Are we causing our devolution? This is a question that has been bothering me, off and on, and to varying degrees, for many years now.
Most of the computer using world (and hence the people with access to this post) live in one of the safest environments that has ever existed on this planet. We have a security force, a military force, government agencies, and a rather robust collection of laws all of which are there, essentially, to make sure we don’t die.
Likewise there is an entire healthcare network who’s purpose, aside from making enormous profits, is to keep us alive and healthy so we can keep buying products.
We no longer have to worry about being hunted or eaten. While murder is still a problem it’s no where near the problem it has been in other historical periods.
But does all this come at a cost? Through litigation, overprotection and advanced science are we hurting our own species? Are we creating a world that our own children won’t be able to live in?
This idea took seed long ago when, during a casual conversation, a friend began to rail against school speed zones (his rant was intended as pure humor, and at the time was taken that way). He lived near an elementary school and a high school as was often frustrated by the 2 miles of 15 MPH he had to endure to get from his house to the nearest major street.
When I was a kid, he reasoned, there were no speed zones. We had crossing guards who made the kids wait until it was safe to cross. So, we learned how to safely cross the street. Now, there are speed zones, and the cars must wait for the kids, no matter where they choose to cross. So, today’s kids learn that they can cross whenever and wherever they want to.
Although the argument is quite funny, especially when my friend was in one of his moods, there’s a nugget of truth in there. To expand it out to it’s evolutionary impact you could say that it used to be, that kids who couldn’t learn to cross the street got hit by cars, and hence were less likely to produce offspring.
In our society there are far too many examples of this to count. Lead based paint is now a no-no. Why? Because some kids would eat it, get sick, keep eating it and eventually get lead poisoning. And their parents sued someone. So now there is no lead-based paint. But why did that kid keep eating it when hundreds of thousands of other kids ate paint chips, got sick and decided they’d had just about enough of that? Maybe the kid who keeps eating paint shouldn’t be producing offspring.
Now one of the sticky spots I find myself in here, is that if I continue this line of thinking I get to a group of people that includes myself. Modern medicine makes a long normal life possible for people who in previous ages would have died off early. When I was 12 years old I had a massive asthma attack. In order for me to survive I had to have fast transportation, a close hospital, well trained, readily-available doctors, and modern medicines. And even with all that it was close. Even 20 years earlier and I probably wouldn’t have seen my 13th birthday. So, at just about any other time in human history I would not have had the opportunity to pass along my genetic makeup.
If this theory is correct, and we are in fact damaging our own ability to survive in our own environment, there could be many repercussions, some long term, but some much more immediate.
In the immediate, our society may have to deal with a new generation that is increasingly unable to solve problems. Back to the speed zones for a moment…there is a certain level of cognition and abstract reasoning that allows a young child to understand, “if this adult is stopping me from crossing the street until the cars are past, then maybe I should always wait to cross the street until the cars have past.” And maybe giving kids the benefit of speed-zones until they are out of high school is a little too much coddling.
But in the long term we may be hurting our species. Are we burdening our genetic pool with too many people who are unable to learn how to cross a street? Or who are unable to learn not to eat paint chips? By keeping people with illnesses alive before we can correct these illnesses, are we stocking our genetic pool with scores of “manageable” illnesses. Is our rapid medical advancement creating a genetic dependence on advanced medicine?
On the other hand, I could just be upset that my 13-year-old, doesn’t know how to properly cross the street.