What if we broke down evolutionary development into five steps? Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species suggested this scheme to me. At the end of Chapter 7, “Miscellaneous Objections to the Theory of Natural Selection” he wrote:
“…Abrupt and strongly marked variations occur in our domesticated productions, singly and at rather long intervals of time. If such occurred under nature, they would be liable to be lost by accidental causes and by inter-crossing. In order that a new species should suddenly appear, it is almost necessary to believe, in opposition to all analogy, that several wonderfully changed individuals appeared simultaneously within the same district, [italics mine].
“Against the belief in abrupt changes, embryology enters a strong protest. The embryo serves as a record of the past condition of the species. Hence existing species during early stages often resemble extinct forms belonging to the same class. It is incredible that an animal should have undergone abrupt transformations and yet should not bear even a trace in its embryonic condition of sudden modification, every detail being developed by insensibly fine steps.
“He who believes that some ancient form was transformed suddenly through an internal force or tendency will be compelled to believe that many structures beautifully adapted to all the other parts of the same creature and to the surrounding conditions, have been suddenly produced; and of such complex and wonderful co-adaptations, he will not be able to assign a shadow of an explanation.” [Author’s note: except for disease, perhaps]. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Abridged and Edited by Charlotte and William Irvine, 1978, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., p. 61.
Without additional clarification, Darwin’s theories run aground on shoals of scientific detail charted more recently. His evolutionary theory rests on five points.
1. All species produce offspring in excess of the number that can survive.
2. Adult populations in any region tend to remain constant, and therefore there is an enormous death rate. (Most biologists believe the first part wrong, the second part largely correct.)
3. There must be a struggle for survival which the majority of creatures lose.
4. The competitors vary in many small characteristics, and these will affect the chances of survival.
5. The result of those preconditions is that the organism best able to survive them transmits its more adaptive traits to future generations.
Gordon Rattray Taylor summarizes Darwin’s problems in The Great Evolution Mystery. I take this quotation from Michael Crawford’s and David Marsh’s The Driving Force – Food, Evolution and the Future, William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1989, p. 30.
· The suddenness [“sudden” to paleontologists, means happening only in a few million years] with which major changes in pattern occurred and the virtual absence of any fossil remains from the period in which they were alleged to be evolving.
· The suddenness with which new forms “radiated” into numerous variants.
· The suddenness of many extinctions and the lack of obvious reasons for such extinction.
· The repeated occurrence of changes calling for numerous coordinated innovations, both at the level of organs and of complete organisms.
· The variations in speed at which evolution occurred.
· The fact that subsequently, no new phyla have appeared, and no new classes and orders. This fact so thoroughly ignored is perhaps the most powerful of all arguments against Darwin’s generalization.
· The occurrence of parallel and convergent evolution, in which similar structures evolve in quite different circumstances.
· The existence of long-term trends (orthogenesis).
· The appearance of organs before they are needed (pre-adaptation).
· The occurrence of “overshoot” or evolutionary momentum (e.g. how organs once useful became overdeveloped, such as the tusks of the saber-toothed tiger and the antlers of the Irish elk).
· The puzzle of how organs, once evolved, come to be lost (degeneration.)
· The failure of some organisms to evolve at all.
Even though many diseases increase mortality, some infections might benefit their host. Could “domesticated” pathogens have introduced immune, digestive, neural, and other specialized cells where none existed before? Did mutagenic microbes make new mutations inheritable? Could successfully adapted tumors have become physical mutations? Could DNA, either so-called “junk” or from some exterior source, have been “turned back on” or “injected” into a host species lacking them previously?
These suppositions are dismissed as heretical today, pigeonholed under clumsy rubrics like “endosymbiosis” and “horizontal gene transfer in eukaryotes.” Scientists are just beginning to resume the study of oncogenes, transposons, plasmids, plasmagenes and episomes: micro-organic savings banks, post offices and stock exchanges whose hallways echo with the complex intercourse of DNA.
Could our bodies be “bacterial clouds”: multi-generation starships constructed with, by and for microorganisms to transport their DNA (so-called “junk DNA”?) in safety and comfort across vast stretches of space-time — from your armchair to the refrigerator, say, or across the galaxy?
A theory of adaptive mutation by way of benign disease processes might settle many arguments between evolutionary gradualists and catastrophists.
