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Survival of the Fittest

My previous two entries have touched off a little discussion. However, the piece I found most interesting was this one from Michael Hanscom:

Intelligent people - those with more than two brain cells to rub together - look around at the world and realize that it has a tendency to be a pretty iffy bargain, and either resolve not to have children, or to limit themselves to one or two children. Less intelligent… people, though, seem to be popping babies out like there's no tomorrow.


There are numbers to back up the fact that uneducated and "less intelligent" people tend to have more children. I'm from a household with two kids. We're an upper- or middle-middle class family. Nearly all of my friends are from two-child households. Nearly all of my friends are from upper- or middle-middle class families. The poorer families I know had about four children (if I were forced to guess) on average. Again, there are numbers to back that up.

I'm not going to get into a discussion that "poor" = "stupid" and that "wealthy" = "intelligent" as the article I'm quoting does. And while there have been studies to show that intelligence is tied to genetics, it is in no way quantifiable (you can't determine the IQ of a child by averaging his parent's IQs). The part I will discuss, however, is this statement:

Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, Darwin's theory of natural selection, in many ways, no longer applies to the human race at large.

Combined with his earlier statements about less intelligent individuals having more kids, Michael reaches this conclusion:

…the average IQ of the world drops incrementally with each new child, as the few children born by people determined to have no more children than they can support are far outnumbered by the teeming masses content to … have more children that they can't take care of. And so, we breed ourselves into extinction.

Unfortunately, "more intelligent" does not necessarily mean "more fit" for survival. Darwin makes no such statement regarding mental capacity. A stupid giraffe with a properly sized neck seems equally or better prepared to survive than a really brilliant giraffe with a short neck (neck length allows giraffes to reach leaves at the tops of trees, thus preventing them from starving to death).

If "survival" is defined as "reaching a breeding age and passing on your genetic material" then certainly these "less thoughtful" people as Michael redfined them are fitter by definition! They are more successful at passing on their genetic material (by having more children). They're successes in Darwin's eyes, and thus, the "fitter" membes of the species.

Nature, or in this case our society, does not reward intelligence with breeding rights. "First cum, first served" is the way it goes, and conformity and "normalness" get you bonus points. What is rewarded, in the Darwinian sense of the word? Sex. Pure and simple. Our society rewards conformity. Intelligent people (nerds, geeks, dorks) stand out. If you go by IQ tests (I don't personally place much weight in them), I'm in the top 10% as far as intelligence goes. Did I date 20 girls in high school? Did I get laid? Nope. "Geeks" aren't rewarded with sex. The 80% in the middle? They're humping like crazy. Are the 40% on the bottom half of "the big middle" humping more than the top half, slowly dragging the average IQ down as Michael stipulates?

Studies say yes.

Society sure as heck doesn't sexually (and thus genetically) reward intelligence. Survival of the fittest? It still applies. If you disagree with that, then you need to change your definition of "fittest." Fitness is determined by survival (the "passing on" of genetic material), not the other way around. You can try to predict fitness, but you can only truly determine which group in a species was fittest after the results are tabulated. Giraffes with really long long necks may seem more likely to survive, but giraffes with a neck that's "too long" might actually find it to be a liability. Intelligent people may seem more likely to survive, but they may also be less likely to have sex (and children).

Anyway, time for a disclaimer: the above was a thought experiment. I'm fully aware that some very, very big generalizations have been made. I'm still thinking this through myself, but I will say this, and stand by it: intelligence isn't sexually (genetically) rewarded in our society. Darwin never said it would be. Those who are "more fit" to survive still do by definition. Easy as that.

17 Responses to "Survival of the Fittest"

  1. I know a family with dual doctors as parents with 10+ kids. I lost count how many, and frankly, they sicken me. it may be a religious thing in most cases. I see a lot of 'Just the Ten of Us' around here. Big in Catholic families, because the Pope doesn't believe in birth control, and neither should any good Catholics. Yeah, tell that to the ones with irreversible vasectomies.

    (apologies for the late-80s reference)

  2. Survival of the 'Fittest'?

    A very interesting read here, well worth taking a few minutes to read about and think. Suddenly it all makes sense! And I have to agree with Erik's final statement: Intelligence isn't sexually (genetically) rewarded in our society. Oh, so...

  3. Ever read C. M. Kornbluth's story "The Marching Morons"?

  4. Hmm, the only birth control method sactioned by the pope or something is the Rythm Method. Ya know, doing it in the back seat while the hip-hop is blaring on the 500 Watt speakers. Kills the sperm before they have a chance to reach the destination.

  5. Darwin has left the building

    At this point, I amend, but stand by, my original premise that through medical science and societal standards, we as a race have removed ourselves from the premise of Natural Selection. It is no longer the most fit — those with the best combinati...

  6. "I've been around the world and seen that only stupid people are breeding, cretins cloning and feeding, and I don't even own a TV!"

    Who'd have thought that wisdom comes in the form of one-hit-wonder Harvey Danger? Ah, well.

