Monday, 20 February 2012

A maladaptive species?

To date, species evolution and social and economic progress have been all about consequences. If any organism from a bacterium to an elephant is either unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or makes a serious mistake, then there are consequences.

So the bunglers have to learn life’s lessons or run the risk of their genes not being at the top of the list for the next generation. It’s how all species lose bunglers. In human terms, serial bungling isn’t supposed to drag everyone else down – just bungler and co.

Or something like that. The details vary, but it’s mainly the fact of there being consequences that matters. We need to make mistakes to recognise them as mistakes and learn lessons. Pretending mistakes are not real mistakes though – that’s a really big mistake. It screws the anti-bungler mechanism – the one thing we are really not supposed to screw up.

Because unfortunately, in our pursuit of fairness, equality, a just society or whatever other euphemism we use to flatter our imbecility, consequences have to work themselves out. A bungler’s actions, and for that matter inactions, must have consequences appropriate to said bungle. Otherwise there is a rather massive risk weaving its way into our future – the risk that we’ll turn human progress around.

In other words, there is a real danger of making ourselves into a maladaptive species. It’s not so much a genetic hazard, as a social and cultural one. Civilisations decline because they become maladaptive. They forget how they arose and what their strengths were, how they learned from mistakes. As a direct consequence they lose internal support and become vulnerable because they have forgotten the blood sweat and tears, the trial and errors and the consequences of those errors.

Today, particularly in the developed world, the less reflective among us seem to think we can devise a way of living without serious consequences.

It isn’t going to happen.

There will be consequences; we just don’t know what they are yet. The more we try to design them out for bunglers, the bigger they will eventually be for all of us.

How big? I don’t know – obviously. But we may well collapse socially, culturally and economically into some other social, cultural and economic state. History suggests it won’t be comfortable.

Has it begun? Well has it?


Sam Vega said...

Excellent post. This is one of the biggest questions about the intersection of nature and culture.

I am in two minds about it. One the one hand, I work in education and see evidence of kids who have never been allowed to get anything wrong, or to face the consequences of so doing. this is the flip-side of "entitlement culture", and it makes me truly fearful.

On the other hand, part of me is repelled by the possible consequences of allowing nature to take its course, so to speak, and the survival of the smartest that would result. It is probably a massive misinterpretation, but I have visions of aggressive intelligent exploiters running the show, and I might prefer the extinction of the species...

One possible solution (my fantasy, anyway) is to say that we are so complex, and our future is so unpredictable, that we cannot bank on the previously successful and battle-hardened continuing to be successful. Maybe the molly-coddled geeks and runts might develop a few skills that we need as a species, and our joint survival is dependent upon maintaining them as well, so far as we can. If we look after them, then a few might turn out for the good.

A K Haart said...

SV - I know what you mean, because we do need to nurture the geeks and the creative and we don't want a return to genuine and undeserved hardship.

Yet we need failure - it teaches crucial lessons.