I recently watched an interview with Stanislav Drobyshevsky. The topic of evolution and natural selection was touched upon there. He mentioned data from one of the latest studies related to brain development. Over the last 20 thousand years, the human brain has been shrinking, in his opinion, this is due to the fact that at the moment the brain does not help us survive and, accordingly, this trait is not fixed through natural selection.
I think everyone knows what natural selection is. Antelopes run away from lions, the fastest antelopes survive and pass on their genes, and the slowest ones die. Thus, with each generation, the antelopes become faster. Now let’s look at people. As Stanislav Drobyshevsky correctly said, high intelligence is not a sign that makes a person more evolutionarily successful. To be successful, you need not only to survive, but also to pass on as much of your genetic material as possible, that is, to have more children. What traits contribute to human evolutionary success? The movie Idiocracy immediately comes to mind, right? But in fact, everything is not so bad, but the brain is shrinking and people are probably becoming physically weaker, there is also a study on this matter (1 And 2), although the period of research is too short for far-reaching conclusions. To understand where we are moving along the road of evolution, we first need to understand how natural selection works in our population.
People most often die from hunger, disease, war, accidents, and disasters. You probably already understand what these signs have in common? They are indiscriminate. If there is a crop failure, everyone dies from hunger, no matter how smart or strong you are. For the most part, too, this was especially true with the development of medicine; the coronavirus pandemic killed most of the elderly and people with chronic diseases. That is, those who have already contributed to evolution. War is the same, no matter how strong you are, the enemy’s numerical advantage, an arrow or a dart will not leave you a chance. And with the advent of artillery and firearms, this situation worsened even more. There is nothing to say about disasters and accidents. The only quality that can gain a foothold in such a selection is luck. But scientists have not yet found the gene that is responsible for it.
Evolution is the adaptation of a species to its environment. It is the environment that supports natural selection. There is a certain set of dangers from which animals often die in this environment, and this constant death (selection) causes the consolidation of certain characteristics. For example, in the cold those who retain heat better survive, while others die, etc. Yes, there are certain features that help people survive in areas with an excess of ultraviolet radiation (black skin), or vice versa with a lack of it (white skin), we can also mention changes in the body of peoples living in the highlands. But this is not all about that, with the development of civilization we spend less and less time in nature, we have houses, cars, public transport, etc. And our success or failure is determined by the people nearby. If people listen to you, buy your products, read your books, if your skills are useful to others, then you are successful. Therefore, now the established human habitat is society.
What qualities help you be successful in society? On the one hand, all qualities can be used. A smart person will earn good money, find a wife, have children, a stupid person will earn less, but evolutionary success (survival rate and number of children) may be the same. The weak and cowardly have the same chance of betraying their genes as the strong and aggressive. Of course, a successful quality is communication skills. If a person knows how to negotiate with other people, then he will find a girl and earn money to provide for his family, regardless of other qualities. Losing qualities are everything with the prefix “too”. A person who is too smart will not be understood by society, will not be able to start a family, and may also go crazy or become an alcoholic. Here’s something interesting study on this occasion. A person who is too stupid will not get a job or start a family. A person who is too cowardly will not be able to start a family because he is afraid to meet people. Those who are too aggressive will most likely end up in prison early.
Our habitat is society. Our survival depends on the group and it is logical that evolution adapts us to society; people “average out” and become more sociable. In my subjective opinion, we are not regressing as in the film Idiocracy, but evolving into something like a hive. Of course, such an evolution will take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
Another indirect confirmation of the movement in this direction is the constantly growing number of professions. With the development of progress, activities become more complex; to effectively perform work, a person must constantly learn. The specialization of each member of society is growing; already now we have fairly superficial theoretical knowledge about other areas not related to our work, and there are no practical skills at all. Nowadays, for many people, it is not cost-effective to spend time renovating their home or car. It makes more sense to devote this time to improving your qualifications and, having improved your skills, get a higher-paying job, and hire specialists for repairs. An analogy arises with some species of ants, where warrior ants have developed their jaws so much that they cannot feed on their own; they are fed by worker ants. It turns out that these ants are not viable outside the colony, thanks to the appearance of such jaws, the survival rate of the ant colony has increased, but the survival rate of these specific ants has decreased, because they have lost the ability to independently carry out the basic function of a living organism – nutrition.
Therefore, it is wrong to think that evolution and natural selection are always aimed at improving the survival of a particular individual. Sometimes the survival rate of an individual can be reduced if this leads to an increase in the survival rate of the colony. And human evolution must be viewed from the same position. We are not just animals, we are collective animals. Our collective organization is much more complex than hives of bees or colonies of ants. And we tend to behave similarly.
Look at war, this is a crazy and irrational action from the point of view of individual survival. Why would an individual go somewhere far away, die and kill strangers, he does not receive personal benefits from these. But wars have existed since ancient times, even in the Neolithic there were wars, moreover, there are wars among monkeys (as an example: chimpanzee war in Gombi National Park). But why are they needed and who benefits? War usually benefits the group as a whole, with one group destroying or enslaving another group in order to eliminate a competitor and take over its resources. This is where real natural selection occurs, as tough as in the wild. Only this selection does not work on individuals, but on entire groups. Those who cannot stand it die or are destroyed by their neighbors. Groups constantly and very quickly, by biological standards, evolve. Look at the states a thousand years ago and now, the progress is enormous. And the reasons for the death of a state are not always external aggression; it can collapse on its own due to internal contradictions or not being able to withstand non-military competition with its neighbors.
