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Evolution, Choice & Our Biggest Threat

evolution IHThe single biggest evolutionary event for humans was the development of our intelligence. The ability to face a challenge and use our intellects to overcome it. When the climate got cold, we built better shelters and learned to make fire. When a food source disappeared we found new ones and more efficient ways to get it. When we were stricken with disease, we learned to limit its transition and ultimately attack the sources.

We’re good. Good at what we do. Effectively, we have taken control of our own evolution as a biological species. As good as we are there are entities that are better at it then we are and our choices have in fact, aided our worst enemies. We are complex organisms with multiple cell types and systems.  In this it is difficult to change at the levels of our DNA. Small changes tend to upset our balance to the point that our bodies become no longer viable. Bacteria and viruses are so simple and straight forward that they literally re-write their DNA a little every generation and reproduce in huge numbers. Humans have tamed every environment on earth and have defeated all that have challenged for evolutionary supremacy – except the the single-celled bringers of illness.

Our own advertising admits as much. The best disinfectants on the market proudly boast 99.9% effectiveness. What the ads don’t tell you is that the percentage that doesn’t get killed – that tenth of a percent – is the strongest of the bunch and it is left to reproduce. So you disinfect again and again you kill 99.9% of the germs. Each time the successive generations get stronger. In the same action we are limiting our own immune system to exposure which was thought of as a good thing but doctors are now seeing children coming out of home environments that are so sterile that they have no defences against the bacteria in the outside world at all. So we add bottles of gel that kill the germs at every public place and the cycle continues.

The development of anti-viral medications has barely begun but early evidence is showing that the same pattern is emerging. As we come up with new ways to combat the viruses they mutate and become stronger. With both bacteria and viruses this is a battle that we are unlikely to win. Our species can take hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions, to evolve. Science may be able to develop within a few years or decades given resources to do so – or it may not. Science for all of it’s ability still boils down to a game of chance. New strains of infectious organisms can develop in only months of reproduction.

As a society and as a species, there are couple of directions that we need to go that at first may seem a little counter-intuitive. We need to allow ourselves to get dirty every once and a while. Get a little sick so as individuals our own bodies can get stronger. As with any other system we have, without use – exercise – our immune system can dwindle to ineffectiveness. The best medications need to be developed and used but only when life is threatened or serious complications are likely. New research should look at medications that work more with our own defences and help to build them up in the long term rather then work outside them and allow them to grow weaker. Our best hope in winning lies with ultimately being able to fight without intervention from outside.

With our minds’ abilities, the evolved trait has is less the intelligence itself but evolution as species is rapidly driven by it. We choose our path now and our control over that path grows with every technological advance. Evolution in its natural form has no mind or intelligence. It makes no decisions other then death and survival. By taking control humans now take responsibility our species. We add our own moral implications and short-comings to the mix. Sadly, strip away our science and we are likely less equipped to survive then ever before, therefore technology is irrevocably linked to any future longevity. Our evolution is forever within our control. Increasingly as is the whole of the earth. It is well known the effects we have had on other species’ habitats and survival. One only needs to study the “urban raccoon” to see the result.  It is argued that the raccoons in cities need to be classified as a new sub-species as their instinctual behaviour increasingly differs from that of those in the wild. How long will it be before their DNA shows a change?

Evolution makes no mistakes in a true sense. Each failure is a success in what is learned from it. Intelligent beings can make errors in judgement and choose not to learn from those errors. As we are selecting our evolution we can be the instruments of our own demise. As an individual I can make a decision that can end my life sooner then would be natural. Humans can do the same as a group. The problem is that in a lot of things we a making choices in the dark. Industry is wonderful until we realize the effects of global warming. Making fuel from corn seemed like a wonderful solution until food prices stared to rise. Every action has reactions and consequences both good and bad.

In our mostly democratic and market-driven society, it is the many that hold true power. We elect our leaders and we only products we buy will succeed.

Let’s not screw this up – at least any more then it already is.

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