The immune systems of dominant species could have been suppressed by environmental catastrophes. This limitation may have brought on pandemics of heightened mortality, in-species differentiation and genetic drift. During such disasters, whole herds might have been annihilated or transformed into a more viable new species. Since every animal would have been affected simultaneously, their descendants would have skipped “transitional” stages. Such an evolutionary process of selective die-out is modeled in Kropotkin's book, Mutual Cooperation.
It is also interesting to note that species with a long history of genetic stability appear to have gained relative immunity from many diseases -- sharks, mollusks, lichen, fungi, ginkgoes(?). I wonder if specialized scientists have taken note.
This evolutionary blueprint could have left the fragmentary fossil record our paleontologists puzzle over today, minus the “missing links” that Darwinists keep predicting and failing to find: a bad sign for a theory.
Behavior, however, seems to have evolved under environmental influences, following a more gradual, Lamarckian path. Given varying circumstances, certain deviants went crazy in specific ways. If this new kind of craziness increased their reproductive success, they passed it on to succeeding generations that ingrained it in species memory.
Someone may appear to be acting crazy, but that craziness may be a survival factor under altered circumstances that mere “normals” could not handle. When Chaos looms, a deviant response may be more efficient than routine normalcy.
Species were rarely exterminated as a result of predation, endemic disease and selective competition; more often from massive ecological disruption: asteroid strikes, volcanism, ice ages, massive flooding, long droughts, human encroachment, etc., followed by lethal pandemics triggered by lowered immunity across the board.
Thereafter, a few survivors replaced the masses of the dead and then multiplied to fill in the gaps. The distinguishing traits they shared became “Darwinian mutations,” but would not necessarily have “improved fitness.” On the contrary, they would have reinforced the statistically average traits shared by that species among a handful of survivors. Rare individuals, endowed with superior ones adapted to some special niche, would for the most part have died along with the majority. Only an endlessly unstable environment, lethal on a semi-permanent basis, would have promoted the survival of a radical mutant, assuming the whole population hadn’t been completely annihilated — an all too frequent occurrence.
The planet has caught a cold, and we are it.
To understand our place in the scheme of things, think of humanity as an Earth pathogen — not its dominators, its lords or even its failed caretakers. Like most disease organisms, we evolved through progressive relationships with nature. Any population that failed to attain the next higher level, dropped to a lower one and languished interminable obscurity or disappeared.
Someone suggested to me that children pass through similar stages with respect to their parents. Since I haven’t raised a child this time around, I’ll not go there.
Level One: The organism is frail, simple and unfit to adapt. It only survives under optimal circumstances. Opportunistically, it establishes a precarious toehold in empty niches and in hosts afflicted with impaired immunity. Its growth is sluggish or static; its simplicity is its gravest weakness. The slightest disturbance threatens it with annihilation.
Level Two: A much tougher organism invades a new host, overwhelms its defenses and kills it by growing explosively. The invading organism commits suicide by outgrowing its habitat.
Within decades, the Black Plague killed off almost half of the Europeans. Human growth rates flattened for a century until some unknown mechanism stopped this rampage cold. After all, no plague survivor acquired immunity to the Black Death. Perhaps every town rat died? Now, they tell me that there weren’t enough rats back then (based on their dug-up remains) to confirm their vector status. And we owe it to ourselves to explain many legends of black-clad specters seen waving what looked like scythes in the air, just before nearby communities collapsed from the plague.
The basic difference between Level One and Level Two is that the actors – host and pathogen – have traded places on the power scale. In any case, each is almost always diminished by the decline of the other.
Level Three: A more sophisticated organism controls its growth, attenuates its harmful effects and accepts the losses it incurs from the host’s defenses. Host and pathogen survive to reproduce, even though neither may flourish as well as before.
Syphilis took this course during the Renaissance; so did the flu at the end of World War I (sic) and perhaps soon again. Both mutated from subtle plunderers of children, the weak and the elderly, into runaway killers of vigorous adults and then back again. They and other diseases may have undergone equivalent transitions long ago, but that does not alter the facts today.
Level Four: As an infectious agent evolves, it develops a symbiotic relationship with its host. Those disease symptoms that remain benefit the host as much as the invader. Positive and negative effects come into equilibrium.
Sickle cell anemia strengthens its host’s immunity to malaria, perhaps the deadliest human disease. Actually, malarial fevers have burnt out some cases of syphilis and may perhaps thwart other diseases.
