Is There a Connection Between Biological and Social Evolution?

Believe it or not, my family’s conversation, including three teen agers, over Xmas dinner was not about politics or even the snow falling heavily outside in Wyoming. Rather, we discussed evolution, mutation, and the startling degrees of change and variation of life on earth.

As all conversations about evolution inevitably do, ours turned to Darwin’s finches. Due to the selection pressures that arise from limited resources, random mutations in the finches’ genes gave rise to many different species with a surprising variety of beak size and shape. But how could such a process account for the disappearance of the human tail? It is still a question I would like answered!

Given my insatiable curiosity, our discussion of evolution led me to wonder whether there might be some connection between physical evolution and how human societies evolve.

Though social change appears to move at a glacial speed, social evolution in fact occurs at blistering speeds when compared to biological evolution.

The first hundred years of American history saw a horrific civil war fought largely on horseback. The second hundred years included two global wars, in which tanks, planes, and modern weaponry killed people on an unprecedented scale. I worry about what might occur in the next hundred years of humanity.

During our Civil War, the fickle finger of fate pointed at Abraham Lincoln as both a tough guy and savior. That same fickle finger gave us Adolf Hitler, but also Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The seemingly random rise of human leaders surely has something to do with the course of history, but from within that history, it is often difficult to see the way forward. Are we currently simply stumbling our way into new problems, or are we marching in some inevitable way into the future?

Humans tend not to think of themselves in terms of biological evolution. Our species’ survival now appears to rest on our ability to socially evolve in a rational, well-informed way: to save the environment and avoid conflict, to be rational, temperate and wise.

Trump’s rise—during which random terror, volatility, and apparent lack of understanding have seemed to reign—may risk ushering in the next great human catastrophe.

Nature by itself might not save us.

We just may have to save ourselves.

HOW?

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