Genetic Dystopia

All too often we will admire Nature for the beauty it produces, for the complexities it displays and for the variation it generates; but Nature also represents a cruel world. It’s a harsh reality – a dystopian state.

If you are to ask what a dystopian world would look like, you would quite likely point to a controlled, ruthless world where the individual is subsumed by a brutal, all-powerful ruling body. The individual has no value, existing only for the greater good.

We might be hard pushed to disentangle this understanding of dystopia from the way Nature operates.

Nature is an evolutionary system in which we live for and are ruled by our genes.

Cleverly – rather sneakily – although we consider ourselves to be living our own lives and doing what is in our own best interests, we are, in fact, living for the greater benefit of our genes. They are pulling the strings on our existence. We think we are free; we are not: we think we have autonomy; we do not.

Our genes are the ruling elite, the controlling figureheads – both worshipped and feared. They determine what we can and cannot do. We do as they command. In so doing, we sustain their existence.

For us, it may seem that staying alive, living our life is the sole purpose of our existence, but in reality, we live as we are ordered to do so.

Our genes prosper through our reproductive activity; with genetic mutation being the driver of change and evolutionary progress. If a mutation has benefits then it will prove to be attractive and therefore reproductively more successful.

The system means that only the fittest – most useful – survive, those most attuned to their environment. All else is considered worthless and unnecessary and is discarded.

Our genes, in upholding the system, are ruthless in their managerial control. And yet, other than maintaining their survival, we have no insight into why they act as they do.

Strangely, this may be quite normal – many dystopias do not seem to have a purpose. Their main aim seems to be to merely sustain themselves. Unlike utopian societies which seek to provide their populous with contentment and fulfilment, dystopias do not have this – or any other -greater ambition or goal.

Nature also lacks any over-arching purpose – or, at least, it doesn’t as far as we can tell. It seems that in this dystopia, the world is a laboratory – a place where Nature does experiments in evolution. We have no idea what, ultimately, it is trying to achieve, other than the sustaining of its existence.

Unlike other organisms, who have mostly acquiesced to the hegemony of Nature, humanity has sought to break free from the shackles of this dystopian existence, to establish an alternative world free from Nature’s autocratic rule.

We are the Winston Smith of our dystopia, seeking out our freedoms, trying to create our own meaning of life.

Humanity’s attempted means of escape has been through the establishment of societal living. By creating this alternative world, we aim to avoid, to overcome or to nullify the dictates of Nature and to thereby gain some control over our lives.

It has been a very gradual, piecemeal breakaway.

As such, until very recently, humanity’s main use for society was largely defensive. We sought to shield ourselves from the savagery of Nature. That was the basis as to why we established a societal existence. By living together we became stronger, safer and more accomplished.

We no longer had to live according to the whim of Nature. We could actually resist Nature. Societal living gave us some self-control and independence.

But now we are moving on to the next stage of our progressive campaign for self-governance. We are now making offensive moves in order to challenge the very rule of Nature. We have tasted freedom and we want more of it. We no longer want to be ruled by remote, unaccountable genes.

Looking around, we can see that change is happening. Advances in the way we live means we are less susceptible to changes in our environment; advances in medicine means we live longer and healthier lives; advances in our human relations means we are not so combative towards one another. Such developments are only going to increase.

As technology bounds forward and as we venture into such areas as genetic engineering we will further challenge the dystopian world of Nature. As we gain freedoms from our genes, it will mean that individuals can act more as individuals rather than as just genetic vehicles.

Nature, it seems, does not have the same level of totalitarian control over us.

We may, of course, question whether or not this is a good thing. After all, we may only end up replacing Nature’s dystopia with a dystopia of our own creation. There are no guarantees that it will be a better world; there are no guarantees that such a world will actually function.

And there is one final – rather worrying – consideration. This attempted breakout is a work in progress. Our freedom is by no means assured. Dystopian worlds do not give up their domination easily. They have a tendency to fight back. Who knows what that would mean for humanity!