The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley

evolutionThe Evolution of Everything (2015) is interesting but not as good as several of his other books, however I read them awhile ago so cannot be specific.

His main point is that trial and error is a kind of natural selection. So if someone comes up with a good idea it will spread and be adopted. While he presents interesting descriptions to illustrate this proposition, he fails to counter obvious examples of when progress is thwarted and why. When he discusses slavery for example, he states that society changed so it was no longer acceptable. He fails to note, however that slavery is alive and well by that name or by another, for example human trafficking of sex slaves. It may be considered unaccepted but it still a thriving business by masters and users. Wives in some countries are also, essentially slaves. They have no rights, they can be divorced by the husband saying “I divorce you” and then thrown out on the street to fend for themselves, essentially forcing them to become prostitutes since they can’t be out in public without a male relative, their families will disown and possibly even do an “honor killing” because obviously it was her fault for not pleasing her husband (owner).

The author is wrong about many other things that remain unchanged despite all evidence to the contrary. Female genital mutilation and circumcision for example. Women having to cover their hair, their bodies, be obedient, subservient, quiet, virgin or whore, and limited to no rights to bodily autonomy (birth control, abortion, rape, child brides, dowry practices, career choices, salary, and countless more ways. If change was a bottom up incrementally driven process, why are women still forced to live in the stone ages all over the world and subject to abusive men and laws in many countries?

What is the evolutionary advantage to women to have misogyny be the primary governance of their lives? To have female infanticide be common. To having to marry to be allowed to have sex without shame? To being forced to carrying a rapist’s seed to term? To remain married to an abusive husband because you have limited education, work opportunities, or money to support children in such a marriage? To get knocked up by a boyfriend who walks away “not my problem” and never pays a dime for child support? What benefit is it on an evolutionary scale that so many women and children live in poverty? To have corporations decided if you live or die?  To have governments that do not put social well being of citizens as job number one rather than for the benefit of corrupt, greedy, selfish, wealthy people?

I think we evolve when one person makes a discovery and is able to disseminate it and others are able to grasp the significance and act on it. We evolve when people are willing to die to stop evil (Hitler and the Republicans 🙂 ). We evolve though independent thinking and critical analysis made possible by education and especially reading. But that does us no good at all unless the people with the power and the capital do not wish to evolve because the current situation of exploitation of women in particular, people of color, and anyone who does not agree with their often theocratic authoritarian ideal of the world.

So unlike actual evolution, POWER of the few can stop it dead in it’s tracks. The urban myth (or truth) of hidden secret patents to prevent advancement on non fossil fuel sources of energy. The denial of reality like of climate change and the consequences. The refusal to accept that unfettered capitalism is a bad thing and regulations actually help develop competition the corporations (monopolies or nearly so) are a good thing. They gut or exempt clean air and clean water laws from short term profit motives of companies who then go on to despoil the land and the water that we need to live. I am always reminded of the science fiction movie Zardoz (Sean Connery mostly without many clothes if you need another reason to check it out).  A select few live in a bubble of luxury without need to work while the other 99% are nearly feral and suffer complete deprivation.

Remember your history, and how the Catholic Church thwarted scientific progress for centuries with the inquisitions, the rejection of facts for false beliefs lest it undermine their power and lead people to question the validity of the Church authority and doctrines. The earth is not flat nor does the sun revolve around the earth. The Pope is not infallible (no matter if they decree so as doctrine)  One person made a change (Martin Luther) and changed the world but thousands or probably hundreds of thousands died as a consequence.

And it is not just churches, or corporations, or governments that control the evolution of people. It is anyone in position of authority over others. Publish or perish. Tenure or wandering adjunct with three part-time jobs. Rejection of novel scientific ideas later proven true. Funding and proportion of funding for male dominate diseases rather than those that disproportionately harm women.  In corporate world and elsewhere women are judged more adversely than men and are not “heard” when they speak. [Man Made Language by Dale Spender; Men and Women of the Corporation by Rosabeth Moss Kanter]

[see also For Her Own Good by Barbara Ehrenreich and anything else by her, great author]

We as a society are being prevented by evolving by the people in power who want to keep it that way.


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