Optima Ergo Sum – A Comfortable Deception

evoEver since Darwin published his theory of evolution (Darwin, 1859), there has been a significant resistance against the idea of living matter existing without a cause, against humanity having no special status in the biological world. However, apart from certain people rejecting the theory directly and in its entirety, there is also a mechanism of transforming, of molding the theory of evolution to fit better with what we expect or want the world to be like.

These subtle but significant transformations allow for policies and political ideas operating under a guise of science and credibility, while actually providing nothing of the sort. Yet, their arguments are oddly compelling, often fooling scientists as much as anyone else. I’d like to argue that they are usually directed to a single objective: validation by hierarchy.

Validation by hierarchy is established by first creating for evolution a direction or future goal, then – optionally – by declaring the human species to be the current pinnacle of it, and finally by proposing policies that ‘help’ evolution, or arguing against those that ‘oppose’ it. All these ideas are deeply flawed and lead to dangerous assumptions about ‘inherent’ genetic hierarchies and the biological need to control genetics for the greater good of the species (Foucault, 1976), as well as the idea of the struggle for survival being an actual war, that killing others is somehow ‘good’ for your genes (Mbembe, 2003). However unpopular eugenic policies are, becoming ‘better’ is still deeply connected to our idea of what evolution ‘wants’.

But evolution does not ‘want’. Evolution is not about becoming ‘better’, it is the non-sentient process of survival of genes that are reproduced the most. Evolution has no goal and cannot be opposed or helped – it will simply always happen as long as life as we know it exists. To fight unwanted control over genetics effectively, it is important to realize that an assessment of which genes are ‘best’ is always a human one – it can never be dictated by the direction-less power of evolution.

References:
Darwin, C. (1859) On the Origin of Species. 1. London: Murray.
Foucault, M. (1976) Lecture 17 March 1976, in: Society Must Be Defended. Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976, New York: Picador 2003, pp. 239-264.
Mbembe, A. (2003) Necropolitics, in: Public Culture, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 11-40

5 comments

  1. While I agree with the fact that evolution has no “want”/”need” – do you think the self-preservation instinct in species or “life” is one of the factors or inputs to evolution equation ?

    • Hi Vijay! Thanks for your comment 🙂
      I do agree that it can be a factor in the fitness function, indeed! Wanting to keep the species intact seems like a good incentive for spreading your genes more 🙂
      Likewise, wanting to keep only a certain portion of the species intact can also be a good incentive for spreading your genes, or for preventing other genes from being spread… Evolution still doesn’t care, so on a purely biological level, nothing is ‘wrong’ with that (human selection just becomes another factor in the evolutionary process).
      What irks me about this however is that it is often proclaimed as ‘helping evolution’, while such a thing is obviously not applicable. And while, as you say, the need for species-preservation can certainly be a factor in making homo sapiens the ‘fittest’, hand-picking certain genes (or excluding others) is only benefiting the fitness of those genes, not of the human species as a whole. And yet, that last claim is often used or at least implied in popular culture.

      • This seems to be result of the thought process that “everything must have a purpose”.

        Perhaps it is a side-effect of each individual’s self-awareness that causes them to think there is a “purpose” or reason for one’s own existence, which scales up into species, that collectively we must have a purpose – and whatever that purpose be, it is the necessary (and sufficient) cause of evolution. Hence attributing the evolution to “scheme” for our existence or “progress” or “uniqueness” in the known universe.

        Perhaps once we realise that the self-aggrandisement is just an illusion – not everything needs a reason, things are because they “are” 🙂

        Anyway, looks like I’m crossing biology and moving into philosophy.

        Nice blog 🙂

    • Thanks!
      And it is indeed true that our brains have a certain bias towards constructing a narrative – which, of course, includes a cause and a purpose 🙂

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