DARWINIAN NATURAL SELECTION
HAS BEGUN TO FAVOR STUPIDITY
Donald R. Burleson, Ph.D.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Donald R. Burleson.
This essay may be reproduced in its entirety, provided original authorship
is expressly acknowledged.
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"There is no sin," Oscar Wilde said, "except stupidity." This is a very revealing
remark when one considers it carefully. For one thing, it suggests that stupidity is
a self-imposed choice, so that in disparaging stupid people one should not include those
who simply never could have helped themselves; real stupidity, for example, is not a
meaningful description of someone suffering from birth defects that limit the mind, any
more than inability to play the piano is a meaningful description of someone born without
limbs. No-- real stupidity, in the sense of the term in which one properly can and should
condemn it, is a quality that people possessing it could have avoided. And aside from a
very small percentage of people born with actual mental impairment, by and large we come into
the world with normal, capable, functioning brains. The critical question is: to what extent
do we prove sufficiently ambitious and self-responsible to develop the cerebral potential
with which we are born? That takes work, and not everyone is willing to make the effort.
Results can thus vary enormously even in cases in which people start out with virtually
identical potential. Given two such people, one of them (even if it means overcoming a lot of
natural inertia) may make it a lifelong habit to read, study, learn, and think in challenging
ways that conduce to high mental development, i.e. conduce to the cultivation of one's natural
intelligence; while the other, though equally capable of doing this, may avoid all such effort,
taking the easy way out, practically never acquiring any genuinely new knowledge and never
forming the habit of entertaining connected thoughts, beyond what is necessary to preserve life
on the level of an unreflective beast. The world is full of examples of both kinds, as
extremes-- on the one hand, the practical scholar, the productive thinker, the entrepreneur,
the creative doer, the self-motivated person who enriches the life of the world by being
in it; and on the other hand the unproductive hanger-on, the leech, the unthinking parasite
who might have done the world something of a favor by declining to be born into it, the loser
who could have been a winner but never bothered because he knew, even in his unexercised brain,
that winners would always take care of losers like him.
And that, oddly enough, brings us to Darwinian natural selection, the cornerstone of evolution.
Essentially, living forms evolve by natural selection, the principle simply being that the more
readily organisms can replicate their DNA, the more abundantly they do so.
An animal that accidentally develops, say, a horny carapace over its body due to chance mutations
of some of its genes, not only finds that this turns out to afford protection in a hostile
environment, but also that it helps ensure that the animal will stick around long enough to
produce offspring. And those offspring, if they too enjoy the benefits of such a carapace,
will have a higher incidence of self-replication than similar organisms not having those
advantages, so that in time it may be that all specimens of that animal type end up being
born with a genetically inherited protective carapace. (Similarly, a plant with a variationally
narrowed leaf will present less of a meal-opportunity for insects than a plant with wider leaves,
while still managing photosynthesis, which is why many highly prolific weeds have come to possess
spindly leaves.) All DNA wants to do is to copy itself, and given a healthy enough chance, it will.
For countless ages, so it has been with humans too; we have come to be the creatures we are,
due to gradually accreting properties-- in particular, a multi-lobe brain-- that equip us to
flourish in our biological environment. Until recently, increased intelligence has always been an asset,
in that smarter individuals have always been more capable at staying alive and producing
descendants than individuals not so mentally acute.
But, tragically enough, this is changing; and it is changing because of the shifting prevalence
of socio-political and economic philosophies that humankind has come to espouse. Basically,
the change has begun to come about due to human beings' evolving (literally evolving, though
perhaps one should say devolving) certain attitudes about government and individual responsibility.
Until recently, as history has unfolded over the centuries, people had to either take care of
themselves or perish. Sometimes, unhappily, taking care of themselves assumed the form of
exploitation-- wealth was often not so much earned as wheedled, stolen, bribed, inherited,
begged, blackmailed, or otherwise dubiously transferred. The advent of America on the world
scene changed all that (though not of course altogether eradicating illicit forms of
money-acquisition) by introducing the retrospectively obvious but essentially unprecedented
idea that people could create new wealth by intelligence and hard work. People who
used their brains together with their muscles might succeed while those not inclined to so do
might well fall by the wayside.
But with the spread of "liberal" (i.e. collectivist or leftist) economic notions, we have seen
the growth of what more conservative thinkers have called the "nanny state," wherein
ever-increasing numbers of people have come to live their lives on the principle that
government should take care of them, because government encourages them to think so.
First this happened on a large scale in Europe, then began to infest the United States as well.
That the whole notion is preposterous and unworkable is self-evident, since people expecting
"government" to support them are really asking working, responsible, productive citizens--
taxpayers-- to support them, this being the only resource a government has or can have; and
that is tantamount to expecting productive people to serve as slaves, though there is no
good reason for them to do so except fear of reprisal for any failure to pay their taxes.
