The Circumstance that Drives Evolution
The key factor that enables evolution to take place is the uniqueness of each individual in every species, which in turn guarantees a wide variation in the nature and characteristics of the individuals making up the species’ population. Without variation, there can be no change, and without change, there can be no evolution.
In the same way, in any human population, no two people are the same, and when any particular trait or condition is looked at, one can expect to find a huge span of differences throughout the group. This applies to manipulative skills, to physical traits, and to cognitive affinities. The extent of the range of differences depends on what is being looked at, and it is rarely possible to determine particular limits to that range. Indeed, the complexity of the system that constitutes a human being guarantees that we will never be able to fully define the parameters that determine any particular trait. All of which means that we cannot, with any confidence, make a map that charts the pattern of variation of any trait in a human population1.
The difference, however, between human populations and other cohorts of living beings is that human beings not only notice the differences among themselves, but ponder them, wonder about them—and, often, resent them. The latter response occurs most often—but by no means exclusively—when they see others with a certain characteristic that they themselves wished they possess. The first recorded instance of this phenomenon is in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, where we find Cain jealous of his brother Abel’s ability to please God, a situation that leads to his murdering Abel and spending the rest of his life bearing “the mark of Cain”. Envy in its varied forms is so rampant that it became necessary to admonish against it in the Ten Commandments2. The point being made in the Bible—and a key element of the moral code of the monotheistic religions that consider the Bible a sacred book—is this: other people are likely as not to have what you do not have, and you’d better get used to it, put up with it gracefully, and move on with life. Thus variation, the factor driving evolution, came to be built into the fabric of the three great monotheistic religions that today form the core belief system of over half the world’s population.
Admonishing people to put up with difference is not, however, the same as getting them to accept or embrace it. Side by side with the recognition of variation is an oft-expressed yearning to live in a world so abundant with all things people need and want that no one will ever covet anything anyone else has—not their possessions, not their status, not their health or their abilities. This is the way the fabled Garden of Eden is depicted, and the way the eschatologies always depict the ideal “end of days” for human society—and for all living beings—in the world: “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”, and so forth. Peace, harmony, joy, and happiness prevail, no one wants for anything, and no one has unfulfilled desires.
The Philosophical Basis for the War on Evolution
Then came the two great revolutions of the 18th century, and “the end of days” suddenly seemed accessible in the immediate present. Both held out promises for actively transforming human society, promises that had never been made, and probably never contemplated, before that time in history.
One was the American Revolution, in which a new social order was proclaimed based on what are called “self-evident truths”. The opening words of the Declaration of Independence are laden with significance. They conflate ethical principles with a utopian vision, and by doing so, combine in one document an exposition on a moral theory of “human rights” that is compatible with the reality of human variation, with a call to create a utopian society where “equality” prevails.
Let’s examine this more closely. If we leave out the utopian declaration on “equality”, we have the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, . . . that [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
This is a statement of moral principles, which begins with a set of three hypotheses as starting points—that every human being has an inherent, unchallengeable right to (1) life; (2) liberty; and (3) the pursuit of happiness. The statement makes it clear that its authors justify these hypotheses on two grounds: on their “self-evidence”, a rationalistic/secular starting point; and on the fact that they are God-given, a theistic starting point.
The statement then goes on to pose an answer to the following question: how can one establish rules to govern a group of individuals, each of whom is zealously protective of their own personal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Because of the inherent diversity of interests and skills in any group, there has to be a mechanism to smooth over differences and conflicts that threaten to dismantle the group before the common goals can be attained. The particular mechanism advocated in the Declaration of Independence—again, it seems from the text, another in the list of “self-evident truths”—is representative government.
So the bulk of the opening section of the Declaration of Independence is a statement of philosophical principles that recognize at their core the diversity and conflict that lies at the heart of Evolutionary theory3. And yet, smack in the middle of it all, is the clearly utopian declaration that “all men are created equal”, signifying that the equality of all human beings is another “self-evident truth”, separate from any “rights”—an assertion that in one sentence swept away the whole of human history which hitherto had known only stratified societies. What “equal” means in this context is never explained. On the face of it, the phrase means that all human beings are basically the same in all respects, which is what the word signifies in philosophy, science, and mathematics (all subjects well known to the Founding Fathers)—a meaning that blatantly contradicts the reality that the authors of the Declaration experienced4.
