Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Unnatural Selection Part 1

Watching the BBC at 6 AM, I get a bit panicky about how little of the real world-news is filtered into our Manhattan apartments. Our Senator Craig’s little escapade certainly sucked airwave time from candidate repartee, Princess Diana memorials, celebrity rehab and competitive adoption stories. It’s not enough that rich people amass cars, homes, wardrobe, ex-spouses. Now they compete for family-size. And since hired surrogates are changing most of the diapers, why bother wasting 9 months of possible discomfort when you get the same glossy spread with your ready-made little adoptee? And if you pick a non-matched set, you get of course extra points for compassion and political correctness.

Back to Africa. Darfur, Sierra Leone….even Hollywood got involved last year. And I begin to realize not only how little I know but how much I’ve forgotten since high-school World History. So I bought this book—kind of a text book thing, which begins at the beginning, in the era of Pangea—and I am reminded that nearly all life forms originated in Africa. Its fossil and mineral-rich underbeds hold the key to understanding not only the process of evolution, but the dynamics of human survival-economics.

Survival is something we Americans rarely consider, except as simulated entertainment, or in conjunction with illness. But when you really go back and look at the MO of our ancestors, there seems to be little biological hope that goodness and generosity and higher values will ever prevail.

There is, of course, a general rule among natural species, that when need is greatest, selfish behaviour predominates. If this were not the case, a compassionate species might have survived more than 2 generations. Sated animals do show affection for their own kind—the instinct for ‘play’ and interaction even motivates their behaviour. But when hunger or thirst is unattended, all bets are off.

So what is it that makes my Manhattan neighbors so hungry and thirsty that they share their excesses only to the degree that there is some kind of applause? Is the gene for generosity permanently recessive? Are the Astors and Rockefellers and Roses giving only the unwieldy excess? And how about you and I? My neighbors who are somewhat newly comfortable seem to be amassing ‘kill’ beyond what they can possibly process. Is this an inborn animal instinct that has become ‘refined’ into need for possessions and equipment so far beyond biological basis? Is it a symptom of emotional or spiritual deprivation? Depravity?

My son came back from a weekend in the Hamptons. He stayed in a home where there was an indoor glass-walled garage for the family Lamborghinis and Ferraris. One of them, the son told him, cost their Dad more than 3 million. A car no one drives. Anyway, when my son got back to the city, his foot began to itch and swell. It was huge. Maybe you’re turning into a pumpkin, I joked. But not for long, because I’d been reading my book on Africa and began worrying about exotic insects. So we went to the doctor who prescribed expensive antibiotics and antihistamines for his swollen foot. Personally I think he was bitten by the enormo-bug, the one that keeps these people in the market for bigger and bigger houses, more and more undrivable cars, bigger hypodermics of botox and skincreams. Swollen heads, swollen wallets, swollen needs only the capacity of a world-web can entertain.

Historical evolution teaches us the bigger they come the harder they fall. Although thus far in my adult lifetime these principles do not seem to apply. We have messed up the environment, introduced all kinds of synthetic chemicals, distorted the global climatic patterns…so what is in store? The survival of the richest? That seems to be the new deal. Even the coming mortgage crisis won’t level any field we have here.

I read somewhere a beheaded cockroach can live for 8 days and then will die of hunger. Beheaded humans die instantly. Then again, cockroaches have been here a lot longer and will likely continue to outlast us no matter how rich the exterminators get. So who wins?
I bet on the bugs. I may be bugged by the Lamborghini family, but their kids are allergic to bee-stings. By the way, my son asked me if he can sue them for the damage to his ankle. Maybe I should bet on him.

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