Of dog whistles and saber-tooth tigers

Is the human species devolving? Put another way, are we un-evolving, regressing to a more primitive form of life? I’ve been giving the question a lot of thought lately. Perhaps you know from an earlier post that I find Evolution to be a useful sorting box.

If you need a refresher, Evolution is the “theory” that every creature that ever flourished on this planet did so by specializing in some trait that gave them a leg up on the competition, made them faster, more agile, fiercer, or in our case, gave us greater intellectual capacity. Some animal specialties are so advanced that we humans can barely comprehend them. The ability of a soft-bodied creature to withstand the weight of the ocean. The night vision of bats and owls. The ability of geese and whales to find their way across vast tracts of sky or sea. The migration of a monarch butterfly that takes three generations to complete. Yet, as complex and mystifying as those skills, even greater is the human ability to think and reason. Humans specialized in brainpower. Homo sapiens literally means “wise man.”

One day an ancient relative stood upright on the savanna to look for saber-tooth tigers, and a few centuries later the human family walked upright, got the brain out of harm’s way, and focused eyes forward. Grunts came to stand for physical things and that led to language. Language did more to increase the complexity of our minds than almost anything else. We can see in the brain cases those early folks left behind that brains got bigger and bigger. So big, in fact, that modern humans often require the aid of a surgeon to make it into the world.

Humans did not become fast like the cheetah, agile like the house cat, or strong like the chimpanzee. We cannot fly—without the aid of a machine—and although we are fierce and war-like, our crowning achievement, that which defines our species, is intelligence, our ability to reason and think. Our nearest competition in the animal kingdom can’t hold a candle to the species that invented mathematics, gene splicing, and the can opener. We took dogs and cats along for company, but the smartest dog only scores about 33 on the Stanford-Binet, and cats won’t take the test at all. Dogs can’t write a sonata, or even appreciate one. A great ape, no matter how talented, can’t paint something you’d hang over the sofa.

Along with our intelligence, we humans evolved a constellation of other traits that work well with intelligence, the ability to take selfies, for example. We also developed a ravenous curiosity about ourselves, an obsessive fondness for testing to see how we’re doing. Because of the standardized testing of seventh-graders, not to mention the Nielson ratings, we’ve amassed tons of data that allow us to definitively answer the question of whether we continue to improve—evolve—as a species. The answer seems to be No!

Perhaps you’ve begun to suspect that this essay was inspired by Current Events, the fact that our fellow Americans just elected the stupidest man ever to the hold the highest office in the land. This has caused us to look askance at our neighbors and even some family members. Previously we didn’t have a word for such people, but language rose to the challenge and we now call them “deplorables,” which roughly translates to “caveman.” You’re probably as surprised as I am by their number, that there were enough of them to subvert the will of the majority of voters and install a president that sent many of us straight to our checkbooks to make a contribution to the ACLU. Suddenly we realized that a vast chasm had opened up at our feet and that half the country stood on one side, we on the other.

“The media” refers to this as “polarization,” as if both sides were equal, when, in fact, they’re not equal at all. Most obviously, deplorables can see no difference between reality and reality TV. Deplorables do not believe in science, evolution, or climate change. I needn’t point out that the contribution of a deplorable to the gene pool can only be a detriment to our species. Pretty soon dogs are going to be making us pick up their poop!

So why didn’t evolution save us from this ugly little twist in human affairs? If intelligence is the hallmark of our species, why is anti-intellectualism thriving? Why haven’t those people died out already? In my humble opinion, it’s because of the modern invention of the “safety net,” defined as a rope apparatus that spares deplorables the worst outcomes of their stupidity. People no longer starve to death just because they’re not crafty enough to capture dinner. Having not starved, they reproduce, and in numbers sufficient over time to elect a stupid person president.

We call this Freedom. Our country was founded on Freedom, and we’re captive to our own cleverness. We can buy guns and randomly shoot people. Watch porn and play electronic games till our eyeballs bleed. Shoot nasty stuff into our veins and create a vast underbelly of addiction and misery. Freedom is like a Bitcoin. You can spend it any way you want and the central banking authority can’t stop you.

It is a fact that the more education a female receives, the fewer children she will bear. Sensible, really, that she would think twice about giving birth to a creature that will suck up the best years of her life and make her miss out on that promotion at work. If she has a choice. In Japan, where women do have a choice, the government is having trouble convincing women to have children at all. Deplorables, of course, don’t want women to have a choice about their bodies or anything else.

During a presidential campaign that seemed to run on for the better part of my life, wily GOP operatives employed a secret weapon called a “dog whistle” that only deplorable ears could detect, promising to roll back all progress on women’s rights, as well as every other progressive legislation passed by the last administration, even the ones that specifically benefitted Deplorables.

I know. It’s called devolution.