The question immediately poses itself: why did the authors of the Declaration insert that phrase? Why would they say something so contrary to experience—and so clearly utopian in character? I am unaware of any writings they or their contemporaries produced that shed light on this question. One can only speculate. But it is tempting to connect this to their determination to rid themselves of formal, legally established class distinctions—no king, no nobility, just a society of commoners, something that was unlike any society in the history of Western culture except for the failed democracy of Athens, a model which they carefully rejected when crafting the Articles of Confederation and, later, the Constitution.
During the nineteenth century, equality came to be woven into a variety of social theories involving political organization, legal principles, economics, social psychology, child development, and epidemiology, among others. Some examples: In the realm of political theory, every variety of socialism and communism is based on the ideal that in all important respects, everyone must enjoy the same life outcomes. In the realm of law, American Constitutional law has for some time struggled with concepts like “separate but equal” which, when applied to schools in the late 19th century, allowed racial segregation to take place in schools if, and only if, the schools—and hence the anticipated outcomes—are completely alike in every respect. What is interesting is that when Brown vs. the Board of Education was decided in 1954, the concept of “equality” was not challenged, but rather the notion that equality could exist when there was forced separation. The ideal of equality remained. In the realm of child development, during the past century it has become common for child-rearing guides to appear that explain to parents what specific characteristics to expect children to have developed at every stage of growth—a notion that makes absolutely no sense unless you consider all “normal” children to be identical in their development. In the realm of epidemiology, individual variations – in such critical areas as immune systems, medical histories, and genetic dispositions – are rarely taken into consideration. And we shall see later how this concept has devastated education.
Thus the rather sudden “discovery”, in the 18th century, of the “self-evident truth” that all individuals are like each other, launched a full-scale war on Evolution, one which is still in full swing in the 21st century.
The Industrial Revolution—and Its Role in the War on Evolution
The second great 18th century revolution was the Industrial Revolution, which held out the possibility that material goods could be produced in such abundance as to satisfy the needs and desires of everyone to their full extent. The invention of power-driven machines, each of which, alone, could produce more than the output of a cohort of individual people, and create items of uniform quality or perform tasks at a standardized level of competence, all without getting tired—this launched a period of economic growth and prosperity that could never have been imagined before. It also heralded the advent of a time when an increasingly large number of people could enjoy a level of material prosperity that was heretofore limited to the upper classes of society.
But the Industrial Revolution in and of itself was, at best, neutral on the subject of equality or diversity, just as trade is. The basis for economic activity of all sorts is the desire of all parties to trade in order to obtain something they do not have—goods, services, ideas, pleasure—and the willingness to part with something they do have in order to obtain it. Trade has nothing to do with the relative social status of the parties. What the Industrial Revolution did was make a vastly larger number of products available for trade, and include an ever-growing portion of the world population as participants in a wide variety of trading activities. How this fundamental socio-economic transformation affected the comparative well-being of individuals depended on the institutional structures established to regulate the relationship among people in a given society.
I have long thought the Industrial Revolution, by its very nature, led to the necessary conclusion that human beings were interchangeable parts in the overall scheme of things—that they were as identical as the industrial machines on which they labored, and as equal to each other as the products that those machines made. I now see that this is not the case, and that the Industrial Revolution in and of itself did not create a mode of human existence that was in any way more repetitive, more brutish, or more unresponsive to the expression of individuality than the rural life of subsistence farming that dominated human existence prior to the 18th century, and continues to dominate it in much of the world today. What the Industrial Revolution did was provide a helpful backdrop to those who believed total human equality was a realistic goal for the present.
For some social theorists, however, the Industrial Revolution meant that the very concept of “scarcity”, as applied to any item involved in trade, was no longer a fundamental factor that governed the nature of trade. They saw machines as having the potential to produce wealth, including the basic items for survival—food, shelter, and clothing—without limit. For them, it meant that there need be no differences between people in the extent to which their individual needs and desires are fulfilled, and that, as a result, envy in all its manifestations could vanish, if only the social order were properly structured. They saw the Industrial Revolution as the technological tool enabling universal human equality to become a reality. But how could the transition take place from the state of the world at the turn of the 19th century, to the utopian “end of days” scenario that the two Revolutions heralded? What was needed to change the “real world” into the ideal world these thinkers felt should and could exist?
The answer lay deep in the historic tradition of Western philosophy. It was Plato who had first struggled with defining institutions that could most effectively guide human society to its highest and best condition. His solution: a society ruled by “philosopher kings”, who could bridge the gap between the world of ideals and the world of reality. He envisioned a society subject to the guidance of an elite community of “experts”, of superior intellects who had the wisdom and knowledge to use their familiarity with “the ideal” in ways that would successfully meet the challenges of daily existence faced by the mass of common folk who make up the bulk of society. The 19th century turned to the Platonic solution to battle Evolution, and the intervening years have seen the power of “experts” in every walk of life increase steadily.
