Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Interesting Thought For You This Morning

Everyday, part of my rite of passage into my office is an elevator ride. My building has those godawful video screens run by, which while occasionally useful for things like current weather, really just rehash headlines and such from the day's news, which is thoroughly useless to me (I wish they'd show more art).

Today's "quote of the day", however, caught my eye.
As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.
Charles Darwin, of course.

One could accuse Captivate of being a liberal-biased media outlet, given that tonight, George W. Bush will be addressing the nation on a "new course" for the Iraq war. After all, evolution is a shibboleth to the small number of Americans who remain his base, loyal to him to the end, perhaps 30% of Americans.

Which got me thinking a little. Roughly 51% of Americans believe in Creationism, and I'd be willing to bet that the lion's share of folks who still support this devolutionary President probably believe in Creationism.

Further, I'd be willing to bet that their understanding of evolution can be summed up in one incorrect phrase: "Survival of the fittest".

Too many people believe that "evolution" refers to survival of the strongest, biggest, most powerful (when evolution that is happening before our very eyes tells us otherwise). Herbert Spencer invented the phrase, and describes it thusly:
"Thus by survival of the fittest, the militant type of society becomes characterized by profound confidence in the governing power, joined with a loyalty causing submission to it in all matters whatever."
Hmmmmmmm...which while not describing evolution at all, certainly describes politics in America in the Aughts. The thinking prevalent in the administration and its supporters is "We're the sole superpower. We ought to flex our muscles." You know, "survival of the fittest".

See, evolution is a celebration of diversity. It says that, given the right circumstance, an alteration from the norm may actually be better adapted to breeding than the normative entity. It's when a bird is a little smaller than his cousins and can slip into a bug's nest so it lives longer by eating better and has more opportunity to leave offspring which will share this characteristic.

Spencer was, in fact, applying a rudimentary form of evolution, warped and twisted, to ecnomics, in particular the free market system. Mind you, what he describes in his books was no different than what Adam Smith defined capitalism as (the individual self-interest ultimately creates a largere societal self-interest, altho Smith was careful to put limits on capitalists and capitalism by insisting on government oversight to avoid predation), except that he extended it to exclude governmental interference, and to state categorically that, by applying Darwin's theory, those that can do better business should survive and dominate the market, including the market of ideas.

Look again, however, at the quote and apply this economic thinking to it: it implies that the best form of governance is one in which utter fealty to the administrators is given. The past six years have been about as close to that as we've had: one party rule over all three branches of government.

Nothing got done, and in fact, the country is the worse for it.

The GOP intolerated and indeed punished dissenters, which stifled an unfettered dialogue around the issues, and eliminated any possible alternatives that might have worked better (and certainly couldn't have worked much worse). By insisting on lock-step loyalty, the GOP in fact ate its young.

It's not just in governance that we see this decay and warping. Many churches, for example, will socially ostracize a sinner, despite the axiom "hate the sin, love the sinner." On a football team, it doesn't pay to get too creative, since the entire game is drawn around a plan that doesn't allow for very mjuch deviation, and soon you'll find yourself on the bench.

Hell, we see this behavior in various groups around the 'Net. Go on any conservative (or rigidly liberal) blog, and you'll find enormous numbers of people who will disown any politician or member who deviates in any small way from a perceived consensus, despite that politician's or person's general agreement with the underlying philosophy.

What happens is ultimately people begin to peel away as less and less is accomplished and more and more "bitching", for want of a better word, goes on. Think about how the Republicans in Congress finally got the balls to talk back to the White House, when they realized how far the party had fallen in the eyes of the American people, and how in danger they really were about losing both houses. The overlords then insist on even tighter adherence to the party line, which leads, as Princess Leia so aptly put it in Star Wars:
The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
Evolution away from the rigid dogma, in other words.

I think you know where my feelings are on this subject. I'm all for free thought, so long as its truly free and independent. Mealmouth platitudes and bromides to me, and I'll ignore you, or worse, make fun of your blank slate.