Evolution in Action

Mark Pottenger


The 1981 science fiction novel Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle has the line “Think of it as evolution in action.” in reference to fatally stupid decisions. The Darwin Awards are “awarded” in recognition of stupidity that removes people from the gene pool. These are just two of the ways evolution appears in modern culture.

Evolutionary selection affects genes. The three main types of selection are Natural Selection (selection by adaptation to environment, aka survival of the best fitted), Sexual Selection (selection based on ability to attract mates and to breed), and Artificial Selection (breeding to guide changes, including the production of all the domesticated plants & animals that humans raise). Selection acts on individual lifeforms and groups of lifeforms—none of these three types of selection act on individual genes. Genetic Engineering can act on individual base pairs or genes or chromosomes, permitting changes that none of the three historical types of selection could achieve, including creating chimeras by taking genes from one species and adding them to the genomes of completely different species.

The largest scale of natural selection events include tornadoes, hurricanes, eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, floods, glaciation (coming or going), and climate change. With human societies and constructed and manipulated environments, impacts can scale up from individuals to families, groups, bands, tribes, hamlets, villages, towns, cities, city-states, countries (nation-states), international or multi-national entities, societies or social systems, and entire global ecosystems. Only with humans have we reached a level of selection in which the actions of one individual can cause the death (and gene deletion) of large numbers of other individuals. We have also reached the point at which societies can become deadly by allowing deadly individuals to hold power.

By giving power to arrogant ignorance, the badly broken American political system has let the U.S.A. decline from the last superpower and a world leader a few years ago to a pitiable joke, with handling of the COVID-19 pandemic so badly bungled that the country has already had over 100,000 deaths THAT COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED by competent and rational leadership. That is over 100,000 deaths CAUSED BY the mis-leading of the country by the current mis-administration.

There is a popular misconception that lemmings commit mass suicide by running off of cliffs. A large subset of modern Americans are refusing to wear masks and refusing to avoid gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This can be viewed as manifesting the deep know-nothing thread of American culture, or as a symptom of wide-spread innumeracy (failing to understand the math of exposure and immunity and flattening the curve), or as a real human version of the lemming myth. The problem is, this behavior isn’t just suicidal—it also kills other people.

Copyright © 2020 Mark Pottenger

Musings Home