A constant background count of sturdy but marginally lethal human diseases, tremendously old, crowds out newer, more deadly but just as susceptible organisms. Without this old crowd of microscopic competitors, the worst newcomers might kill off humanity in a few weeks of mass plague. Everywhere on Earth, that is, except in military laboratories. There, such organisms are pampered pets grown in nutrient-rich but otherwise sterile environments and taught deadly new tricks. See Levels One and Two above.
Level Five: A very sophisticated organism’s increasing usefulness to the host overcomes any harm it could inflict. Under its gentle influence, new internal organs appear like additional scoops on an ice cream cone. They house new functions — perhaps as benign tumors. The infection makes a new home for itself within its host’s strengthened body. In return for this survival benefit, the host’s genes mutate and reprogram themselves. The infection and host merge genetically into a more complex and adaptive spawn.
It’s inter-Kingdom sex! The outcome of this sexual intercourse (it can’t be called anything else, even though this concept is taboo according to current science dogma) is a new entity stronger than the sum of its original parts.
Take that, you devil-take-the-hindmost Darwinians. Deny it as much as you please!
The disease relationship that humanity maintains with Earth teeters between Levels Two and Three. We graduated from Level One to Level Two by learning the usefulness of weapons and tools. Transition to Level Three would mark a significant boost in the complexity of our civilization beyond mere weapon technology.
Instead, our weapon managers have ignored runaway population growth, resource depletion and environmental impacts. They have replaced this promising commencement to Level Three with technical, societal and moral preparations for omnicide (“Kill everything!”): the only future their weapon hypnosis allows.
Level Two human overpopulation is a complex Earth disaster that promises to collapse civilization and annihilate us, just as a colony of primitive pathogens destroys itself by irritating its host beyond the threshold of toleration.
In any case, the standard outcome of evolution to Level Five may unfold as follows. After a long and comfortable interlude of adaptive stasis shared by symbiotic newcomers, some new genocidal crisis puts them to the test and sentences them back to Level One or replacement there by the next wave of evolutionary candidates.
Info elites evolved through the aforementioned disease Levels with their proletarian hosts. While seemingly mighty, the rich have at best shifted from Level Three to Four in relation to the poor: any public benefit they’ve achieved only partially compensating their innate clumsiness. The slightest breach of the peace threatens to drag them and us – our heads banging on the stair steps – to lower Levels and annihilation.
If we rally around Level Four and establish an Information Commonwealth destined for Level Five, we may yet thrive. Future transitions between higher Levels may appear nearly instantaneous compared to the thousands of years we've wasted wavering between Levels One and Three.
In the same way, the Community of Dissidence has maintained its Levels Three and Four with respect to Conspirators of Greed.
Level One persisted until the Time of Prophets during which marginal martyrs for peace (Buddha, Zarathustra, Mani, Jesus, Mohammed and countless more who died nameless) festooned imperial crossroads with their broken or burned bodies, their own and those of their adherents. At this Level, local info elites revalidated their weapon mentality by misrepresenting the martyrs’ teachings and last words, then passing those falsehoods down to posterity as sacred truths.
Level Two was crossed when clueless weapon dissidents KO’d the decomposing body-politics of royal and imperial weapon technologies. They didn’t know what to do next; they only saw an unfair system that needed to be overthrown. Just like us, they mistook mere indicators of societal sickness (tyranny, corruption, greed, etc.) for the principal cause (weapon mentality) and tried to eliminate them blindly. Then they swallowed the same toxins and normalized their symptoms, institutionalizing, perpetuating, modernizing and perfecting them in the process.
Included here: Revolutions Patrilineal, Urban, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Capitalist, Industrial, American, French, Fascist, Communist and Anti-Colonialist, among others. In short, all the circular, short-circuit, positive feedback revolutions of paradoxical outcome that our history has bothered to document.
Modern civilization comes and goes between Levels Three and Four. Weapon managers and dissidents flail at each other without rhyme or reason while body counts, environmental destruction, overpopulation and unsustainable industries spill over all around us.
Learners may cross to Level Five once we fully grasp the weapon/peace dialectic, marginalize weapon mentality and restore global peace to its rightful sovereignty. That transition should diminish most of those overflows of their own accord.
The only thing that's stopping us now is our collective hysteria at any serious mention of peace.