George: how Darwinian Natural Selection gave us Democrats and Republicans

Posted on March 22nd, 2008 in Culture,Environment,Evolution,Politics by Robert Miller

Social Darwinism argues that altruistic behavior among socialized animal groups arises through natural selection, favoring the development of a gene pool which promotes subordinate interactions among members of the same clan, to gain a survival niche for the larger group. In this evolving structure, the survival of the individual is achieved through their commitment to a role within the socialized unit. This may seem counter-intuitive to anyone who views evolution as the simplistic “survival of the fittest.” It is certainly true that a more socialized gene pool makes individuals within the clan more subordinate and less likely to survive on their own. But, as the adaptive success of the social group becomes increasingly established, it serves as the best and perhaps the only means by which the species can survive. Extreme examples are found among socialized insects where you could not imagine a bee or an ant going out and surviving on its own. They need the social unit fed by their submissive function, just as the social unit, which, in reality is a bunch of DNA, needs membership submission for its survival. Thus, counter-intuitive though it may be, it is the selfish gene pool that strives to survive and the individuals who carry the genes are only the temporary vassals of the DNA that is always striving for a better outcome. In a way, you might think of the words of Samuel Butler “a hen is only the egg’s way of making another egg.” In a more scientific light, the organism is DNA’s way of making more DNA, as Edward O. Wilson has stated in his book: “Sociobiology.” Victims of our DNA? Absolutely, but enjoy the ride!

So let’s take our newly emergent knowledge of Social Darwinism 101 and apply it to the evolutionary origin of modern Democrats and Republicans in America. Surely this kind of analysis is crying to be done. If we stretch our imaginations far back into an earlier, evolutionary stage of our ancestral development, at a time when we were a group of tree dwelling primates, we can appreciate some of the pressures that might exist for natural selection to favor one type of clan organization over another. Let’s imagine our distant ancestors in an environment where food was plentiful, with a vast carpet of fruit trees amidst a plush jungle of vegetation, rich enough to support a lavish lifestyle of eating at will and living continuously above the ground, safely removed from most predators. This environmental nirvana of abundance put little pressure on social unit formation and allowed for wide variance of individualistic behavior, even though early social units were also evolving into place, through a process known as genetic drift. Through this mechanism, multiple behavioral motifs were evolving simultaneously in the same species and developing in parallel and within the same general geographical area. It was as if nature was experimenting and probing in a variety of ways to optimize and specialize in the anticipation of future changes that could not be foreseen. But at this moment in time, these differences seemed to offer no obvious benefit and no identifiable clues for any survival value.

But then imagine, through a dramatic climate change, a regional drought was created and the decline in water availability led to a reduction in the number of fruit trees, creating an unexpected stress on the food supply. The continuous carpet of massive fruit trees gave way to more isolated clusters. More time was spent by each animal searching for food. Members of the same species became more aggressive towards one another as the once abundant food supply was continuously shrinking. This new food-sparse era was the trigger that now brought natures genetic drift experiments more sharply into focus. Some experiments would prove advantageous for one gene pool, while dooming others. One advantage was evident in the social structure of the Fruit Clan, who had developed a gene pool which facilitated a complex, interdependent clan behavior that offered collective benefits of territorial defense, food distribution and protection and rearing of the young. But alongside the emerging strength and growing numbers of the Fruit Clan unit, other less socialized groups existed in parallel and ultimately came in conflict as the food supply was increasingly stressed. It is at this point in the cultural evolution of the Fruit Clan that we meet George. George became a somewhat peripheral member of the Fruit Clan during its earliest period of matriculation into a social unit, just at the time when food scarcity was on the horizon. George was different. The good thing about George was that he was very agile and could retrieve fruit from high in the canopy, where few other members of the clan would dare to go. For one thing, movement within the tree canopy exposed individuals to predator eagles who could snatch smaller clan members from their perches in the tree tops. But George’s size, agility and alert behavior made him less of a target for predators, so he was somewhat immune from this type of risk. George was greatly admired, especially by the young clan members and was regarded by many of them as a clan superstar. He always emphasized the advantages of individual behavior and skill. He was the Ayn Rand of the Fruit Clan.

But, there was one serious problem with George: he was a hoarder. His gene pool had poorly prepared him to fully integrate as a full-fledged clan member and, as food became increasingly scarce, the other clan members viewed him with suspicion and hostility. Whenever other clan members approached George to discuss his lack of good citizenship and the complete absence of sharing, he was hostile and dismissive towards them and insisted that he was entitled to exclusive control of his fruit, because he retrieved it from the highest places where no other clan members dared to go, and for that reason, he wasn’t really taking food away from other clan members: they couldn’t get to it anyway. George felt that he was creating new fruit wealth where non existed before and that he therefore had every right to hoard it because it wasn’t coming from the fruit supply that all the other clan members depended on. He rebelled against any communal tax on his capital gains. He even went so far as to promote the introduction of a kind of “free fruit economy” by advocating that, if everyone were more like him, they could each be responsible for their own lives and their own future and much of the clan organizational structure could be done eliminated. His strategy would reward the agile and eliminate the weak. George encouraged all other members of the clan to adopt his behavioral lead by putting aside their social institutions and joining him at the tree canopy where food was plentiful and life was easy. George had no idea that he was missing the full array of the socialized gene pool and that its absence would ultimately lead to his extinction. But that day was far far away.

