a larger set of better minds
Thursday, February 23 2006
The power went out late this morning, providing all the incentive I needed for a binge of multi-hour procrastination. I fired up a kerosene lamp and used it to illuminate a bath in my favorite basement bathroom, which (like both basement bathrooms) is windowless. Though the well pump couldn't run during the outage, there was evidently enough pressure still in the household plumbing for me to run a full bath. By the end the water from the faucet was trickling slowly, probably just being siphoned from the 53 gallon water tank, much of which is above the level of the bathtub. Since the boiler is ignited by electricity, it couldn't heat any water during the outage, but heat wasn't a limiting factor in this case.
Today in the Salon.com women's-issue blog called "Broadsheet" there was a mention of an upcoming cover story in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine. The article will attempt to make the argument that liberalism and secularism, or the genetic and cultural traits that lead to them, are doomed because red-state redmeativores are out-reproducing namby-pamby city dwellers. As cover stories go, this one is particularly flawed in too many ways to count. It doesn't take much knowledge of biology to know that there's a lot more to leaving behind successful offspring than simply birthing a litter of them. On the whole, the more offspring you have the less nurturing (red-state-stylee or otherwise) you can provide.
And then, beyond all that, society depends on its most open-minded, experimental members. Without nonconformist, creative minds, there would have been few of the advances that have lead to a modern world peopled by six point whatever billion people. One of the biggest demonstrations of the value of tolerating difference was World War II; the Allies beat the Axis partly because they accepted diversity and so had access to a larger set of better minds. Even if freethinkers don't reproduce, their creativity helps society and allows it to prosper. Societies that find a way to somehow maintain the genes of their creative non-reproducers have a survival advantage. What else can account for the dogged persistence of homosexuality, despite generations of repression and diminished fecundity?
I posted a comment to the Broadsheet blog entry that went as follows:
even us secularists are descended from neanderthals, but our genes persist
What is the Darwinian argument for the persistence of secular, liberal genes? The same argument as the one for the persistence of "gay genes" and even (if you understand the necessary cellular biology) Tay-Sachs and Sickle Cell Anemia: those genes ultimately help society. Though we are all of us descended from boneheaded reactionaries (I can trace my lineage to the famous 17th Century witch burner, Gov. Bradford of Mass.), liberal, subversive, creative, secular, and unreproductive genes persist because they strengthen society. Without hair dressers, inventors, artists, rock musicians, "terrorists," scoundrels, pot smokers, and crazy scientists, we'd still be banging each other on the heads with clubs. We'd still be "voting" (as much as cave men can be said to do so) for Bush-equivalents (of which there would be many), but there would be no fertility drugs and antibiotics to keep our litters of squalling would-be red staters alive.
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