How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl, Chicken Brains, Critical Thought and Natural Selection

Sweet Pea is an exceptional chicken. Half Brahma and half blue-laced Wyandotte, she is the product of two other outstanding chickens, Mr. Peepers and Ms. Penelope (Mr. Peepers is okay for a rooster anyway). While other chickens run away from the unknown and cower in the coop, Sweet Pea is primed for adventure. She follows me in the garden, realizing that the rake and spade are tools that unearth delicacies like a tasty worm or bug or two. Her audacious spirit and inquisitive nature pay off for her in this regard.
But Sweet Pea’s curiosity and critical thinking skills can also be detrimental. Like the infamous chicken of lore, she is very fond of crossing the road. Observing the cows that graze on the pasture across the street, she reasonably deduces that piles of manure ripe with bugs and parasites will be available on the other side for her culinary delight. Fortunately, the road is a rural country lane that rarely sees any traffic, so Sweet Pea remains both intact and fattened on maggots and the other specialties of cow dung. If the circumstances were such that the grazing cows were on the other side of a highway, it is almost certain that Sweet Pea would no longer be contributing to the chicken gene pool.

Sweet Pea is an anomaly. Generally, chickens are a fearful lot. Hybridized from a peculiar Indonesian jungle fowl through the centuries for man’s purposes, the domestic chicken has been simultaneously rendered practically incapable of self defense and delicious, an unfortunate predicament for any species. The fact that this organism, with such a duality of self-interest, has managed to become ubiquitous is a testament to the animal’s utility and adaptation. Fear of the unknown serves the chicken well in terms of self-preservation.

On the other hand, fear and the consequent unwillingness to explore outside the culturally-accepted box can also lead to the demise of population when food is scarce and individuals lack the bravery or creativity to move onto a new food source. In the infinite resourcefulness of nature, natural selection has balanced the equation by allowing for both types of individuals in the gene pool. Observation of backyard chicken populations indicates that both creative, outside the box thinking and unquestioning thinking that favors adherence to social norms are useful and necessary adaptations. Simple observation at the Wood farm puts the distribution of creatively-thinking chickens at around one or two out of ten (10-20%).

The 10-20% ratio for various specialized genetic traits is surprisingly common within the genomes of the animal kingdom. For example, male pattern baldness, color blindness and homosexuality are also found within this range of proportion in all human cultures and populations. The consistent appearance of such traits across time and culture indicates they serve an important role for the fitness of the species. These traits are generally not more prevalent because they carry a cost to the individual. While Sweet Pea is a great asset to the other chickens in locating novel food sources, she is also a chicken with a greater probability of meeting an early demise.

Other statistical characteristics of the human population also bear noting in this context. 10-20% of the global human population is agnostic or atheist, while 80-90% of the global population adheres to the particular prevalent dogma of their geographic location and upbringing. Noam Chomsky, noted American intellectual, draws a similar conclusion with regards to what he terms “manufactured consent.” He speculates that 80% or more of the population is artfully distracted by the media diversions of sports, reality television and other mindless pursuits, which keeps them preoccupied and therefore unavailable for meaningful criticism of the institutions of elite power.

Whether one is a critical thinker or a group adherent is neither positive nor negative when it comes to natural selection. Both characteristics are equally important for the perpetuation of a species. But the situation becomes disadvantageous when the non-critical thinking people are manipulated into destructive behaviors that benefit only a few privileged elite rather than the population as a whole.

Today hundreds of millions of people will gather around televisions across the country and across the globe to watch a handful of men, whom they do no personally know and probably never will, kick and throw a ball down a field. Every tackle, the fans will feel as their own defeat. Every field goal or touchdown will be registered in the heart of every spectator as if they had scored the points themselves. We are a communal species, and our cohesiveness and ability to indoctrinate into the group is one of the traits that has ensured our long term success. But there comes a time when the chicken crosses the road, the group follows and the other side is not reached. Use this information to draw your own conclusions if you are so inclined.

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  1. "But the situation becomes disadvantageous when the non-critical thinking people are manipulated into destructive behaviors that benefit only a few privileged elite rather than the population as a whole."

    Very well said. Unfortunately, said at a time when this is reality and, thanks to modern mass media, likely to become even more prevalent.

  2. @David, I agree. I try to remain optimistic and disseminate information, but often find the task daunting. What else can one do?