The Core of the Strategy Employed to Carry Out the War on Evolution
The nature of every species is embedded in its young from birth. Changing that nature is tantamount to changing the species. That is why any institution that wants to change human nature focuses on somehow imposing on young children its new vision of what human nature should be. Many ideologies and religions have held the view that having control over children until the age of seven will guarantee that they will continue throughout their adult lives along the path laid out for them. Transform children, and you can transform all of humanity.
And so the spotlight shone on the training of children to be accepting of a world that held them all to be the same, from birth throughout their lives. The task, however, turned out to be monumental. It involved identifying people who were “experts” in every aspect of child rearing and child development, and who claimed to know the methods needed to carry out the stated goal. Since children are extremely complex creatures, it is clear that what was needed was a cohort of such “experts” who could, among them, span all the areas of theory and practice that touch on child development—areas as diverse as medicine, psychology, social theory, physiology, cognitive theory, science, economics, and political theory.
Moreover, it was necessary not only to identify such a cohort, but also to get the public at large to accept the “expertise” these people were professing. This is clearly a daunting task, since the goal being sought is one that the vast majority of people do not accept as realistic. So at best, it takes generations of propaganda, debate, and in many cases outright coercion, to finally attain a tipping point beyond which the programs being advocated by these “experts” come to be accepted by the general population. Which is why it took about a century and a half to get to that point. Let’s take a look at how the process played out.
What is “Education” and What Does Evolution Tell Us About It?5
It’s fair to say that the most common answer is that education is “the act or process of acquiring knowledge”6. A person can engage in this process at any age, and indeed everyone does. But this view of education misses one of the crucial aspects of the concept. The word comes from the Latin “educere”, which means “to bring out”; and its full meaning involves the profound notion that all real processes of learning are closely related to developing what is within the soul of each person—providing ever deeper realizations of the passions and aspirations that reside in every individual human being. To acquire an education is to engage in a lifelong examination of ways to help each of us follow the path that we feel destined to pursue.
In general, the greater the ability of members of a species to observe and remember important features of their environment–features that include, particularly, the behavior of older members of the species—the greater the percentage of survivors from childhood. When it comes to humans, the added features of self-awareness and, at a very young age, of word creation, allow human young not only to observe adult behavior, but also to use their innate analytic skills to create theories about that behavior, and to act on the basis of those theories. Part of those skills revolve around mimicking the actions of others, but that is only a small part; mostly, individualized patterns of behavior are created based on what each child has concluded are the important actions. The existence of the inborn drive children have, to develop into successfully functioning adults, and of their inborn skills to convert that drive into actions, are an undisputable feature of evolutionary child development, without which humans would long ago have vanished. Indeed, until a mere 150 years ago, there was no outside force directing every child to their destiny7, despite which a rich variety of outcomes, directed from within, emerged.
Just think about it for a moment. No engineering school produced the builders of the ziggurats, the pyramids, the temples, the aqueducts, the trading ships of past eras—or the inventor of the steam engine. No Military College brought forth Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, or Napoleon. No Art Institutes could claim as their graduates the painters and sculptors of Persia, India, Greece, or Europe of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. No Graduate School of Arts and Humanities produced Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides. More to the point, and much more relevant to the world of the 21st century, no experts led Newton, Pasteur, or Einstein to the creative heights they scaled, or indeed led the many different inventors of our IT world to their destination. Where did all this come from, if not from some essential human characteristic of striving to function successfully in the world while giving reality to their inner passions?
A billion years of evolution of life forms, and about a million or so of human evolution, have demonstrated one thing beyond question: life unfolds from birth to adulthood without external instruction on “how to be a successful adult in the current environment”—or at least it must do so for any species that survives beyond the first generation or two! Survival demands innate skills available from birth that enable them to negotiate the path to survival.
Education, in its full richness, begins with the acknowledgment that every human being is unique, and that, as enormously complex creatures, we all are destined to have a trajectory through life that is ours, and ours alone. And the immediate consequence of this realization is that, in a society such as ours that is based on the ideal of total respect for each individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, any curb on that respect must be subject to unimpeachable justification.
How Did the War on Evolution Affect the Education of Children and Adults?
