About Darwin. Our ability to understand of the development and complexity of life on earth can be dated with precision: the year 1859, when Darwin published On The Origin of Species. Perhaps no idea since has been better understood by specialists, and less understood by the general public than the concept of evolution and the role is has played in the natural history of our planet, right up to the present moment, with the hit TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Evolution is driven by two powerful forces: the twin “desires” of species to survive and to reproduce. I put the term “desire” in quotation marks because it applies not only to animals with brains, but to organisms which lack central nervous systems and – as best we can tell – consciousness. However even amoeba and bacteria, not to mention more complex organisms such as mayflies, behave in ways which suggest survival is an important goal.
Survival, by itself, however, is no guarantee of evolutionary success, just as possession of a set of pots and pans is no guarantee someone will be a good cook. For those species that reproduce sexually, such as us humans, a life without offspring is an evolutionary dead end. Of course, modern existence as we know it today, with cities, hospitals, airports, cars, telephones and computers came about only after the development of agriculture, some five thousand years ago. In evolutionary terms, this is the merest blink of an eye. We may live twenty-first century lives, but our brains and bodies reflect the history of our species as small bands of hunter gatherers hundreds of thousands of years ago on the African savannah. And, of course, these bodies of ours contain big brains capable of complex and sophisticated thought, which means we consciously choose to engage in all kinds of activities which would have been maladaptive 100,000 years ago, such as remaining childless by choice, or, in my case, adopting two kids and in no way regarding them as anything less than 100 percent my own. Biology is powerful, but it is not always destiny.
Sex doesn’t explain everything in life, but it does explain a lot. Our bodies reflect marked sexual differences, a fact I discovered upon my first visit to a nudist beach. So does our behavior. Interest in courtship and relations between the sexes - or for gays, among their own gender - occupies a substantial amount of daily life, not to mention quite a few powerful dreams.
The idea that people are artificially sexualized because of culture reverses cause and effect. Popular culture – book, songs, magazines, advertising, movies, television shows and so on – is developed by humans for humans. Even sports, among men considered the manliest of pursuits, is a celebration of the body and its potential. Great athletes like Tiger Woods have access to a lot of willing women, and I suspect it’s not because the know how to fill out a tax return or change the spark plugs on a car. A song about two people falling in love is more likely to be a hit than one about a man storing up a masive supply of canned baked beans in his fallout shelter.
Kim Kardashian is a textbook example of how evolutionary forces shaped humanity, both physically and behaviorally. Her body contains the type of differentiated secondary sexual characteristics Darwin would have greatly appreciated, with its ample posterior and bosom. Her daily life, at least as captured by the show (so I’m told) is filled with seeming minutiae. However, amid the triviality is the very stuff of life: men and women, relationships, courtship and beauty, sex and reproduction. Being successful at finding a mate and reproducing separated the winners from the losers among the primates who we are the lucky descendants of. Ignore the importance of the language of love at your own peril.
Critics constantly complain about the poor quality of the US education system. Let’s introduce Ms. Kardashian into the science textbooks, and see if test scores improve. The difference in beak shapes among the finches of the Galapagos may have inspired Darwin, but a discussion of Ms. Kardashian’s love life and personal affairs will prove more captivating to school kids.
The rest of you can thank me for this suggestion.