Sunday, May 06, 2007


Have you heard? Some conservatives are ready to embrace Darwin and his theory of evolution. Apparently natural selection and survival of the fittest provide support for various conservative policies including traditional roles for men and women, the free-market economy, and deregulation. In other words, if you're the strongest (or richest) you get to lead and if you fall behind the herd you are going to get eaten. It's quite possible that one could also use this argument in favor of the younger more fabulous second (or third) wife. Of course you could also use it to excuse scarfing down an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's: the body just naturally wants to add fat, just in case food becomes scarce.

Like many justifications these use only the points that suit them. It's true that in many parts of the animal world the males lead. But not everywhere. Elephants are matriarchal, lionesses do the hunting and we all know what happens to the male black widow spider. As for the traditional family, nature is full of rampant infanticide, polygamous relationships, and absentee fathers.

But this argument fits in perfectly with the recent trend of reductionism. Everything from disease to ethics to faith has been looked at from an evolutionary perspective. Is there a survival advantage to having a belief in deity? Or is it just a by product of some other successful mutation? We've also been reducing our own minds. Tests show that by the time your conscious mind has decided to move your arm your unconscious is already causing the needed brain cells to fire. In other words you are being controlled by your brain. Right. If my brain isn't me, who is it? Does my brain have a mind of its own? Is it in there now, plotting my overthrow?

I understand curiosity but I don't understand this need to reduce ourselves to electro-chemical reactions. Do we believe that it will make it easier to control ourselves? If we know what neurons are firing we can change behavior as well as avert disease? Can we get rid of crime with genetic engineering and some happy pills? I've always been an agnostic but I find myself agreeing with the religious set - some people are just evil and tinkering with the foundations of life is not going to change that. I don't know why one would want to see oneself as no more than a series of electro-chemical reactions but I prefer to believe that there is more to us than that, that we are more than just the sum of our parts.


karen said...

I tend to think our society does a bit too much to thwart Darwin. Or, if you want to look at it from a religious slant, to thwart God's will. Don't get me wrong; I'm not an advocate of eating our young...but I do believe there are cases when a person should not be held alive just because medical technology has given us the capability to do so. If we didn't spend billions of dollars on keeping bodies going after minds are no longer doing their job, maybe we'd have more capital to help weaker but still active members of our herd?

The Plaid Sheep said...

I agree about that and am a proponent of living wills. My cousin Beth is a nurse and she says that one should make a living will as detailed as possible with all sorts of nasty clauses if it is ignored. Otherwise it may get ignored. She always stands up for patients with living wills.

karen said...

I have a sort of sucky living will at the moment but have a very committed husband who supports my choices. As long as he's not hooked up next to me, I'm ok. (...and yes, I know, I really should get my will in order.)