Recent Evolution – Who studies it accurately? If at all?
Excellent piece about why we (humans) are collectively screwed up. Get off the tech and do some real things for God’s sake! Perhaps this recent evolution is actually devolution?
My thesis in these posts, in a nutshell, is that our society is doing what it does because we’re the kind of people we are. Which seems tautologous, I realize — a Gem if ever there was one — but look how unremarked the fact of ongoing local evolution is, particularly among Science’s self-proclaimed BFFs. And so-called “conservatives” are, if anything, worse. We’re the Reality people, y’all. Shouldn’t we at least acknowledge that Man is a physically different creature than he was back in Classical Greece?
Since computers seem to be a popular pastime among the Regular Readers, let’s use that. contrariandutchman put it nicely somewhere below: Human biology is the hardware; culture is the software. The last programming I did was in BASIC, but even I know that software pretty quickly outstrips hardware… which is over-powered to compensate, then the software bloats to fill the hardware, lather rinse repeat. For my fellow liberal arts folks: This is why every new iteration of MS Office is bigger, slower, and kludgier than the last. Only the bells and whistles change… and they screw everything up because there’s no reason for any program outside the Defense Department to require umpteen gigs of hard drive space, let alone a fucking word processor. It’s bloat for bloat’s sake.
It should be clear to even the dullest social observer that human software has well and truly outstripped our hardware. We’re not built for the world we’ve built. This has been happening for a long time, of course, but it has really taken off recently. Note how hard it is not to watch tv, for instance. Even if you don’t have one in your home, go to a bar, an airport, hell, go to the grocery store — there are blinking screens everywhere, and it takes serious effort not to watch them. Our hardware interprets bright flashing things as a threat — can’t be helped. If you’ve been away from civilization for a few days, like I was recently, you’ll experience fatigue, even nausea when you first come back into town. The low-level-but-constant effort it takes to override your hardware when surrounded by blinking screens wears you out.
If you don’t feel like going all Thoreau, you can test the effect by simply writing your comments to this post out longhand, and then waiting an hour before typing them up. I bet you’ll find it mildly annoying no matter what, but if you’ve really got some thoughts on this matter, by then end of the hour you’ll be something close to furious. You’ve been rewired, comrade. You’re homo electronicus. We all are.
This stuff is recent — really recent. There was a limit to how screen-addled even the infamous “latchkey kids” of the 1980s could be. I had “latchkey kid” buddies, and although we had everything we needed to veg out in front of the tube in the very best Gen Z style — video games, sugary snacks, cable — we couldn’t sit and play Atari all day. I don’t mean that we didn’t; we were no smarter than any other boys; we sure as hell didn’t do anything for our health. I mean we couldn’t. Playing video games gave us ants in the pants — my Mom always knew when I’d been over at Steve’s — and eventually, it got to the point where we had to put the joystick down and go throw around a football or something.
These days, the inability to play Nintendo for hours on end means you’ve got ADHD. Pass the Ritalin.
Three things made homo electronicus:
- modern medicine
- instant communications
- permanent caloric surplus.
Ritalin is actually one of the more benign examples. Back in the days when we were allowed to notice such things, a certain kind of social critic pointed out that falling murder rates have very little to do with crime reduction. Instead, it’s almost all attributable to advances in emergency medicine. It’s much tougher for Shitavious to kill D’L’eondrae over a pair of sneakers these days. The ER docs patch the victim up, and so what would’ve been murder one is now mere ADW, which means — Soros-funded DAs being what they are — both victim and perp are soon back on the streets, ready for round two. This idiot rapper, for instance, survived being shot nine times. That’s not nine separate shootings, mind you, that’s nine slugs in one incident. Granted the slipshod motherfuckers who capped him need to work on their aim, but surviving even nine flesh wounds from modern firearms is one hell of a testimony to the power of modern medicine…
…a power that does not, I suggest, conduce to positive eugenic outcomes.
There are lots of problems with instant communications, and they really need a whole post (or series, or book) to themselves, but one is particularly relevant here. As discussed above, it’s not the technology itself, it’s the application. The internet, like tv, is one of those gadgets that are almost impossible not to use. If it’s there, you’re going to log on – it takes serious, frustrating effort not to. Try it!
One obvious consequence of this is that it turns the whole world into a giant hen party. Karen has always been with us, probably with equal prevalence. But as late as the mid-1990s, she’d have to confine her scolding to PTA meetings and places like that. But now everyone has the Internet, and social media’s a thing, and it’s just sitting there, compelling you to use it. Woman’s natural role as the guardian of the tribes mores becomes Karen-ism on crack.
Finally, I suggest that the permanent caloric surplus that has obtained in the West since about 1950 has done more than anything to speciate us Postmoderns. It would take someone who Fucking Loves Science ™ way more than I do to assert that the vast, obvious changes in the human race in the 20th century were merely physical. Consider the oft-remarked fact (at the time, at least) that British officers on the Western Front were a full head taller than their men. Then consider (ditto) the more-or-less open secret that a lot of those tall subalterns were gay. Correlation is not causation — growing up in the infamous English public schools probably had a lot to do with it, as Robert Graves himself says — but… there’s a pretty strong correlation.
Excess fat cranks up estrogen levels. You don’t need to be House MD to interpret this finding:
In males with increasing obesity there is increased aromatase activity, which irreversibly converts testosterone to estradiol resulting in decreased testosterone and elevated estrogen levels.
Or this one:
A study supports the link between excess weight and higher hormone levels. The study found that estrogen and testosterone levels dropped quite a bit when overweight and obese women lost weight.
This is not to say those swishy subalterns were fat — indeed, they were comically scrawny compared to Postmodern people. But a little goes a long way when it comes to hormones, especially in a world where “intermittent fasting” wasn’t a fad diet, but a way of life. Any one of us would keel over from hunger if we were forced to eat the kind of diet George Orwell described as his public school’s standard fare.
Follow that trend out to the Current Year, when pretty much everyone is grossly obese compared to even the Silent Generation. Heartiste and other “game” bloggers loved pointing out that the average modern woman weighs as much as the average man did in the 1960s. And while I think that’s overblown — we’re also several inches taller, on average, than 1960s people — there’s definitely something to it, especially when you consider how far the bell curve has shifted to the fat end. Not only do people weigh a lot more on average, but the people who weigh more than average now weigh a hell of a lot more than heavier-than-average people did also back when. See, for example, the ballooning weight of offensive linemen, who are professionally fat — in 2011 a quarterback, Cam Newton, weighed more than the average offensive lineman in the 1960s.
Put the two trends together and you have, on average, a hormone cocktail way, way different than even 50 years ago… and that’s before you add in things like all-but-universal hormonal contraception, lots of which ends up in municipal drinking water.
In other words, our software overpowered our hardware, which is literally bloating to compensate. We couldn’t go back to the politics of even the 1950s, even if we wanted to — we’re different creatures.