Mobility … Our Genetic Path to Development

Development – whether that is industrial, technological, economic or social – has expanded exponentially over the last couple of hundred years. This sudden upsurge contrasts with the slow, steady and incremental progress that had for many generations preceded it.

Why has that suddenly happened? What triggered it? What sustains it? How long will it continue for?

Fundamentally, the expansion in our human development is a consequence of our increased mobility as a species.

Not only have we accessed and settled on more of our planet but we have become increasingly able to move around it – travel times have reduced, locations are more reachable, costs are more affordable. When these factors are combined with an increased awareness of the wider world and also a growing desire to travel, then mobility – holidays, relocations, migrations – become a major influence on our existence.

Recognition of this mobility as being the driving force for human development has tended to be overlooked or overshadowed by other considerations. Its significance has not always been fully appreciated. This is because there is not necessarily a direct linkage between the one phenomenon – mobility – and development.

Instead, there is an – often unidentified – intermediary stage that triggers the causal effect. Mobility will, most importantly, have genetic consequences. It is when a mobile population impacts on the genetic mix of another population that developmental advances can take place.

Generations ago, people, for the most part, did not travel far. The difficulty and impracticality of moving between locations meant it seldom happened. They lived rural lives, marrying locally and, generally, dying in the same vicinity as where they were born. Genetic mixing was therefore limited.

This lack of genetic mixing is primarily for two reasons:

  • Static populations do not encourage the introduction and spread of new genetic variants. This means that the less mobile the population the more limited the pool of genetic variation.
  • There is also – even if there is no immediate incest – a tendency for inter-breeding. Given that settlements were a lot smaller, a reproductive partner may only be a couple of generations away from being related to a person and thereby having similar genetic variations.

Although, throughout history, there may have existed migratory populations, in a harsh, fearful, mostly lawless world they would have tended to be quite insular and wary of outsiders. They would have tended to be reluctant to mix with other communities, keeping themselves to themselves.

As humanity has progressed, we have become a more mobile species. In particular, this seems to have culminated with a colossal expansion in our mobility during the nineteenth century which has continued ever since. This increased mobility may have been for a number of reasons:

  • Population growth may have forced people to search out new residences, resources and opportunities.
  • Practical advances such as new transport methods and facilities may have made mobility more accessible.
  • Commercial activity has encouraged mobility – travel organisations, mass media, business expansion.
  • The shift to a more urban society meant greater concentrations of people.

Individually, we, as do all species, take behavioural actions on the basis of what would be beneficial for our survival. Increased human mobility was one such action. There were personal gains to be made by being more mobile.

The significance of this increased mobility for our development was not the immediate returns made by individual actions but by the genetic consequences that resulted from the subsequent inter-mixing of different human populations.

Mobile populations encourage genetic mixing. Genes from “foreign” climes are introduced into new localities. When that happens there is the possibility of both increased and more diverse genetic permutations.

New intelligences, fresh imaginations and creative innovations will emerge from the genetic mixing pot. It is those genetic variations that are desirable and advantageous to us which are the ones which go on to survive and prosper. These selected qualities will then feed our human advancement.

The more genetic variation that occurs, the more able we are to identify and promote those variations that are advantageous for us. Without variations there would be no opportunity to pursue particular pathways.

If the item isn’t on the supermarket shelf then we cannot buy it. Genetic variation puts things on the shelf. It is then up to us as to whether or not we select them.

In effect, mobility has enabled humanity to put the accelerator on human evolution. More genetic opportunities and advances have availed themselves. And that has fed through into our human developmental output.

It is like furnishing a room. If you only have a small range of decors and furniture to choose from then your final design and layout will be limited. The more materials and furnishings you have available then the greater the scope for design. You can be more radical, more varied, more imaginative.

Similarly, with a wider range of genetic variations to choose from, the human possibilities and potential is enhanced.

We may not have directly or purposefully made the link that increased mobility is genetically advantageous but it is an outcome that has proven most beneficial.

One of the essential characteristics of this developmental course is that we have found a progressive pathway that is self-sustaining. Our human development encourages mobility which enables and promotes genetic mixing which furthers human progress and leads to greater human development. We are in a perpetual loop.

Of course, pursuing mobility as a course of action would have carried some risk. Increased human, intra-species genetic mixing didn’t necessarily have to lead to improvements in human progress. It could easily have gone the other way and led to the dilution of the genetic mix. It’s difficult to know whether we were just fortunate, whether we are a one-off or whether, in all species that extend their range, the tendency is for them to improve their genetic position.

As further evidence of the advantageousness of mobility, historically, the most progressive civilisations have been those that have been expansionist such as the Romans. That expansionism will have enhanced their genetic pool and thereby furthered their development.

Additionally, it is also worth noting that generally those individuals that tend to be more mobile or migratory are those with more proactive, ambitious, enterprising natures. They’re the sort of people who make things happen. They have genetic strengths that incline towards progression, meaning that, in all likelihood, with their reproduction, they’re already half way there towards some genetic improvement.

As to the future, given that mobility continues to flourish, there is no immediate limit to the advancing of our human development. In fact, arguably, as religious, racial and cultural barriers lessen, the scope for increased genetic mixing and subsequent human advancement will become even greater.

In terms of our societal development, mobility – by shaping and driving genetic variation – has been humanity’s greatest force for change. It has enabled us to make great advances, strengthening our position in relation to the relentless, challenging forces of nature.

As such, the more we are able to take advantage of the immense expanse of human genetic variations available, the better it is for our human development and progress.