Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Defending the Cynic

May 21, 2013

The world doesn’t need more kindness.

We once had a neighbour, E. She would drop in on ours, or occasionally one of us on hers, but E and us were different. We were friendly, neighbourly if you insist, but not pals or buddies. Christmas cards, maybe. She possessed qualities many might admire; trusting, considerate, giving, warm, but naive is not a sufficient adjective with which to describe her. On the scale of Sarah Silverman to Teething Blanket, E rests comfortably on the extreme right, snuggled in her nap-time bubble of delusion. 

E is in her late 20s, and an educated and working chemist. E is very much not a technologically handicapped Floridian retiree, struggling with all things email but nonetheless delighting in the occasional Skype with the grand kids. E grew up with the internet, so what transpired a year ago managed to surprise even those of us who knew enough to keep the sardonic to a minimum when in her company.

Like everyone else on M’s contact list, I recieved this email:

Subject: Financial Assistance

Hello, How are you doing today? I know this might be a surprise to you but am sorry to reach out to you in this manner. I apologize for not informing you about my travel to Scotland for a Meeting.

Everything is going fine but there’s a little problem, I misplaced my wallet on my way back to the hotel and right now all my credit cards and money are gone. Am sending you this message to inform you that am stranded at the moment and need your help financially. Am not sure if you have that much but will you be able to help me with a loan of 1600 British Pounds to pay the hotel bills and get back home.

I will appreciate whatever amount you can afford to help me with and am sorry for the inconvenience this message might cause you but please understand that am in a very bad situation right now and would appreciate if you could help me out.

Please let me know if you can help!

Thank you in advance


You can probably guess where this story is going, so I won’t dither. She gave them $1500. The obviously poor English was not enough to deter our kind and generous E, desperate to do right by her neighbour. Nor did she check in with say… me, right downstairs from her. Nor did she think it odd for M to seek out her help (as opposed to me, her parents, closer friends, etc) and nor did she think to text M before she departed with 2 weeks wages, instead of after, when she meekly inquired to M: “did you get the money?”

A police report was filed, M eventually rescued her email account from South African e-confidence men, but there was nothing to be done. A cash transfer via Western Union without the need for the recipient to carry I.D. was integral to the scam, and the money was simply gone.

“But she obviously has a really good heart” someone said to me in the aftermath of the incident, defending E. I was (and am) still agog and aghast at the complete lack of competence displayed by E when faced with an adversary. The inability to recognize the devil when you see him is a character trait unworthy of respect, and if that flaw flows naturally from a trusting nature, then we know where to make our incision. We know what boil should be lanced. If everyone was like E, there wouldn’t be anyone. Humanity would have perished in the harsh prehistoric landscape, realizing all too late the grim intentions of our predators.

Cynicism is treated as if it is a dirty word, but to be cynical is to be wary. To be cynical is to insist that the world meet a certain burden before we give a person or project our blessing. To be cynical is to believe that the good intentions of others is not enough. That evolutionary acquired trait, that some of us possess more overtly than others, is one deserving of as much admiration as the trusting optimist who dares to help. We will grab you by the hair as you leap to rescue the orphaned gazelle, because that rustle in the grass suggests a lion.

Robin Lindsay



Because I Said So

March 6, 2011

Innate doesn’t have to mean always has and always will be, only that it is so right now.

Innate morality is a well grooved standard of many a secularist when faced with the equally gouged interrogative: without God, where do you get your morals from? and the corollary how can anything be called right or wrong without an outside agency setting a standard?

For a time I was satisfied with the genetic argument; that it was necessary for our species to possess predispositions toward fairness, fidelity, and  kindness to those around us (our family, group, tribe, town, city, and nation, in about that order of priority, and commonly referred to in evolutionary terms as kin selection). Without an innate desire to help your neighbour (and for he to help you) our chances of surviving the harsh prehistoric landscape would have been very grim indeed. On the surface, a perfectly cogent argument defeating any argument for the necessity for a codified and objective morality.

But but but. Let’s return to the notion of genetic, or, more precisely, evolved morality. There is a germ of implication here that my chromosonally challenged and prefontally retarded mind cannot reconcile with the notion of innate morality (or ethics, I use the terms interchangeably).

If we are evolved and evolving* hominids, then the hominids we are evolving toward may very well lack innate morality.

Innate implies genetic, and genetic implies gene, and genes are selected for. Therefore, it is conceivable at a minimum that environmental factors in the future may be such that a lack of moral intelligence will be an evolutionary advantage. It is also conceivable that due to environmental change, that a wholly foreign, radically alien, social behavior might become the moral standard of non homo sapien hominids.

Before I am accused of moral relativism, let’s make this point perfectly clear. One can argue for a universal moral standard as it applies to human beings, regardless of culture or creed or nationality, and think that same morality does not apply to, say, earthworms, spiders, rabbits, lions, or lemurs. Those species seem to want something somewhat different out of life, and so may the creatures we evolve to be.

So, here we are left with the danger, if it can be called a danger, of moving away from a species that emphasizes fairness, courage, love, kindness, etc. to a species that may no longer value those traits. Is that a problem? I think a perfectly reasonable case can be made for either side of that debate. If a conclusion is drawn that such a state of affairs is a problem, then what that species will need is a book saying what is right and what is wrong. A bible, divine or not.

*Whether or not human beings are still evolving may seem like an obvious question. Of course we are. We are animals subject to our environment. But that process may very well have slowed to a trickle. I ask you to reflect on what Darwin said about islands, and the necessity of quarantining groups within a species so the same sets of genes are not passed on endlessly. Nowadays, the Earth is one giant breeding harem.

Robin Lindsay


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