Unnatural Selection    (Dec 12, 2001)


Between 10,000 and 20,000 years before his birth, other members of his species unknowingly burned Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection to the ground.  They discovered fire; they invented cooking; they constructed crutches; they domesticated dogs and sheep.  In short, they invented 'civilization', and Natural Selection halted dead in its tracks… for us.

Meat, which once required strong, sharp teeth, was tenderized by cooking so that even someone 35 years old could get a periodic ration of protein.  Vegetables lost their innate woodiness under heat so that people could consume them even into their old age, their 40s.  The surpluses as a result of having milk animals, meat animals, and vegetable gardens close by meant that the community could afford the luxury of having members who did not 'pull their own weight'.

This emergence of the 'village elder' was the beginning of the end to natural selection among our species.  You no longer died because your teeth fell out.  You no longer died because you broke your leg.  You no longer died because you were thirty.  In fact, the tribe might go to great lengths to preserve you because (a) it wasn't that expensive, and (b) your memories were valuable; a net-positive in the cost-benefit analysis.  After all, if you could survive cholera, dysentery, plague, typhoid, typhus, tetanus, and God-knows-what-else, you had to be someone special and therefore worth keeping.

"Civilization" is marked by our treatment of others: we defend the defenseless; we make accommodations for infirmities.  When Pol Pot ordered the execution of everyone who wore glasses, he confirmed that he was uncivilized, a barbarian, inhuman.  Adolph Hitler and Joe Stalin have to be put in that group too, along with all the other dictators and democrats who have used brute force to accomplish their goals, whether noble or ignoble.  They are, we hope, sports, aberrations.  We know that they are far more common than that.

While a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot will get national headlines, their kindred who don't have the flair for killing millions walk among us, killing a few here and there, sometimes with panache, sometimes without.  Thus everyone knows Jeffrey Dahmer and Jack the Ripper, but we're only vaguely aware that there are others in the same business.

What we do know is that some people have become 'prey' and others have become predators.  Our innermost being drives us to protect these defenseless kin, but what can we do?  The predators, after all, are our own kind and thus not easily identified by their stripes or spots.

In the days of clubs and bones we would simply gather the at-risk within the tribe and make the predators go through the strong to get at the weak.  In the days of chivalry (if such ever actually existed) we would send our knights-errant to set the world right by giving the beasts some of their own medicine, again interposing strength between predators and the weak.  When that happens in modern times, you can bet it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone; does anyone remember Palladin?  We wait now for things… bad things… to happen before we act; we react, but that's too late for the prey and is somehow too unsettling for us to simply shrug off.

In recent times our drive to protect our defenseless kin has manifested itself in a legislative orgy largely focused on 'gun control', forbidding this, mandating that, all in the hope that it will make the predators among us unable to act like… well… predators.  And it has availed us approximately nothing: in fact, it may be worse than 'nothing'; each week the headlines announce an even more ghastly slaughter of the innocents.

Legislation, it would seem, may not be the answer.  All of our best efforts fall short of perfection but our ego tells us that one more try will get us to the goal.  Perhaps; perhaps not.  Too many of us, it appears, are certain of the idea that 'gun control' is an unalloyed good.  We are ready to accept almost any explanation of our crisis-du-jour except that it may be the result of genuine error on our part; we cannot have been wrong, can we?

The central problem we face is this: it is not what anyone intends but what consequences are in fact likely to follow from our actions.  At a minimum, we must make our choices among the alternatives actually available; when we choose something impossible to achieve, the disappointments and dangers that follow are not accidental.

The choice we seem on the verge of making vis-à-vis gun control is to throw the weak to the outside of the tribal circle and let the predators eat them first.  Each new restriction we place operates to impair the defenses of one class and render them 'prey' for the other class.  We're creating prey in the hopes that our turn will come much later; not exactly 'chumming for shark', but close.

What, I wonder, is wrong with the Schwarzenegger model?  Has not 'interposing strength' served us well enough to get us this far?  And is it not true that our present predicament is largely due to 'failure to interpose'?

Cats sharpen their claws because sometimes a purr is not enough.  Perhaps the solution to violent crime is not to declaw our fellow citizens but rather to supply them with scratching posts.


© Frank Clarke, 2000

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