Liberal commentators will even say that highly responsible, self-starting people "owe" some
of what they earn-- perhaps most of what they earn-- to "the people," where "the people"
is really a fraudulent concept meaning something like "everyone but individuals like you,
if you are a productive person." In short, government, under such specious thinking,
is coming to support parasites at the expense of hosts, taking the attitude that other
(nonproductive) people have more right to your earned wealth, the wealth you create,
than you have yourself. (Obviously there are, on the other hand, people who desperately
want to work but cannot find jobs in a bad economy, but this is just more evidence that
the government spoils the economy by meddling with it. Left to itself, a free-market
economy, or rather the enterprising people who run it, will always create jobs.)
But the point is that this growing "liberalism" does not just favor lazy and stupid people
over ambitious and intelligent people economically-- it begins to make the favoring of
stupidity over intelligence, indolence over industry and responsibility, a matter of
altered biological evolution as well.
One can seldom move about in the streets of any large American city without seeing them:
the urban zombies, the vacant-eyed aimless youths, the tragicomically (but deliberately
and often expensively) ill-clad halfwits with their nose-rings and their hundreds of
tattoos and their drug-swollen faces, walking masses of permanently unemployable
imbecility-- the monosyllabic young men who are good at impregnating every female they
can reach but good at nothing else, or the air-headed early-teenage girls who spew babies
out onto the world like so much party confetti, making for endless generations of
people on welfare. And why not, when somebody will pay for it all?
But who might this "somebody" be? Well, it could scarcely be anyone but people who do
have their lives in order: the working taxpayers. That there will be fewer and fewer
of these doesn't seem to occur to people who are on the dependent, receiving end of the
government giveaways-- just as, ironically enough, a tapeworm never understands that
eventually the host will wither up and die, and then the tapeworm will die too; a tapeworm
just keeps right on feeding off its host, oblivious to the inevitable consequences.
Consider two individuals: (1) the uneducated (no excuse: public education is free)
cocaine-sniffing thirteen-year-old girl who as soon as biologically possible starts
constantly having babies; and (2) the intelligent working woman who has spent half
her life in college and graduate school (working night and day) and professional training,
to pay for the thirteen-year-old's misspent life, and will herself be lucky ever to
have time to raise a family of her own. Which of these people is going to flood the world
with DNA? Consider (1) the drooling boombox-lugging school-dropout moron on the street
corner, who will bang half a dozen of his equally brain-dead girlfriends before the week is out; and
(2) the engineer or computer programmer or, for that matter, the high school graduate whose
work ethic drives him to hold down two jobs, who labors to pay for the moron's welfare checks
and drug parties and tattoos, but will himself be lucky to have the time or money to
raise one or two sane, intelligent children of his own. Which of these people is
going to replicate more DNA, and to what ultimate effect in the gene pool?
Clearly, to the extent that such personal qualities as an inclination to be ambitious,
resourceful, persistent, and responsible for oneself are genetically predisposed--
and even to the extent that parents pass their behavior along to their children, by social
example-- clearly the "nanny state," in creating a world in which responsible, capable,
ambitious people must support irresponsible and unintelligent people, has begun a
process by which human natural selection, remarkably due to the social systems humankind
has now made for itself, has begun to favor stupidity and indolence. In terms of genetics,
that old human capacity for developing the individual brain is up for grabs, and not
at all certain to survive.
This is by no means the first time human beings' social organization has influenced
human evolution. When humans became a settled, agricultural species as opposed to nomadic
hunters, the genes that had once enabled them to synthesize their own vitamin C became
inactive, unlike those of some other animals (cats, for instance) who can still synthesize
vitamin C in their bodies. There was simply no longer any biological reason why the human body
needed to make the vitamin, since we were eating plants and ingesting the vitamin anyway.
Thus there is precedent for the phenomenon that human social organization can actually
affect human biological evolution. Lamentably, this potential is now starting to take
a form in which the evolutionary effect, on the human species, of collectivist styles of
government, styles which cultivate widespread dependence of people on government itself,
can only prove over time to work to the biological detriment of humankind.
Our cave-dwelling ancestors should have thanked their elemental gods that, for them,
there was no government. For people gathered around a fire in a cave, having a government
would have meant (by analogy) that some grim-visaged clan elder would have told the skilled
hunter and food-gatherer of the group: "You have to give up your portion of the meat to the
dull fellows next to you who are too lazy and obtuse to hunt; and by the way, they get all
the women too, because you're going to be busy hunting anyway." Humankind didn't invent this
self-crippling form of insanity until recently. If we had, we might already be extinct.
But recent developments are bad enough. With the appearance of "nanny" governments that
actively support irresponsible people at the expense of responsible people, human evolution
is taking a turn that in time may prove to be a species-endangering disaster. We are what
we are because of our intelligence; but with appalling alacrity, we are breeding that intelligence
out and replacing it, in some measure, with officially subsidized and encouraged stupidity.
What humankind will be like in centuries to come, one may shudder to think. But we had better
think about it-- while we can still think at all.