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More Evolved, part 2

November 8, 2009

Richard Dawkins, mentioned in the first part, for those who don’t know (of) him, is an evolutionary biologist whom I respect and whose work I respect.  He is, however, quite plain about how his work relates to his personal worldview and philosophy.  He has said evolution is incompatible with how he feels the world should work.  Basically I take this to mean that he is for a divorce from biology, put in the most basic way, but since I’m not sure which political points he says this in reference to (because frankly I’m more interested in his explanations of how natural selection works than his (lack of) religious views and more interested in his religious views than his political views) I can’t say for sure if this is indeed the case.

I, on the other hand, am 100% in favor of embracing every bit of our biology and not working against it.  I feel this is relevant in at least three different ways, but I’ll break the rest of this down into reproduction, vice, and modern medicine.

Reproduction

I’ve heard from various people and at many times that they will not have children of their own because there are already millions of children in this world that need care and that it is selfish (therefore, I can extrapolate, that it’s also immoral, no?) to have children of your own just so we can have “a little biological copy of us running around.”

Let me be perfectly clear about something here: The only reason you are alive is because you have the biological urge to reproduce, but in some people, the ones that say it’s selfish to have kids, that urge is hidden within their genes in such a way that they have limited psychological access to it.  And let me be clear about something else: It’s OK to want to reproduce.

Why are we here?  To reproduce.  It really is that simple, and we really are alive for no other reason.  I believe it was actually in The Blind Watchmaker that I came across a simple truism that stated, goofily, DNA prefers replication because it has the makeup to make it so.  If DNA didn’t insist that we reproduce, we wouldn’t, and we would die off.  Every species that exists today has the biological urge to reproduce or else it wouldn’t exist today.  A mutation that would result in a diminished or non-existent urge to reproduce would quickly remove itself from the gene pool.  This is such a simple idea to understand, yet many people refuse to understand it, opting instead to reject and demonize their biology.  The only people I’m willing to believe truly don’t have a reproductive desire are the ones that abstain from sex altogether.  Having sex in any fashion, even masturbating, is a reflection of the desire to reproduce.

You’ve got a ready response.  “I don’t want to reproduce, so ha!” you say.  “Sex just feels good so I have sex anyway.  I use a condom/birth control, so that’s positive proof that I don’t want to reproduce!  Neener neener, ha ha!”

My answer to this is simply to first re-read the last few paragraphs, and after you’ve done that, I’ll point out that intercourse only feels good because of the biological necessity for it.  Is that a bold assertion?  Perhaps to some, but when framed properly it shouldn’t be all that shocking.  I once read a biologist’s response to a query about why, in terms of evolution, sweet foods tasted sweet.  His answer was rather simple, but surprising in a way.  Sweet foods have high sugar contents, and foods that have high sugar contents generally yield high amounts of energy.  The sweet taste, therefore, was because of the high energy content.  As it is commonly understood, we like sweet foods because they taste good, but that’s not the real story.  It’s not that we like sweet food because it is sweet, but that we developed a taste for these high-energy foods because of their energy content.  When humans foraged exclusively, sweet, sugary foods weren’t nearly as easy to get a hold of as they are today, but because of the high energy they were a sought after food; this has carried over to today and it’s why we still like sweets, even with their adverse health effects.

It is the same deal with sex.  People don’t have sex because it feels good; rather, sex feels good because of the biological need for it.  This does not apply in the reverse—that is, we did not evolve the biological need for sex because it felt good—because that doesn’t make any damn sense.

Vice

Here is a hypothetical situation: A forager develops a heroin addiction.  Somehow he also has easy access to a large supply—an infinite supply—of his new drug of choice.  He feels good all the while he  is high, but his biological needs are not any less valid because he likes being high.  He is now on junk all the time, and since he has an infinite supply and it feels infinitely good, he has stopped foraging.  Since his heroin addiction has started to conflict with his everyday habits, the ones that keep him alive in a real sense, he eventually dies (but much sooner than he would have were he to live into old age).

