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How Survival Instincts Could Help You In Class

November 24th, 2014 1 comment

How good are your survival instincts?

It has been seven scores and sixteen years (or 156 years for people uninterested in the Lincoln reference) since Darwin first outlined “survival of the fittest” in his theory of natural selection and evolution. Even then, the term was taken to apply mostly to animals – and our evolutionary ancestors perhaps, but much less to human beings. Do we care about survival? Definitely; but certainly in a different way than a snake or a hawk might care about survival. Are we selected for? Perhaps, but certainly not in the way peppered moths are selected for in the industrial parts of England. The thing that makes us stand apart from the rest of nature is that other species, for the most part, must adapt to their environments, whereas human beings have made an atrocious name for ourselves for adapting our environments to us.

Thus, nowadays, survival of the fittest, when applied to humans, often takes on a much more socially constructed meaning than the theory it originated from. When an employer chooses a more versatile worker in hopes of getting more work done with fewer employees, we shrug our shoulders at the poor rejectees and say “survival of the fittest”. When someone who is drunk and decides to try and climb a vending machine falls and injures his leg, we laugh and say “survival of the fittest”. The term has come to embody the ideal of being social apt, versatile, and smart enough not to make self-endangering decisions. In any case, for the inhabitants of first world countries who get to sit in class and learn about Darwin, actually having to survive in the wild (as the term was originally about) is no more than a bizarre gag evoked by the flight attendant before a flight across Australia. After all, where is the relevance of “wilderness survival” instincts in a world of supermarkets and movie theaters?

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