There’s no easy way to begin this but try this for a thought experiment: has money become a new method of natural selection?
When Charles Darwin first proposed the theory of evolution through natural selection, it came at a time when people were axiomatically indisposed to radical new views on their ways of life, their existence, their place on the earth and in the cosmos. So when Darwin, after his travels, came back theorising that humans might not only have their origins from ape-like creatures but also that all living things might share common origins, Ol’ Charles was ridiculed out of his senses. All sorts of cartoons were drawn with everything from worms to fish and deer and apes that had the face Darwin but if one looks out of the trend of ridicule and towards the timeline itself, especially noticing that it was at a similar point in time that the British Missionary launched its colonisation expedition to West Africa. The uncanny insinuation here is that, the theory evolution was ridiculed until the British went into Africa and happened upon bushmen: an unfortunate minority of the African population clad in animal skin loincloth and having unkempt hair; speaking unintelligible languages; armed with sticks and clubs for defence and living in mud huts, that the British actually began to pay some attention to what Darwin had said earlier. Even though, scientific publications like “An Essay on the Inequality of Human Races” by the Frenchman Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau written in year 1855 (four years before Darwin’s Theory was published) and argued that the different races of humans on earth were structured hierarchically with the white race at the apex of it, helped very little in the way of common sense. Perhaps the British Colonialists observed the similarities between these old Africans and themselves and inferred that they, the British, looking and sooth, being so different were actually more advanced versions of the beings they had happened upon the coast of West Africa with their inferences supported by Joseph Gobineau’s as well as Darwin’s works. Darwin’s little theory was no longer a joke to be laughed at, it became the truth that had to be proven.
As today’s humans, to compare our species today with those who existed on earth as geologically recently as the 1800s would almost seem like comparing gods with primitive men. From science and technology, medicine, education, architecture and even other issues like human rights; they marvelled at the moon, we went forth and trod upon it; the species has come a very long way in arguably, a very short time. While the fight against the ills of nature like diseases, modern medicine has given the present day human abilities to challenge death itself and even go on to defy it entirely in some cases. However, while diseases like cancer, malaria and AIDs still cause so much worry, the modern day human has a greater chance of living longer than they did a hundred years ago and it is to this that the problems with natural selection occurs.
If one recalls high school lectures at least on the topic of evolution and natural selection, the expression “the survival of the fittest” should readily come to mind as it is through this process that the vitality of a species is tested and verified. The idea of survival of the fittest basically goes on to postulate that individuals of a species that have been more suited or adapted to surviving in their environment are the ones who would eventually earn the greater chance to pass on the unique expression of their genes onto subsequent generations. For example, giraffes with longer necks and better abilities to reach palatable vegetation at greater heights; lions which were originally believed to be spotted, but lost their spots enabling them hunt better by blend easier into the golden brown savannah grass; also, the instance in humans where it has been noted that the average height of the species has increased by around 10cm compared with the last 100 years; no surprise in this one due to women’s fixation on tall men – as if short men’s genes don’t matter. Humans do not live in the primitive hunter-gatherer type society anymore and as such the survival of a certain line of genes do not depend exclusively on the physical prowess in the phenotypic expression of the gene’s bearer. Things like raw physical strength, endurance, durability, visual acuity, etc. might help a progeny’s chances but more often, play secondary or tertiary roles in deciding which genes end up being passed down. However, one factor that seems to stand out especially when the workings of modern day society is factored in, is money. The ones who have in more abundance, get the privilege of better education, better healthcare, better access to a wide array of privileges like security and so on which translates into a higher chance of survival into and probably past reproductive age, in other words, higher life expectancy. Recently, the advancement in the field of gene editing through tools like CRISPR may very well go on to confer on some individuals, invulnerability to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and type one diabetes mellitus but these seemingly magical devices would likely come with high financial costs and be unavailable to a greater share of the population.
The argument is not entirely straightforward, it is complicated by the fact that the wealthier parts of the society tend to have fewer offspring and this particular trend can be seen wholly expressed in the wealthier countries of the world. Japan is one example as it has been projected that the Japanese population might plummet by up to 30% before 2050. In the US as another example, the wealthier sects of the population today which is made up to a large degree by the Caucasians is experiencing a notable decline in birth rate that goes on so far to propose that by the 2040, the Caucasian population which makes up the current majority in the US might very well lose that status, falling into the ranks of a minority group. The same trend in seen prominently around Europe from east to west where the working population has to be supported by increasingly flexible immigrations policies as the herculean task of balancing the needs of the population and the regional economy with cultural, religious and ideological factors become increasingly essential.
Perhaps the earth as a system maintains a dual means of population control regarding our species which gives rise to a situation where the better off groups produce fewer offspring as they have a higher chance of reaching and going past reproductive age while the poorer sections still remain largely governed by the primordial laws of propagation and natural selection. This makes the important point that survival has always been an affair of quality over quantity; it’s not about how many people are alive, it’s how long they are able to stay that way that matters. Money might be playing a role in determining the advancement of the species to a point near perfection after which the need for money itself might be entirely bypassed. This is amusing as in reality, programmes like universal basic income which has been proposed by a few developed countries, the rise in automation and the advancement in cryptocurrencies do well in some sense to support this point. Is the end game of evolution and natural selection itself tied intricately to the expression of a perfect natural economy?