"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Evolutionary Disadvantage Of The True Believer–The Genius Of Epictetus And Darwin

Evolutionary biology teaches that the most adaptable organisms are those that survive best and longest.  Cockroaches have lived basically unchanged for over 300 million years because they do not care what they eat or where they live.  They survive well in all climates, indoors or out, rain or shine.

Raccoons have been around for only a fraction of that,  perhaps 25 million years, but have survived for the same reason – adaptability.   While not as strong, aggressive, or dominant as other animals, their intelligence, tactile sensitivity, agile paws, and  omnivorous habits have given them an evolutionary leg up.

Alex Hardin had always been considered indecisive.  When asked what kind of food he liked, he always said, “Whatever” and meant it.  Pork, lamb, fish, hummus were all the same to him.

It wasn’t that he lacked taste.  On the contrary, Alex had a fine palate, could always identify the wild berries in the coulis, the earth spices in the truffle sauce, and the back-terroir flintiness of certain Oregon pinots.  It’s just that he didn’t care.  Put more carefully, he placed no particular value on cuisine.  Food had its interesting variations and subtleties, but it was still fodder – basic sustenance.

It was no surprise that it was of little difference to him whether his vegetables were organic, locally-produced, or farm-grown.  He was just as happy with tomatoes and pears grown in Argentina or Chile than those grown around the corner. He was indifferent to the living conditions of poultry, farmed fish, or pigs.  He was happy enough to eat oysters while they were plentiful, but knew that with the increased population pressures on the Bay, their numbers would eventually dwindle.  This was not a matter of concern, only fact. Play the cards you are dealt, limit desire, figure out what’s what before it is too late, and let the world take its course. 

When he was a child, his parents thought he was born indecisive.   How could anyone with so few preferences and so few conviction ever survive in the real world.  The tried to get him to declare his preferences.  Few children liked broccoli and most liked ice cream.  What was Alex’s demurral all about?  Neither his mother or father could ever have been called indecisive.  Their careers in law demanded just the opposite.  If cases were not decided on truth, they were adjudicated based on strong, logical, well-argued convictions.

The Hardins, who had never read Epictetus or Seneca the Younger, could not have possibly recognized what was to become their son’s Stoic bent, nor would they have appreciated and encouraged it if they had.  For them the world was made up of winners and losers and nothing in between.  How would their son survive in this contentious, competitive world?  Not only did he survive but prosper.  His demurral, diffidence and Stoicism were key to the survival of the fittest as Darwinian randomness and natural selection.

Image result for images epictetus

For example women were intrigued by Alex Hardin.  His elusiveness was a challenge.  Unlike men whose sexual interests are basic and simple, women want to know men, what makes them tick, and to figure out who they are. Alex loved all women  for the unique, special, one-of-a-kind sexual responsiveness which was as stamped and patented as any original.

Since he was happy with all women, he entertained them all, and they were happy with him.  He had many lovers, and fathered many children  The women he chose were beautiful, talented, and intelligent; and his many offspring inherited the best traits of both parents and were in their adult years just as admired.  In evolutionary terms, he was preeminently successful.

His logic, intellectual discipline, canny insights about competition and financial and economic challenge, led him to industrial captaincy.  His methods, ideas, and dominated the market.  He could have been successful in many corners of the market, for his talents were fungible and easily applicable.  His diffidence about which products to choose to promote was irrelevant.  It was his pure and unshakeable logic that mattered.  The end results – market share, financial rewards, and economic influence –followed in order.  He left behind not simply a trail of recognizable, innovative, and desirable products, but an imitable process, a way of doing business – a profound understanding of market capitalism and the most innovative ways of exploiting it.  In evolutionary terms, he had changed the way America did business; and since as Engine Charlie Wilson once famously said, “The business of America is business”, he had changed America itself.

As far as politics were concerned,  Alex’s intellectual remove and emotional diffidence allowed him to move easily in all political circles.  His social grace, silver tongue, wit, charm, and intellectual superiority convinced everyone that he was on their side; and by so doing he was able to influence both sides without them being fully aware of it.  His influence was not a matter of political philosophy or moral commitment, but one of process and procedure, the application of logic and the parsing of issues as Aquinas, Augustine, and Kant would have. As such he had an important influence on a notoriously illogical, imprecise, and wobbly institution.

Image result for images st thomas aquinas

Alex never doubted his Stoic reserve, nor felt  there was ‘something missing’ in such a temperate, disengaged life.  On the contrary, what could be better than his Arab princesses, executive suites, and homes in Bimini, Gstaad, and St. Tropez? Why should caring about any of it,  believing in the rightness of his enterprise or the just rewards of personal responsibility and investment, matter at all?  Caring leads to commitment which leads to belief which leads to errant logic, mistakes, and failure.  History is filled with kings who overreached, Popes who damned, and courtiers who plotted. 

To Alex it seemed as though there were nothing but belief in America unfortunately expressed as righteousness, moral indignation, anger, and hostility.  It wasn’t only that the most strident and intolerant interest groups had no coherent, rational, evidence-based foundation for their protest, but such collective emotionality was directed at others.  While true belief may be the result of individual search and personal conclusions, it rarely is.  It seems to need resistance to firm up and aggressive push-back to consolidate.

Beliefs alone are not so much the problem; it is the militancy which results from those beliefs that causes trouble.

True believers do have a comic side – the manic, hyper-passionate, revivalist fervor of those for whom pollution is not just an environmental hazard but an assault on dignity, community, and personal value.  For whom lagging black, gay, and women’s rights is an insult.  Protests, demonstrations, and marches are St. Vitus’ dances, circus side shows, and vaudeville acts.  Who could not enjoy this show?

After his death, reams of copy were written about him, his successes, his brilliance, and his patriotism; but few knew or even suspected his Stoicism, and his instinctive Darwinian emotionless, evolutionary purpose.  In the survival of the fittest, he was the fittest.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.