For a time, the other clan members didn’t know how to respond to George. Some said that it was true that George’s fruit was retrieved from places where no other clan members felt safe. But then other, more thoughtful members pointed out that, while George didn’t compete with the other clan members for communal fruit, he took advantage of all the other benefits of clan membership, including group protection from hostile clans and he clearly enjoyed the admiration he received from the young clan members who wanted to emulate his behavior. Someone also pointed out that having the young clan members admire George so much was proving to be a liability. Some of these young members had tried to emulate George’s fruit gathering behavior and had been grabbed by the predatory eagles from their perches in the tree canopy. One thoughtful member also suggested that the function of the canopy fruit was different, because it was a source of food for migratory birds, whose flight disseminated the tree seeds to other regions, potentially expanding the geographical source of food for the Fruit Clan. They pointed out how the very migratory pathway of these birds was dotted with new growing fruit trees. George’s hoarding was increasingly viewed as antisocial and potentially destructive to the larger social unit. After much deliberation, all agreed that something had to be done. One way or the other, George had to go.

Eventually, the clan decided that they would be better off without George as a member: he took, but never gave and his behavior served as a risky role model for young clan members who needed to learn more integrated ways of food gathering and sharing. So, a committee of clan members approached George and gave him a final ultimatum: either he had to be come a full-fledged member of the clan, with fruit sharing behavior, or he had to leave. George responded in his typical hostile manner, repeating again all of his prior claims. But this time the clan committee was insistent. George was too unclan-like to fit in.

George eventually agreed to leave and, in the search of a new tree haven, he discovered there were others like him who had also decided to go-it-alone rather than subject themselves to the clan rules and the social requirements for membership, which they all agreed was too constraining for their taste. It turned out that the George clan, or the ‘Georges’ as they eventually were known, had much smaller frontal lobe development than did members of the fruit clan and hence proved less socially adaptable. So the Georges of the species created a subspecies that developed in parallel with the more socialized Fruit Clan. Because the food supply for each group was somewhat different, with the Georges eating fruit from the tree canopy and the Fruit Clan gathering fruit from lower branches, the two groups lived in a kind of uneasy peaceful parallelism for a while. This genetic distinction between the Fruit Clan members and the Georges carried on for many generations. Eventually the George clan gave rise to the more humanoid group we refer to as Republicans because of their admiration for individual greed and hoarding, while the more socialized Fruit Clan evolved into Democrats, known for their commitment to social institutions as the best means of survival and solving problems.

One day a new food stress for the Fruit Clan suddenly appeared in the form of large migratory giraffes who could reach the lower branches of the fruit trees and competed with them for this layer of food. The giraffes were too large for the Fruit Clan to drive away, so the end result was that the food source of the Fruit Clan was layered, sandwiched between the giraffes who dominated the lower branches and the Georges who controlled the tree canopy at the top. But another development had been taking place within the clan. Some of the new clan members began to show the same kind of daring behavior that the Georges displayed and could successfully get fruit from the tree canopy. The George gene pool had been added to the Fruit Clan gene pool, with the best of both worlds: the new emerging members were daring fruit gatherers, but integrated to the social needs of the Fruit Clan. This extension of the food gathering range of the Fruit Clan into the canopy put them in direct conflict with the Georges and hostilities began to break out between them. An all-out war eventually ensued. But, in this new conflict, the Georges were no match for the Fruit Clan, who showed a high degree of organizational skill, with trained armies and brilliant offensive strategies. In time the Fruit Clan drove the Georges out of the area, which stabilized their own chances for long-term survival by reducing the conflicts for food and ideology. The growth of DNA had worked. The gene pool had been expanded to provide the social and more entrepreneurial elements for a healthy, emerging society.

The genetic drift which created the clan had proven successful, as if trouble ahead had been predicted and the social gene pool emerged to eventually dominate the species. But lying ahead for the more humanoid progeny of the Fruit Clan that would follow, would be the challenges of forming an even more complex society and eventually a whole civilization, one whose regional spread would be large enough to include the once eliminated Georges, the Republicans who would constantly push for more individual freedoms and encourage hoarding and greed among all members of the new group. But finally, the members with genetic ties to the Fruit Clan, whose natural instincts were to enhance social institutions to meet the new complexities of a larger society, figured out, as did their ancestors before them, that the Georges among them, those Republicans whose gene pool had not adapted to conform with the Fruit Clan strategy, were the enemies of the large clan survival prospects. A final cleansing war broke out and once again the Georges were no match for those with the Fruit Clan gene pool. The Georges were forced onto giant ice flows, that formed during a period of global warming, as the polar ice caps broke up and drifted throughout the expanding oceans. They were not heard from again.

The Fruit Clan gene pool had finally proven its merit as the dominant mode of survival behavior for the clan members who now looked upon themselves as a civilized society with obligations to and expectation from each individual. As the civilization evolved further, new stresses would arise, but these would always be met with a new or modified socialized group strategy.

Ultimately the origin of the Fruit Clan and the Georges came into a more scientific focus. Fossil records of the Georges’ skulls, using CT scan tomography to estimate relative size of different brain regions, revealed that the Georges were a distinct subspecies, with smaller frontal lobes and a reduced neocortex when compared to the same kind of analysis done on fossilized Fruit Clan skulls from the same geological strata. Thus, the critical gene pool for clan success had been working on the nervous system for its adaptive advantage and the new socially adapted brain had evolved through natural selection to expand the frontal lobes, which became known as the social center of the nervous system and was also the region of the brain devoted to long-term planning, something entirely missing from the Georges’ brains. It became apparent then, that genetic drift, which seemed neutral in its earliest stages, had been working on frontal lobe size as its target of preparing the Fruit Clan for future contingencies, through improved neuronal mass and connectivity to facilitate more contemplative solutions to new challenges when they appeared. This rich cooperative gene pool survived in the form of modern Democrats, whose approach to the complexities of civilization was to create open social structures as the means of meeting the diversity and challenges of these new challenges. The ice flows melted and the Georges were gone.

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