The current state of education rests on a negation of the concept of education presented above. Individual passions, needs, and desires of children are essentially irrelevant in the educational institutions of our society. This state of affairs had to be established by those who engage in a War on Evolution.
Let’s put ourselves in the place of those who, at the turn of 19th century, sought to create a society in this country where “all men are created equal”. They were not fools; they could see that the socio-economic conditions in the New World could not support an effort to bring human equality into practice. Two things militated against it: one, the motley collection of cultures that were represented in the various waves of immigration which flowed into the country at an ever-increasing pace, cultures that differed deeply in language, traditions, and beliefs. The second was the obvious fact that most people lived on a level of bare subsistence and yes, in that respect they were already equal to each other, but there was no way of making them equal to that not insignificant population who enjoyed wealth and other benefits beyond their reach.
But as the 19th century unfolded, two new factors entered the picture that altered the picture dramatically. The American Civil War eliminated the one glaring example of failed ideals that plagued the Founding Fathers, and their successors—the existence of institutionalized slavery in their country. In addition, in Europe, the Prussian monarchy, whose absolute authority over the population was threatened by a century of European unrest triggered by the French Revolution, decided to introduce a rigid system of schools directed at all children. The stated goal was to institute among the population uniform acceptance of their state of subjugation, by coercing children to bow to authority, as expressed through state schools. The Prussian system was meant to be, and became, a powerful “equalizer” of the population, and a highly effective tool in providing a pool of subjects who became, de facto, interchangeable components of society. As Prussia became the dominant component of the newly formed country of Germany, its school system was imposed on the entire German citizenry and, as the rest of Europe watched Germany gain supremacy in Europe in all matters military and cultural, the same type of school system was seen by other governments to be desirable and effective tools in maintaining their control in their respective countries, even where their political systems were not monarchical.
This development was carefully observed in America, and its usefulness in transforming the naturally varied dispositions and behaviors of children into flatter, more standardized and obedient behavior was carefully noted. In this way, those who sought to make utopian equality a fact of life in America now saw, in the material benefits of the Industrial Revolution and in the schooling of European autocracies two factors that finally seemed to make their War on Evolution winnable. All that was needed was a collection of “experts” who would lead the way, and claim that “science” validated their efforts.
I have written elsewhere in some detail an account of how the scientific world view came into being, and came to be the dominant world view of our day8. The irony is that the same people who believed in the scientific world view that put Evolution at the center of the story of how the human race came into being, came to espouse a wide-ranging collection of anti-Evolutionary theories that dominated schooling and utterly destroyed the naturally evolved processes of education which had brought the human race to where it is today.
A few glaring examples can shed light on how destructive the work of these new experts has been. Around the middle of the 20th century, books were published by researchers in prestigious institutions claiming to describe in great detail the various developmental stages that all normal, healthy children, without exception, undergo from birth. As a parent, if you noticed that a child of yours was not undergoing the requisite transformations at the indicated time periods, you were basically told that you had something to worry about—that this was a sign of some “abnormality” that had to be addressed. All at once, the vast diversity of developmental steps that had characterized children from the beginning of the emergence of homo sapiens became a sore point; no more bell curve, just a very narrow allowance for small differences among children, all of whom were now said to be “equal”.
It was not long before this approach spread across the entire world of schooling. Standard curricula were established for all children, regardless of their personal interests, abilities, affinities, or passions. Standard tests were applied in increasing frequency at various ages. In every subject area, every child was expected to be at exactly the same place in knowledge at exactly the same age. And very early in the game, the implication of abnormality if a child deviated from this equalizing expectation became a specific diagnosis of abnormality, which in turn came to be medicalized, with an ever-growing array of treatments developed and imposed, often through coercion by authorities with the power to coerce.
The very notion of a curriculum that was essential for every child, without exception, to master is in and of itself anti-Evolutionary. The “experts” who decide which subjects are essential are of necessity rooted in the present; they can only choose among the areas of intellectual pursuit that exist at the time of their activity. To declare a state of knowledge in any area today as necessarily important to children who will grow up to be adults tomorrow is to turn a blind eye on the very likely probability that today’s knowledge may be totally irrelevant and useless tomorrow. Anyone who doubts the effect this approach has on the creative powers granted by nature to all human beings need only ponder the fact that all transformational change comes from people who reject the prevailing intellectual fashions.
