11 August 2008

Evolutionary Observations

Defiance.
Infuriating when you are a parent that just wants to be able to see the floor, invigorating when you take a stand because (you hope) you know that what you're about to try will either be something wonderful and new, or at least cool. It's a behavior of which everyone has experienced both sides.
I was enjoying a perfect evening on the shores of the Conococheague yesterday with my wife, a good friend, and his family. My friend's nephew was insistent that he be allowed to clean and cook the fish he'd recently caught in the creek. His mother did not want him to do this, but he insisted, defiantly proud of his accomplishment.
You would think that defiance would have been genetically selected against in social species like homo sapiens. Defiant individuals would seem to work against the greater good of the group. When told not to eat something that looked poisonous, how many people fell over purple-faced at their sudden lack of oxygen? Of course, following the logic on this, there are species where defiance normally means death. In your herding and schooling species, standing proudly alone usually means you quickly become fondly remembered by carnivores as "that one meal what was so easy for us to catch", and an object lesson for young ibex just learning to leap.
We as a species could have gone down that path, if not for the defiant streak in our psychology. Our simian ancestors likely had individuals who died knowing a few moments too late that their mother was right, that you couldn't take down a lion by holding its jaws open. But one defiant Savannah dwelling thumb-wielder knew that a pointy stick (or a large heavy blunt stick) was the perfect weapon, even though everyone pointed him to the legend of The Guy Who Stood Up To The Lion And Got Eaten For His Trouble. After that moment it was a few short steps to fire, wheels, steam engines, and the Internet. Of course, each of these had their own individualists.
The successfully defiant were thus selected for by the processes of evolution, the end result of that purple hair, mohawks, and music that is invariably termed "noise". It also means that a few guys in a garage can take what they know to be a good idea and use it to change the world (HP, Apple, Google, to name three).
So whether it's foul-tasting creek fish (you eat something that's been marinating in the Conococheague it's entire life), purple hair, or a multi-billion dollar technology corporation, defiance has done well as one of the tools humanity wields in the ongoing evolutionary struggle.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't clean your room, for the love of God. Is it too much to ask to just be able to see the floor? Is there a floor in here or is it just junk all the way to China?

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