    Sadly you hit the nail on the head. It seems to be largely the really stupid people who have so many children. (Letting the pope dictate their lives, to me, is really stupid.)

    But let's not lose sight of the fact that just because any given person isn't above average in IQ doesn't mean they're worthless. The world has never functioned solely on the backs of smart people. There are lots of qualities more admirable than intelligence, especially because those qualities are by choice instead of genetic predetermination (to an extent, of course).

    Not that I don't hate the really dumb sh*#@ who screw everything up for the rest of us 🙂

  7. Talk of the ignorant masses is boring. Everyone thinkins they are smarter than the majority. The only thing your IQ means is that you were vain enough to look for proof. Let's see your accomplishments. Actions speak loudest. I'd rather be a creative idiot than an intelligent bore.

  8. Completely off-topic:

    The rythym method is not the method preferred by Catholics. It's the sympto-thermal method, which has a large basis in reproductive science and is used both to GET pregnant AND to prevent it. Google for it and read up.

  9. The crazy part is that really intelligent people don't start wars. Really intelligent people built things and help people. So if successful and intelligent people run the world why do we have problems; Also if intelligent people are so smart why do they let these so call dumb sh*#@ get away with everything. For what knowledge or intelligent people don’t think about what they create and how it will be used by others; or the so called intelligent ones. Just thing of it this way “we are not intelligent until we are all intelligent”. Too bad we have all this knowledge already and still can’t get it right. So keep on thinking it dumb sh*#@ that f*(! everything up.

  10. in response to mikey. If you look at what Erik is saying, he specifically talks about ignoring IQ's and looking at actions. In his other article he talks about achievements of people like Einstein rather than their IQ. He only wrote this article in response to what someone else had written regarding IQ's. Read the article before bashing man.

    Plus just because I achieve a lot of things, doesn't make me more intelligent than an unused super intelligent brain of some other person. It just makes me of more use to the practical world.

    I'm sure that made no sense, so pardon me.

  11. Anglus, you're a bit off. By definition, the "more intelligent" people are going to be outvoted by the majority of the population, unless their votes (for elected officials or whatever) happen to line up with what the "rest" of the people want.

    And as for thinking of "how it will be used by others" - that's sure as hell not the point of research. Science is, at its core, about exploration. Thank goodness ethics are left in the hand of those who apply technological and scientific advances, because if scientists had to wrestle with that, we'd still be living in the stone age.

    This is not to say that scientists shouldn't consider the ethics of what they do - they should in certain areas. But all the time? No. Fire has been used to kill people, but early scientists just noted that it prepared food and prevented them from freezing to death.

  12. Survival of the 'Fittest'?

    A very interesting read here, well worth taking a few minutes to read about and think. Suddenly it all makes sense! And I have to agree with Erik's final statement: Intelligence isn't sexually (genetically) rewarded in our society. Oh, so...

  13. The lowering intelligence worries me. Society surely reverses survival of the fittest by supporting the less able, so that they can breed - and often have little else productive to fill their lives.

    Another thought. Less intelligent people seem to be happier people I have found. I've got quite a few braincells myself, and find myself constantly dissatisfied, wanting more. Simpler folk do not appear to suffer from this.

  14. Most of the male doctors I know have at least 5 children. Many of the female doctors stopped at 2. (I do mean physicians, not PhD's). Could this be a gender thing?

    A family next door was asked to move by the home owner after they added a set of twins to the litter. They already had 7 children living in a 3 bedroom home. He was a geek too, and a religious nut.

    Most of the people I know are computer geeks - and have no more than 3 children for the most part. Many of them have only 1. This seems to be a parallel for the intelligence versus breeding question.

  15. Do you people have lives? Seriously though, this person has gone to some lengths to post this topic, and half of you guys are comming out with irrelevant responses and even trying to hurl vulgarities, just because you come from from a poorer background and don't know any better (shame on you anglus)

  16. Erik, I wanted you to know that I have used your article in my 'survival of the fittest' paper for philosophy. I used it as an example of what 'survival of the fittest' means to our society. This is so far off from what it means to me. In fact my whole paper is based on bacteria specifically Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Thank You!

  17. laura said on December 2, 2007:

    Erik, I wanted you to know that I have used your article in my 'survival of the fittest' paper for philosophy. I used it as an example of what 'survival of the fittest' means to our society. This is so far off from what it means to me. In fact my whole paper is based on bacteria specifically Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Thank You!

    Laura, I have only three things to say:

    1. If you're citing blog entries for your research paper, that doesn't bode well for your academic career.
    2. If your paper is on bacteria and the resistance they build up to certain drugs, you really shouldn't be citing articles (or blog entries) that have nothing to do with bacteria.
    3. "Survival of the Fittest" is a bit of a silly title, but the reasoning is still valid: if "survival" is determined by reproducing, and stupid people reproduce more, they are - by definition - "fittest."

    Please do yourself a favor and remove any mention or citation of this in your paper.


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