The devastating effect of the War on Evolution can be seen just as well in the adult world. Up until the 20th century, the only criterion that decided whether a person could claim to be a practitioner of a certain art, profession or trade was whether that person was capable of doing so, and the test of that capability was the real world in which the practice was carried out. If you wanted to be a lawyer, you figured out a way to prepare yourself, and then set out to be one; if you satisfied clients who came your way, you succeeded. Most aspiring lawyers worked as apprentices to those already successful in practice, but not all did so. So one could expect to find in any community a wide spectrum of lawyers with varied specialties and success rates in different venues. Think of Abraham Lincoln as a fairly typical sample. As the equalizers swept the field of jurisprudence into their net of conquests, it became necessary for everyone to go through the same imposed curriculum to be recognized to practice law. Not surprisingly, the proportion of lawyers who have been creative in the field has dropped radically, the dull standardization of legal practice—much of it robotized by now—has become widespread, and the exciting ferment of juridical philosophy has all but died.
The War on Evolution has devastated education, and it is no exaggeration to say that in doing so, it has threatened the continued existence of the human species. Without permitting, and encouraging, variation in all manifestations of life, the continued emergence of life forms and social structures that can survive the constant upheavals that Evolution causes in the universe cannot take place in a normal, natural manner. No better example exists than the American Revolution which, in its ethical statement of the existence of unalienable rights that every human being possesses, took the wholly unprecedented and unexpected step of seeking to create a new socio-political order, one which the Founding Fathers felt would be a fore-runner of a global transformation of community organization. That Revolution could only happen in a physical and intellectual environment where deviation from a prevailing norm was accepted, as it was in the New World. The War on Evolution, conducted in the arena of schooling, now threatens to negate the very same ethical principles that the American Revolution set at the heart of this country’s being.
Reversing Course: Evolution Redux
Reversing course is not as difficult a task as getting there in the first place, because the original goal involved fighting the result of aeons of Evolution, whereas the aim of reversing the process involves letting Nature take its course—putting Evolution back on track.
As we saw, the core strategy of the War on Evolution was based on the maxim, “Transform the child, and you can transform all of humanity.” To defeat the armies of experts and their backers who engage in that War, it is necessary to do something in principle extremely simple: allow child development to revert to its natural place in the scheme of things.
The wonderful thing is the lack of symmetry between the act, and its undoing. Transforming the child into a creature other than that designed by Nature requires, as we have seen, a war, and an army. Allowing the human child to be what Nature and Evolution created it to be requires—what, exactly, does it require?
It requires throwing out the “experts”. Let them find something useful and productive to do that is in harmony with the natural order of things.
It requires creating environments away from the hazards of modern life where children can be themselves, creating their unique world views to carry them through life.
And once such environments have been created for children, it requires getting out of their way.
The way forward can best be illuminated by the classic poem written almost a century ago by Kahlil Gibran, in his book entitled The Prophet9.
Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
1. The standard response to this inability to provide convenient charts of trait variations over a population has been to assume the trait has a random variation from some mean, and to generate the famous/infamous bell curve as the chart of choice. This despite the fact that there is no theoretical justification for the premise of randomness.
2. In fact, the last five of the ten are arguably all about envy and its evil consequences.
3. I realize, of course, that the Founding Fathers flourished in the century before Evolutionary Theory was pronounced and gained adherents, and that my references to Evolution in the context of the American Revolution seems anachronistic. But this essay is concerned with the legacy of that Revolution, as it played out in the time when there was almost universal acceptance of Evolutionary Theory by thinkers of all stripes.
4. Synonyms listed in the dictionary tell the story: identical, the same, equivalent, uniform, alike, one and the same; as do antonyms: different, unlike, diverse, dissimilar. A more different from the simple meaning of “equal”, and in fact is even more stringent and more in conflict with Evolution, since the only way all human beings can have the same opportunity as each other is that they are effectively totally equivalent not only in their essential being, but also in the environmental factors that influence their lives.
The notion of universal human equality was brought from America to Europe by the French military and civilian personnel who had served side by side with American revolutionaries in their war against Great Britain. It became part of the motto of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”, which, significantly, omits any mention of “unalienable rights”.
5. For a more extended discussion, see Daniel Greenberg, The Meaning of Education (Framingham, MA, Sudbury Valley School Press, 2018).
6. This is the definition provided by the Collins English Dictionary—Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. It is the simplest and most generally applied definition that I could find.
7. I am, of course, talking of the situation on a species-wide level. I am not claiming that there are not instances—many instances, indeed—of individual children being managed or coerced into activities designed to please others with power over them.
8. Daniel Greenberg, Constructing Reality: The Most Creative of All the Arts (Framingham, MA, Sudbury Valley School Press, 2018).
9. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1923).
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