Evolution

Film fans! Comrades! Nolascapees!

Another movie Conversation is coming up in a minute. I was away for a couple of weeks and didn’t have the kit to handle the audio files. Next up is Forty Guns, an unusual, even unique cowboy movie by Sam Fuller. If you don’t know it, why not have a watch of it first, before Henry and Jonathan’s podcast comes on line? Forty Guns is available nice and free on YouTube.

Meanwhile, we have to do something about primate evolution. It’s running amuck. Some of our ancestors with very bad table manners may be interfering with our wonderful imperial democracy even more than teenage Russian hackers.

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New data coming in with our daily headlines suggest that evolution may not be working right. We need to take a hard look at biochemistry,

Most of us probably think of evolution as a descriptive, historical science but we probably thought the same about climatology until Al Gore put us straight. Social Darwinism didn’t end well, but maybe there is a Third Way between eugenics and free evolution.

Here’s the problem.

Primate behavior is re-emerging. It must have always been just beneath the surface but stronger norms and institutions kept it covered. Now, our social organization may be just a shredding gossamer veil before the onslaught of DNA, the limbic brain and amygdalas going wild.

Recent political eruptions are making it clear that we can’t let primatology and DNA management languish in the shadows of science.

As I was working on this subject, comparing political groups to primate bands and Alpha Apes, and Washington second stringers to the subordinate chimps who usually passively accept the antics of the boss Alpha, no matter how stupid, the great Jane Goodall stepped in and described Trump’s similarity to an Alpha chimp. I take Ms Goodall’s independent verdict as a positive peer review in advance. And of course she published first, so I can’t take all the credit for this great insight.

But I go further than Ms Goodall. Just seeing and describing the fact that we are electing apes is not enough, nor will the tools of public reason suffice to restore civilization. We have to get in there with our micro-monkey wrenches and retro-fix evolution.

I am still working on a launch plan. A protest movement against free evolution would be premature. We would be infiltrated by prairie Christians thinking it was a protest against “belief in” evolution, not against some disappointing results, and some of the cagier evangelicals might spot they they are included among the disappointing results.

Liberal elites would advocate fair and sensible regulation of evolution. Libertarians would come out strongly for Red in Tooth and Claw. Republicans would say regulation of evolution should be left to the states, who can be more responsive to their communities and will understand that evolution in Alabama and Mississippi is different than in New York, California and countries less exceptional than ours. We can expect some resistance. Sharper Republicans would twig that if evolution had been properly managed, they would not exist. They would need a few years of debate, denial and possibly a bit of violence about how low to set the bar.

There is international precedent for getting a grip on DNA and its unfettered recombination. Several years ago, to combat disorder fomented by runaway Buddhism in Tibet and in exile, the government of China outlawed reincarnation without a license.

“Global warming” is a euphemism for one species of primate pouring huge wallops of energy into the atmosphere, energy stored chemically in substances over megayears burnt and exploded into the air over a few decades, along with gases released by cattle raised for our hamburger and fried chicken diet. Our wiser contemporary savannah primates have figured out that we have to do something about it. There are obstacles, such as industrialized greed, but we know we have to do it. We have to put evolution in a similar frame. We will need a reference term for cable news and parade floats. “Alpha eruptions.” “Primate resurgence.” “Monkey brains.” “DNA or Democracy?” We’ll think of something.

I know what you are thinking, but this is not about Trump. It is too big a subject for just that one victim and example of primate relapse. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore him. He and his Praetorian Punch and Judy Show provide a valuable window into the problem.

Our ancestors were not chimpanzees, of course, but another primate species more adapted to life on the grasslands than in the forest. It is unlikely, though, that our ancestors were all that different than forest apes socially because, as we can now see more clearly than ever before, we’re not.

Trump behaves like an Alpha chimp or a Silverback in a bad mood. Trump supporters generally agree with Ms Goodall about the kind of animal he is, but they like it – as do subordinate chimpanzees, glad to be freed from Alpha duty by the chest-beating buffoon at the edge of the clearing.

A forest Alpha ape screeches, bares his teeth and feint-charges, sometimes at imaginary enemies. A city ape runs a different show. One trick is to keep his jacket open so his long red tie swings back and forth below his expanding belt. He can set up panoramas of enemies, some imaginary, with new ones almost every day to keep his fanboys clapping. This week, African American football and basketball players fed up of being on the wrong end of police abuse and racial injustice are center stage, replacing Kim Jong Un as our greatest threat, and Nambia as our great ally. Weaponizing anthem and Pledge Allegiance protests, President Alpha does not even have to make specifically racist statements. He can just weaponize the flag and the Star Spangled Banner against – all the dog whistles go off at once.

For another close-up on the risks of unfinished evolution, watch and read our Alpha’s crazy stuff about Puerto Rico. (More on that in next chapter.)

The Alpha chimp or Silverback gorilla is not always a wise veteran caring for his clan. Frequently the Alpha is just an apish asshole fomenting friction and discontent. For a while, the primate clan lets it go. The Alpha’s job is to be ferociously territorial and preposterously aggressive so the others can sit back and have a nice day without having to screech and feint-charge themselves.

Chimpanzee watchers have seen and filmed revolts where the Alpha swung too much toward Asshole. The normal chimps who like a life of play, sex and bananas got fed up, ganged up and beat the living daylights, and sometimes the living, out of the Alpha. He thought he was king, his authority was not to be questioned. But his days got numbered.

Climate chaos from irresponsible energy use and factory farming – if we don’t get on top of that, mass death will reduce population until the earth, the cockroaches and the rats put things right again.

But if we want to move on from rule by Alpha Asshole, we have to stop being soft on evolution.

© MOLAscape October 2017

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