Darwin Has Left the Building
I’m getting some very interesting and thought provoking (and occasionally incoherent) responses to my earlier ‘Cynicism reigns supreme‘ post. It’s been fun watching them pop up over the course of the day, though I wasn’t able to come back to them until now.
Erik raised some very valid points in response to my ranting that I wanted to address, partly because I found them quite interesting, but also because they addressed some worries I had when making my post.
I’m not going to get into a discussion that “poor” = “stupid” and that “wealthy” = “intelligent” as the article I’m quoting does.
I knew when posting that entry that those particular generalizations could very easily be the most contentious pieces of what I wrote. In fact, it very much ties in conceptually to Jamie’s reply to Erik’s original post, in linking social status to ability. I debated seeing if I could find a way to reword the post to remove that particular tone. In the end, though, I decided to leave it as originally written, opting instead to add the disclaimer to the beginning. Seeing as how it’s been mentioned, however briefly, I think it’s worthwhile to address what I wrote.
First off, I’d like to make quite clear that I do not actually belive that wealth, or the lack thereof, has any direct correlation to intelligence, or the lack thereof. I’ve met people with far less disposable income than I who could run circles around me intellectually, and conversely, I’ve met people who could spend my yearly income without batting an eye that I wouldn’t trust to take my laundry to the cleaners.
While I feel comfortable standing by my assertion that, in general, more intelligent people are less likely to have large numbers of progeny than less intelligent people, the class distinction that I included in my original post was very admittedly a sterotype.
The only possible defense I can offer for using such a sterotype (and it is an admittedly weak one) is that, in the grand scheme of things, a highly intelligent person in a lower class environment is far more likely to find a way to improve their standing in life (though study, job opportunities, and so on) than someone of less intelligence. At the same time, a highly stupid person in a higher class environment is far more likely to end up at a lower standing (through bad investments, squandering their finances, etc.) than someone of greater intelligence. In the end, theoretically, things would even out.
Of course, that’s not how things work in the real world. Still, if I’m going to attempt to justify the use of a boneheaded stereotype, I might as well do my best, right?
Anyway. On to more interesting things…. Erik goes on to look at my assumptions regarding intelligence as it relates to the evolutionary theory of ‘survival of the fittest.’
(First off, a quick admission: I’ve not actually read Darwin’s The Origin of Species [though it's now in my Amazon wishlist], nor any of his other work, so I’m basing much of what I say primarily on hazy memories of high school science classes.)
Unfortunately, “more intelligent” does not necessarily mean “more fit” for survival. Darwin makes no such statement regarding mental capacity. A stupid giraffe with a properly sized neck seems equally or better prepared to survive than a really brilliant giraffe with a short neck (neck length allows giraffes to reach leaves at the tops of trees, thus preventing them from starving to death).
If “survival” is defined as “reaching a breeding age and passing on your genetic material” then certainly these “less thoughtful” people as Michael redfined them are fitter by definition! They are more successful at passing on their genetic material (by having more children). They’re successes in Darwin’s eyes, and thus, the “fitter” membes of the species.
Nature, or in this case our society, does not reward intelligence with breeding rights.
My understanding is that being “more fit” for survival is not merely dependent upon intelligence, but upon a combination of factors, of which intelligence is merely one. The ability to survive in any environment depends on whether one can feed, house, clothe, support, and defend themselves (at minimum, I’m sure that list could go on quite a bit longer). Intelligence is certainly required, as is strength, dexterity, adaptability, and a host of other traits.
I would posit that while our society does not reward intelligence with breeding rights, Nature does. When adversity presents itself to a group of individuals, then those individuals need to find a way to overcome that adversity. Different challenges will require different traits, or combinations of traits, to come to the fore, but intelligence seems to me to be a baseline requirement in order to survive in the long term.
As an example, consider the groups of apes in the prologue to 2001 — a fictional encounter in a science fiction movie, to be sure, but not an unreasonable scenario. Both groups approach the same water hole, and proceed to threaten each other over who gets to drink. While all other evolutionary traits were approximately equal (strength, dexterity, etc.), leading to a standoff, it was the more intelligent ape who broke the stalemate by picking up a bone and using it as a weapon to kill one rival ape, and drive the rest of the enemy pack away.
Similar scenarios are not hard to come up with. Two groups of hunters are caught out in a storm. One hunkers down where they are, and loses some of their members to exposure. The other seeks shelter in a nearby cave and stays warm. After the storm passes, the group that sought shelter is more able to continue on with the hunt and provide food for their tribe, while the other weaker group is not able to do so. Or, two tribes, each faced with attack by a group of hungry wolves. One tribe breaks up, each person trying seperately to attack the wolves, and falling in the process. The other stays together, arranging the stronger hunters in a circle, protecting the weaker members inside the defensive circle, and presenting a far less vulnerable target for the wolf pack.
In each of the above scenarios, while it is the combination of many traits that assists in determining which group is more fit for survival, the one outstanding trait is intelligence — the ability to work through a difficult situation and determine new or different approaches that work better than the ones that have been tried before. Thusly, while Nature does not reward intelligence alone, Nature does reward intelligence with breeding rights.
However, our society does not reward intelligence with breeding rights. To continue quoting Erik’s post…
Nature, or in this case our society, does not reward intelligence with breeding rights. “First cum, first served” is the way it goes, and conformity and “normalness” get you bonus points. What is rewarded, in the Darwinian sense of the word? Sex. Pure and simple. Our society rewards conformity. Intelligent people (nerds, geeks, dorks) stand out. [...] “Geeks” aren’t rewarded with sex. The 80% in the middle? They’re humping like crazy.
One of my first statements in my original post was that “…Darwin’s theory of natural selection, in many ways, no longer applies to the human race at large.” While when I wrote that, I was specifically referring to advances in medical technology that allow us to keep alive those who would in bygone days be “culled from the herd,” I believe that what Erik says here is also a very strong reason to support my argument.
In the section I quoted earlier, Erik suggests that because they are more likely to breed profusely, than the less intelligent people are actually more fit to survive than the more intelligent people that limit their offspring to one or two. In other words, he seems to be saying, “According to Darwin’s Theory, more fit people are more likely to breed. Therefore, because less intelligent people are breeding more, they must be more fit to breed.” This strikes me as a logical fallacy (possibly Affirming the Consequent, though I’m not entirely sure, and at 1:20 in the morning, I don’t feel like wading through the entire list of fallacies to confirm it).
At this point, I amend, but stand by, my original premise that through medical science and societal standards, we as a race have removed ourselves from the premise of Natural Selection. It is no longer the most fit — those with the best combination of all desirable traits, including, but not limited to, intelligence — who are more likely to propagate. Rather, it is those that either best fit a societal norm that is far below what it should be (in my not-so-humble opinion), or those that simply continue to have children, no matter how ill-advised it may be to do so.