Natural Selection Is Not Your Friend

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Natural selection is not a deliberate process. There's no consciousness behind it executing a grand plan for humanity. But if there were, that consciousness would not be your friend. We attribute our survival skills to natural selection, but it has not taught us how to survive. It has taught us how to reproduce. After that, it doesn't care what happens to us one way or the other. For that reason, we would do well to regard our "natural impulses" with suspicion. This will come as no surprise to anyone confronting the rate of unwanted teen pregnancy. Natural selection doesn't care if pregnancy ruins your life. But what about true love--the kind that makes you feel as though your destiny, your truth, and your ultimate happiness have been revealed to you? Human beings have learned to reign in (to some extent) their raw sexual hunger through morality, cultural pressure, and the law. But what if true love is natural selection's version of The Empire Strikes Back? Consider how many marriages end in divorce or acrimony. Consider how indifferent true love is to things that really support lasting relationships such as shared values, mutual respect, and the ability to negotiate successfully. Consider how true love strangely transcends sexual intercourse while leading always inevitably to precisely that. Consider that true love is great at making babies but not so good at making marriages. Once you reproduce, natural selection is interested neither in your quest for fulfillment nor your need to put the kids through college. The next time you get that loving feeling, ask yourself whether your heart is really leading you to the ultimate union of truth and beauty or natural selection is just luring you into the woods to have its way with you. The thought that our highest aspirations, like our basest urges, might be not our truest selves but something more akin to demonic possession is unnerving. But if you really want to find fulfillment, especially with another person, you might be better off trusting your head than your heart.


Tim B

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Timothy Bagwell holds an interdisciplinary humanities doctorate and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, both from the University of Iowa. He has taught at Grinnell College, the University of California at Riverside, and Vanderbilt University, where he was a Mello...

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