Civilization created the possibility of drug and alcohol abuse, and by its doing so also perpetuated these behaviors by safe-guarding the addict.  This is especially so in modern times, when addicts are saved from themselves, sometimes time after time after time, whereas in non-civilized cultures he probably wouldn’t have developed an addiction in the first place due to limited access and would have died while out in “the wild” because being high is not conducive to continued survival.  This is why it is said that addiction runs in the family; people who are substance abusers are not allowed to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, and therefore the genes that cause them to abuse proliferate.

This is one of the ways by which natural selection is being very obviously avoided.  Where humans are still actively participating in the process of natural selection, addictions do not occur, and if they did they would only occur for a little while.  Simple, really.

Modern Medicine

In much the same way, modern medicine is a way to actively avoid being naturally selected against.  I’m sure that is a controversial statement, and I’m not sure of its popularity, even among anti-civ folks.  The reality of it is, still, undeniable.

Is this to say that I am “against” modern medicine?  The answer to that question would be convoluted.  Am I against people having sex because it feels good?  No.  Am I against addicts?  Oof.  I think they should be able to self-destruct—I’ll put it that way, and I suppose that could be taken as either a yes or a no.

My answer is a difficult one to formulate because on the one hand is the biology, and on the other the fact that civilization is actively creating new conditions that it then treats people for.  In a sense, then, civilization should bear the responsibility of healing the ills it has created.  But is it acceptable to treat people for cancer which industry has given them while refusing to treat someone born with a chronic illness due to a genetic mutation?  I’m not willing to answer that question.  Even if I answered yes, would that be an effective solution?  Certainly not, since the source of the ailment—industrial civilization itself—will never be treated voluntarily.  As far as the presence of modern medicine is concerned, I cannot make a judgment.  I can, however, still see the ways in which it is running civilized humans away from natural selection.

In the same way addicts would die out in “the wild,” so too would folks with chronic conditions that impeded their survival.  Beneficial traits tend to have a higher representation in the gene pool because those traits aid in survival, but detrimental traits have a lower, if not non-existent, representation because they do the opposite of aiding survival.

Obvious genetic “defects” therefore relate quite obviously to survival, but even the classic without modern medicine you would break a leg and die can be scrutinized in a similar fashion.  Those who are most prone to break legs (or, more accurately, those most likely to break legs before reaching an age they can reproduce at) will have a lower representation in the gene pool.  But of course this is just extrapolation since the broken leg argument is actually a moral argument—that is, an Oh no! How terrible! argument.  The world doesn’t care if you’ll die because of a broken leg—we do.  It’s the one that broke your leg in the first place.  That doesn’t mean the world is a total dick, though, because it also let you exist.  I once came across a quote from Mr. Dawkins that fits here.  “Nature is neither kind nor cruel,” he says, “but indifferent,” whether you are experiencing jubilation or suffering.  He might want nature to be indifferent only to our jubilation while our suffering is eliminated, but I’m OK with its indifference at all points.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. jakemoran permalink
    November 9, 2009 1:28 pm

    I don’t know how many times I’ve discussed the modern medicine topic with people and gotten a uniform “you’re a horrible person” response.

    • November 9, 2009 4:15 pm

      Yeah, embracing all aspects of life does indeed mean you are awful.

      Conversely: the people who are appalled by the realization that modern medicine is keeping people alive who are otherwise maladapted to the world hate life. Next time someone tells you you’re horrible, hit them back with that one. “You hate being alive, you backward-ass [think of something that works and is specialized for the individual person].” It’s kind of like telling someone they hate freedom, but even broader. (I guess you could tell them they hate freedom too.)

  2. jakemoran permalink
    November 9, 2009 8:02 pm

    Yeah, I don’t know. Looking beyond the surface of things is hard, but I think people might be more inclined to do it if you ridicule them for not doing so.

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