Human Evolution – Past Success; Future Uncertainty.

Humanity – we’re doing alright. In fact, we’re probably doing better than alright. We’ve been around awhile and, generally, our existence has not been too much in doubt. This is because, over the years, thousands of years, we have put ourselves in a strong evolutionary position.

As a species, at some point in our development we would have had to make a choice as to the evolutionary path we were going to pursue. It wouldn’t have been at a singular point in time, nor one decision, but a series of actions at different moments. These choices would have been largely unnoticed, unconscious and unremarkable. As they happened they would have seemed inconsequential. Yet their execution would be the basis for our future, the very determinant of our long term survival chances.

Those choices would have been made in response to the environmental forces that would have been exerted upon us at the time.

Undoubtedly, the most momentous decision humanity has ever made was to pursue a societal existence. We put our faith in society as the means of ensuring our survival. It is what we have used to defend ourselves when faced with threats to our existence.

And, so far, it’s been pretty good for us.

In fact, humanity is beholden to society. Societal living saved us from a desperate and futile battle for survival against Nature. In that struggle we would have been faced with environmental adversaries that we would have had no realistic defence against.

As we would flounder, other species would have come to dominate.

Society came to our rescue. By living together we could protect and support one another. Food, heat and shelter – the requisites for survival – became less difficult to source. Survival became less of a battle.

This meant that, within humanity, our genes had found a safe haven – or as safe as could reasonably be expected. Reproduction, mutation and adaptation could proceed unfettered. Our genetic futures were assured.

More than this, our genes also realised that their genetic strength could be enhanced by the further development of society. With society being such a staunch stronghold against the natural environment it was a logical progression to think that the greater the influence and governance of society the better the defence. And, for the most part, this has been true. It has meant that as society has expanded, humanity and humanity’s genes have been less controlled, less threatened and less affected by the natural environment.

It seems that living in society has been good for us.

Living a societal existence does, however, generate its own problems, exposing frailties and vulnerabilities. Humanity is faced with a range of threats that arise from the pursuit of this evolutionary course. These can take a number of forms:

  1. Mixed Messaging. As a species, we will be confused by the uncertainty of not knowing what our best evolutionary direction actually is. Torn between a societal and a natural environment we will not know which one we should be adapting towards. As such we will get pulled in two directions. It would be like an employee who has two bosses, with each giving different instructions – how does the employee know who to obey or what to do?
  1. Unnatural Behaviour. Given that survival is the basis of our individual existence; our natural instinct is to be quite self-centred. Our first thoughts will always be towards ourselves and our family. We will always tend towards doing what is in our own best interests. To therefore live a more communal, cooperative life challenges our normal behaviours. In societal living we can’t behave as the selfish individuals that Nature would have us be.

Sometimes we will find the maintaining of this behavioural restraint difficult as we struggle to quell our natural instincts; sometimes this behavioural restraint will get the better of us generating conflict and tension. This may threaten society’s operational existence. And, given our reliance on society as our defence against Nature, this may expose a risk to our survival.

  1. Man-made Construct. As society has developed, its relationship with Nature has changed. Initially, it was a defensive measure for protection against Nature but now it has become much more offensive in seeking to actually take on Nature. In order to overcome our earlier subservience to the vagaries of Nature, society has taken on a greater presence until it has, in many areas, usurped Nature to become our “Living Environment”.

The trouble is that this is an environment of our own creation. So, as we genetically adapt to this new environment, we are adapting to a world of our own making. This could well have negative implications. It rarely works out for the best when the rule-makers are also those playing the game!

  1. Diversionary Temptation. Society has proven quite distractive. This has meant that we are not entirely focused on our Genetic Priority – doing what is in the best interests of our genes. Society lures us away from our genetic responsibilities. This is because, when we opt for a societal existence, not only do we have to make certain individual commitments to society such as offering to make a contribution (for instance, working) and having to agree to obey society’s rules but society provides us with all sorts of diverting temptations – property ownership, entertainments, recreational activities.

Sometimes, it seems, we would much rather do what is in our own individual interests – finding pleasure and satisfaction – rather than to do what is to our genetic advantage. Society’s diversions mean that we may prefer to seek Personal Fulfilment rather than to focus on securing our Genetic Advancement.

These weaknesses in our relationship with society do suggest that there may be a frailty to our future and that we should perhaps be more considerate of our behaviours. There will always be genetic consequences resulting from our actions and these may carry substantial risks.

Unfortunately, having embarked on this evolutionary course, we have committed to our future. There is no going back, no changing of direction. The evolutionary die is cast. We just need to recognise the significance of getting it right – our continued survival, our viability as a species is dependent upon it.