Jump to main navigation, main content

Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Civilisation vs. Responsibility

Andy Rutledge touches on a thought that I’ve had for a while. Interesting reading, even if this isn’t the usual (and excellent) design related material he usually produces.

Have you read it yet? OK, the parts that Andy touched on that have occurred to me in the past is the realisation that our society (or civilisation in this case) is doomed. Andy puts this down to “civilisation”, which I agree with. My own realisation was limited to “medicine”, and I had not seen the wider picture until I read his article.

My realisation was that we must either abandon medicine or completely and totally embrace it. Anything in between will result in the either the end of our species or society as we would recognise it, given enough time.
Medicine is very good at curing and helping a person. It means we’re a lot less likely to die of illness, accident or poor genetic inheritance. But, while medicine is good for people as individuals, it is bad for our species. Now, we live to pass on our ‘defective’ genes. No longer does natural selection hold such a sway, instead of ‘only the strongest survive’, resulting in future generations who are more adept, stronger, faster, smarter, and more healthy, medicine levels the playing field for the genetically ‘weaker’ people. They now get far more chance to pass on their genetic weaknesses to future generations. As an example, in the long run the percentage of people who require glasses will increase, until everyone does - because those with naturally poor sight will not get eaten by the tiger they failed to see. They’d have seen it because now we wear glasses. Glasses can’t be genetically inherited, but poor eyesight can. Conversely, having natural perfect eyesight will not be an advantage, and so it will not be a genetic ‘feature’ that evolution will push through. The same goes for an awful lot of medical things. People in the ‘pre medicine’ era would very likely die before they could reproduce if they were diabetic. Not so any longer. This goes for absolutely any gene based illness or deficiency which used to be terminal, but now is not. In the long run, by using medicine we weaken the species. Individuals live longer, but it’s the future generations that will pay the price. Future generations will not be genetically superior to our own if we use medicine, the rate of improvement will drop and eventually plateaux. So, for the species to continue and avoid becoming an evolutionary dead end we must logically either abandon medicine, or perfect it totally.

But here is a thought. In a world with perfect medicines, people won’t die except in accidents or murders. And then there’s a huge question of over-population and the ethics of who decides when we die. Hitler once thought he could decide, and he thought he could do that on very similar grounds. He sought to remove the genetically weak so future Germany would be genetically strong. Millions of Jews died and thousands of disabled people died, because of his decision of what was a genetically ’superior’ race or trait. Frightening realisation isn’t it? But, in a world of perfect medicine, these are choices that will have to be made, and what makes that any different? Of course that’s assuming perfect medicine is freely available to everyone. More likely, only the rich will get full treatments, which means evolution stops being about genes, and starts being about how well people accumulate money - in that world the richest survive longest and therefore reproduce the most. Humans will have adapted to live not in a natural environment, but in our own bubble called ‘civilisation’. Nature will no longer decide who lives and who dies, and we will not adapt to it. We will adapt only to the society we find ourselves in.

From the archives

Other enteries filed under:

Of The Moment

Site information

Built with valid XHTML and CSS, designed with web standards and accessibility in mind. Best viewed in a modern browser [Firefox, Safari, Opera]

This domain and all content is a copy of my old website, for historical purposes only.