,” a very significant difference. One that is very wise and insightful. If it had been interpreted and written to reflect a duty to preserve and husband, as opposed to having a rite to do our will, perhaps history would have been different. Then again, probably not. Some other trope would have been created to sway the masses. But in both the biblical and Darwinian cases the phrases were simplified, twisted, and lifted out of their more complex context. They were then promoted to the public in one-dimensional terms to benefit those in power.

Ironically, Darwin didn’t come up with the phrase “survival of the fittest” It wasn’t even in the early editions of On the Origin of the Species. The phrase was coined by Herbert Spencer in his book Principles of Biology (1864), a book that supported and built on Darwin’s work. The phrase was used as a synonym for “natural selection”.  Darwin apparently liked the phrase, “survival of the fittest” so much he used it himself in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species.

And as for being used out of context, both “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” did not refer to the biggest and baddest dude climbing to the top of the evolutionary heap. It referred to the most successful lifeforms being able to leave the most genetic copies (offspring) to continue propagating into the future. Fittest should be interpreted as a lifeform having a balance of qualities. In reality, in Darwin’s follow-up book to Origin, Descent of Man, while he mentions “survival of the fittest twice”, he writes about love 95 times, moral sensitivity 92 times, competition 12 times, and cooperation (referred back then as mutual aid) 27 times. So, the reality is that competition is but one element in survival. Perhaps it’s what, in part, keeps a species physically and mentally tough, but really, competition can’t be an ongoing thing day in and day out for all creatures. It’s a sometimes thing that happens to all occasionally. During the majority of life, when we aren’t struggling to the death, we are cooperating with the other living beings around us, albeit unwittingly. Animals carry seeds for plants, distributing them far from where they are grown. Birds cleaning the teeth and the backs of hippos is a favorite. Beavers make ponds, which gives homes, not only to themselves, but hundreds of other animals. And when lions are sated and not hungry, you can see them sleeping by herds of their prey. They don’t just kill for killing sake, and their prey seem to sense this. The list is endless.

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