I’ll add a little note. In this text I am not trying to justify any military conflict; most of this text was written in 2019. And I’m not saying that war is the natural state of humanity. I do not express a personal attitude towards war as a phenomenon, and I do not try to take sides in any of the military conflicts of mankind from the Neolithic to the present day. I’m just analyzing historical facts.
Another important point. The death of a group does not necessarily mean the death of all individuals belonging to it. Usually culture and language perish, the social system collapses, and with it people lose property and social status. But in most cases, people themselves can save themselves and try to join another group.
Why consider a person separately? Individuals, especially modern humans, are not viable. Imagine yourself alone or with your family in the wild, what are your chances of survival? People are like the cells of the body; if they are torn off, they will be able to maintain functionality for some time, but then they will inevitably die. In groups of survivalists, the same ones who believe in the collapse of civilization and stock up on canned food, they always repeat the same truth – it is impossible to survive alone, to survive you must unite in groups. The group in this case plays the role of an organism, and people are the cells of such an organism. And human evolution must be considered in the context of the evolution of such groups.
A tribe, a people, a nation are groups of people who feel their kinship and community. Separating themselves from the rest of the human population. Such a group acts together, competing with other groups. For example, take China, where one billion Chinese live. Such a number of organized intelligent beings, controlled by a single authority, is much cooler than a colony of brainless ants or bees.
Let’s consider such a group, it doesn’t matter that it is specifically a late Neolithic tribe or a modern state. Here are the signs that are important for the survival of such a team:
1. Numbers – a large group will usually defeat a small one, even if the small one is better armed or smarter. Scientific and technological progress has significantly reduced the value of this characteristic. Now population size is no longer the main factor of victory.
2. Resources – land, minerals, natural resources, good location, etc. Here I think everything is clear without additional explanations.
3. Cohesion – if a group has many internal contradictions, a civil war may begin and it will either die or split into several more stable groups. History shows that fragmented states always lose.
4. Organization – this can also be called the quality of management. How effectively the group manages its resources. How easy it is for people within a group to show their positive qualities (invent, show patriotism, make discoveries, open a business, etc.) and how difficult it is to show negative qualities (harm the group, make stupid decisions, steal resources, etc.). This is one of the most important qualities in the modern world.
5. Progress is a relatively recently appeared quality; for most of human history, science did not play a noticeable role. But now its importance is growing every year. Progress helps groups defend themselves and enslave/destroy strangers, even with low numbers and few resources.
6. Goal – the declared direction in which the group is moving. This parameter affects the cohesion of the group; without a goal, it is very difficult for large groups to maintain unity. Therefore, this parameter began to play a significant role with the beginning of the formation of national states. Exotic examples of such goals are the desire to bring freedom to the whole world, as in the United States, or to organize a world revolution, as in the early Soviet republic. Most often, the unifying goal is nationalism. In this situation, the group does not seek to impose its will on its neighbors, but is more focused on defending its national interests and solving internal problems.
And pay attention, it practically does not matter what cells/people the group consists of. If in one everyone is: “Well, they are stupid!”, and in the other they are smart and inventive, then the smart group will still lose if it is less organized, united and smaller in number.
Now let’s look at our history. There are almost always wars going on. Some tribes destroy others, empires are created and destroyed, peoples are enslaved and exterminated. If you imagine states, or any other associations of people, in the form of some kind of animals, it will turn out just like on the National Geographic channel, everyone constantly eats each other, parasitizes on each other and someone constantly dies. In my opinion, this is our natural selection, it is not so important how strong and smart an individual person is, it is much more important how organized and effective his group is.
I will not evaluate whether this order of things is good or bad. But I can say for sure that it is natural. All living things on earth have been in constant struggle since the beginning of life 4 billion years ago. They struggle with environmental conditions, compete for resources, devour each other and even destroy each other for no reason. Tits peck at the skulls of other birds and mice and eat the brains, squirrels eat not only nuts, but can eat a chick or a small bird alive, seals just kill everyone they can. This refers to statements that man is the most terrible creature on earth.
From the positive. Natural selection among human groups/states leaves only the most viable forms. The disappearance of slavery, the eight-hour work day, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of conscience, elected authorities, the rule of law, the independence of judges, etc. – these are not signs that people have become smarter and more civilized; for the most part, people have not changed. These characteristics were fixed through natural selection among states. States that possessed these characteristics were more united and stable, their organization was more effective and, accordingly, they achieved greater success and survived. The concept of natural selection among human communities may at first glance look gloomy and even somehow cannibalistic, but its result for each individual person is positive, life becomes better with each century. Although, to be fair, one cannot be sure that the process will always go in this direction.
Instead of a conclusion. First of all, this article is not related to my publications on the topic of demography. But I am not interested in abstract demography, but in the demographic situation in a specific country – Russia. And it makes sense to talk about demography and the birth rate in Russia only if there is a sovereign state of Russia and it has a future. And for this we need to understand how competitive the existing form of state is under conditions of natural selection. You need to ask yourself a question and try to answer it impartially, why the Russian state for the period from 1900 to 1999. destroyed twice. Both times losing territory and a huge number of people. There is no need to look for those to blame, no matter who caused the disaster, external forces or internal traitors. Natural selection is merciless, and history is written by the winners. Maybe you need to, like Peter I, learn from your opponents? Think about why there were no such disasters in the USA and Great Britain for several centuries? Do they not have enemies who can cause the collapse of the state? Or are there no traitors among their elites and population capable of destroying the country? It seems to me that these questions are more relevant than finding out who was right in 1917 or 1991. And this is definitely more useful than discussing the great victories and achievements of the past. One must not be proud of the victories of one’s ancestors, but show through one’s actions that one is worthy of being called their descendant.
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