Evolution of the Identity

When Darwin was wrong, he was pretty dang wrong.

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick

When I published “How Fuzzy is Sex?” earlier this week, it hadn’t occurred to me I was opening a three-part series. This is the second part, which focuses on what I perceive as misrepresentation of evolution. The final part will link the two and demonstrate the need to focus attention on gender as opposed to sex as the driving force behind individual expression as well as humanity’s progress as a whole.

The misrepresentation of evolution today — whether by popular media or formal education — dates back to Charles Darwin’s original 1859 treatise “On the Origin of Species.” In his book, Darwin coined the phrase “the survival of the fittest” to explain not only variation among beaks in finches in the Galápagos Islands, but the overall strength of a species, including justifying misogynistic human behavioral patterns. Darwin’s focus on survival and strength has fueled a further misrepresentation that evolution is purely physical, with no effect from social, cultural, or philosophical patterns.

With politics the way it is today, we cannot afford to misunderstand why we exist and how we may improve. By continuing to feed a “fratboy” approach to human progress at the expense of developing individual identity, we set the stage for our demise amid self-congratulatory high-fives. We may not witness the conclusion of the species, as it were, but certainly the dimming of Western culture.

The survival of the fittest

The meaning of “the survival of the fittest” appears obvious in capitalist Western society. Clearly, “the fittest” means the best and the brightest, the Alpha Males, those who seize the day, wake up at 5 AM, eat a frog, and achieve everything normal people do in a week after a 2-hour work day, then relax with a buxom blonde by a pool in the Hollywood Hills. But when we discuss “the fittest,” our first question should be “fittest for what?”

Homo Sapiens co-existed with Homo Neanderthalensis until Neanderthal died out approximately 40,000 years ago. That Sapiens outlived Neanderthal implies Sapiens was “fitter” than Neanderthal — at least, according to Darwin’s explanation. Here are a few interesting facts about Neanderthal you might not have learned in your classes:

  • Neanderthal had a bigger brain case than Sapiens. Because we tend to link brain size to cognitive capacity, Neanderthal should have been more intelligent than Sapiens. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests Neanderthal entered a Stone Age, discovered fire, and explored the ocean thousands of years before Sapiens.
  • Neanderthal fossils indicate stronger bones and stronger muscles than Sapiens. Because we tend to link physical strength to survival in the wild, Neanderthal should have been more capable of withstanding physical adversity with its more robust build. In fact, Neanderthal was capable of existing in colder climates and hunting bigger game than Sapiens.
  • Neanderthal fossils indicate better structural integrity of hips and spine than Sapiens. Because we tend to link core strength with efficacy of movement, Neanderthal should have been capable of using its strength more efficiently and safely than Sapiens. I only postulate that lower back pain was less prevalent in Neanderthal; archaeological evidence has not uncovered back braces.

By the objective standards at the beginning of this section, Neanderthal should be alive today, not Sapiens. We are the dumber, weaker, more fragile little siblings of Neanderthal.

What makes an organism fit to survive?

I compared Neanderthal to Sapiens to illustrate that “fittest” is not the same as “best.” That is, one organism may appear to be very well built, ostensibly fit to survive, but fitness is inextricably linked to environment.

Neanderthal died out — it is believed — because it was fit to survive in a cold environment populated with slow animals to hunt. As Earth entered a more temperate age, Neanderthal starved to death because it could not catch the smaller, nimbler game that Sapiens could. Neanderthal starved because it was less suited to traveling long distances between fruits and roots, like Sapiens could.

Evolution, as a theory, is unconcerned with objective standards of a species’ strength. Evolution is concerned with how well a species integrates with its environment. More succinctly, evolution is driven by adaptation to environment.

As a species begins to use technology and build complex societies, its adaptation to environment becomes more subtle. A common belief is that human traits persist because they are based in genetics. But as the probability of physical survival improves, genetic material is eclipsed by behavior and relationships. The environment shifts from snowy steppe to royal court to social media.

Evolutionary advantage

In his 1957 paper, George Williams postulated that evolutionary advantage means one thing: the ability for one organism to reproduce more efficiently than another organism. Take note that genetics and behavior are not involved directly in this hypothesis. Although physical strength, cognitive capacity, or 10000 followers on Twitter may assist an organism in finding a mate, they do not guarantee those traits will be passed on unless the organism has offspring (and if it’s possible to bequeath Twitter followers).

The question of evolution is “what helps one organism reproduce?” The shape of a beak may allow a finch to eat long enough to mate. The mind of a human may allow it to build a bow and hunt antelope. And your little brother living in your mother’s basement may find a girlfriend with his World of Warcraft Twitch stream. All of the above are examples of what may be evolutionary advantage.

From a broader standpoint, a society or culture may provide an evolutionary advantage to its members. If the culture improves the efficiency of reproduction for individual members, the theory of evolution implies that culture will persist over other, less efficient cultures. Again, note that genetics is not involved in the persistence of a culture — social behavior is.

The point to take away is that evolution of a species depends on reproduction of an organism — the whole survives because the individual has offspring. The individual may or may not be the “best” or the strongest or the longest-living, but it is more efficient at making babies.

Evolution and morality

Darwin used the theory of evolution to justify current behavior as the reason humans survived to date. That is, he observed men dominating women around him. He observed men owning the means of production. He observed women playing a supporting role in society around him. To his detriment, Darwin then worked backward from observations of Victorian England to conclude male superiority over women provides an evolutionary advantage.

But evolution does not prove traits that exist today necessarily provided any advantage to reproduction. The theory of evolution does not discriminate or evaluate traits. No trait is good or bad; each trait only contributes to efficient reproduction or not. That a trait existed in the past as well as today only proves that the trait was passed on.

Likewise, the theory of evolution does not exclude LGBTQ experiences. Although some members of the community may not reproduce for physical or behavioral reasons, a species and a culture persists because of an overall efficiency of reproduction. A gay couple’s lack of children does not affect a heterosexual couple’s chances of perpetuating the culture. I postulate the LGBTQ community may improve a culture’s chance of survival in another article.

Evolution and heritability

Evolution does not affect heritability, or the ability of a trait to be passed to offspring. While genetics is an obvious route for heritability, a culture is defined by common behavioral patterns, which may be passed to offspring by teaching or observation.

But culture is not accidental. Many human characteristics are not chosen. Human behavior takes many forms, and has for almost a million years.

In “How Fuzzy Is Sex?,” I explain sex is not a defining characteristic of humans, expression of sex is. The expression of sex in context of society is the definition of gender. Given the difficulty of human reproduction, humans evolved societies to govern behavior to improve our capability to find mates.

The driving factor in the evolution of humanity is gender. I will complete exploring this concept in the next article.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

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