Here’s a couple of thoughts to take to bed, if you so desire.
There are two major influences on the degree/speed of evolutionary change in species: isolation, and dramatic environmental change. Although this is a gross oversimplification, the more a species is isolated – and the more dramatically the species environment affects its ability to function and reproduce – the more fundamental and fast the evolution will be. It’s all about the drive to survive……necessity as the mother of invention and so forth.
I believe it is perfectly possible that Homo sapiens’ technical development has set the species up to become a dead-end in evolutionary terms. But before explaining why that is, let me first of all recount why and how this thought occurred to me.
My sense for over a decade now has been that the human race is facing a crisis far broader than merely ‘financial’ or ‘economic’. Regular Sloggers will recognise that obsession well enough. Up until around 2010, I was mainly of the view that this crisis had its roots in cultural decline alone. It’s only over the last three years that I have begun to wonder whether our species might be experiencing something which – in the absence of any other term of which I’m aware – I would call ‘reversion’: that is, the opposite of evolution.
Although I could cite any number of trends, growing attitudes and odd behaviours as examples of this, ultimately the question here is one of the oldest of all time: which is chicken and which egg? But bear with me anyway while I enumerate some of them.
The rise and rise of derivation and copycatism in the Arts.
The complete absence of any truly qualitative medical, chemical, physics, biological or artistic breakthrough since the 1960s. By this, I mean nothing on the scale of fire, electricity, relativity, the novel, abstractism, or DNA.
The serfdom to market and military demands of technological achievements in computing and communications.
The survival of the internal combustion engine as the basis of transport into the 21st century.
The withdrawal from Space exploration.
The complete stagnation of socio-political thought: indeed, the unwillingness to accept any and all data contradicting existing ideology…aka theology.
The inability of market and fiscal economists to get beyond the ideas of dead theorists to somewhere new.
Now one can out forward all kinds of rationale as to why these things have happened…or rather, not happened. Our obsession with short-term ROI, the increasing dominance of the military-security-globalist axis, the structurally self-perpetuating power of political Parties based on lobbyist influence, the dumbing-down of educational standards and media content, the decline of the spiritual in favour of the material…and onandonandonandon. But what all those features represent is evidence of the very reversion I’m hypothesising.
Man went from pure survivalism to a vague comprehension of Time, and that in turn produced the desire to record in visual and alphabetic expression. So we got art and literature….and then the abstraction from physical and consumptive brutalism to the religious, scientific and theoretical ideals of a higher aspiration. We went from the cooperative need to hunt, and on into the cerebral need to understand. From this in turn grew the concepts of broader social provision, love for one’s neighbour, and the preference for empirical observation over theology.
Do I see this process continuing? I do not. Rather, what I observe is a species shunting itself into a siding where the game becomes squeezing the most out of what is, and every man for himself as the horizons of expansion shrink. Our self-styled leaders dictate that only tactics matter, that there is no new vision, that risk should be avoided, that more and more for fewer and fewer is better than a little more for most, that monopoly status quo is safer than entrepreneurial adventure…and above all, that all who question the New Wisdom are heretics flying in the face of There is No Alternative.
We’re sort of back in the chicken/egg debate here, but think on this. Rapid evolution for our species via isolation is now impossible. Advances in wireless communication via satellite cells have ensured that, if ever a tribe finds itself cut off, it can be reached and ‘rescued’ within hours….not the 40,000 years it would take for an evolutionary leap to occur. Equally, our exposures to the effects of environmental change have become less and less life-threatening – thanks to improvements in air-conditioning, insulation against the cold, central heating, large cities, advanced building techniques and so on. Today – I’m sure – even a massive change in climate could be minimised by Man’s quantitatively inventive nature. The problem is that – as our species technical leaps become both smaller and increasingly irregular – we are able to cope with change….but not to evolve and thus defeat it.
It is, in my view, possible that Homo sapiens has reached a dead end.
Perhaps throughout the Universe, this always happens as a dominant intelligence evolves on the trillions of planets able to support life. Perhaps this is the real reason why we have never been contacted by aliens: that is to say, after a certain point, the very ingenuity of an intelligent life-form degrades into an acceptance of safe sufficiency, of coping. This in turn renders the species smug….it loses the voyager gene, gradually slips backwards – and then slumps into reversion rather than evolution.
Who knows? I don’t know, I just wonder and ponder. And then become depressed at the obvious inability of my fellow Man to do the same. Both neocons and socialists, Islamists and Christian fundamentalists evoke this disappointment in me. It feels increasingly like their very existence is an obvious symptom of The End. Almost, it seems, they are like a coming Dark Age after which there will be no Renaissance: only the descent into controlling belief in an ultimate certainty that no longer exists.