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The proclivity for anthropomorphizing, the attribution of human-like traits and motivations to nonhuman creatures, inanimate objects and even abstract processes, is shared by humans of every rank and file from precious tiny children to grown-ass adult scientists. Electronics engineers are wont to speak of a circuit "seeing" a load impedance or "hearing" particular frequency bands. Rocket scientists have a whole arsenal of bon mots regarding the perversity of devices that consume large quantities of violently explosive fuels in short periods of time when they're operating correctly, and in much shorter periods of time when they are not.

Judgements such as these are, of course, by no means limited to professionals in their fields. Civilians and laymen are enthusiastically motivated to join in the fun up to and well beyond the limits of their understanding. One study with more than its share of such shenanigans is evolutionary biology. Whether you believe in Mother Nature or that Nature Is A Mother, you're sure to find something to scratch your pantheistic itch in the myriad fallacies and cliches that attach themselves to the offsprings of Darwin's theories like limpets on a tall ship. One of the most prevalent is that majestic vision, The Great Chain Of Being

dim lights, cue 200 voice chorus belting out The Circle Of Life to djembe accompaniment

Yes, the Great Chain Of Being, the beautiful, efficient and benign interconnection of all life, surely indicative of some divine purpose, so satisfyingly well-adjusted and impartial

record scratch

except when it isn't.

A thoroughly pagan and scientific (the two are not incompatible) friend of mine once opined that nature's basic law is "Make millions of them—something will eat them." Far from the thrifty, balanced picture of the biome that proponents of Gaia-worship circulate, biological life is all about overshoot, crash, pointless variation and endless wastage. The amount of accumulated crap we've managed to dump into landfills has always been dwarfed to insignificance by the billion-year backload of species, families and entire phyla gone bust and plowed under to make room for more.

The only contravening guidance to the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks process of evolution is the convenient feature that all the time in the world can create wonderful things, from the hummingbird's bill to the flower it exactly matches. Thus, ecology: intricate, dynamic, and seemingly finely tuned and exquisitely designed. It's no wonder so many people trust their lying eyes and believe A Wizard Did It, or at least some organizing principle beyond time and chance.

But it's when that particular article of faith gets press-fitted into other studies that the devil in the details sticks up its pointy little head. Sociologists with a life-sciences penchant have long asserted and studied the notion that human beings, far from being a single species, as our genetics would indicate, are actually fairly heavily speciated by our collective mental software, specializing in ways that render us separate and even incompatible with members of other specialties. This goes beyond simple tribalism or nation-states, breaking h. sapiens into seemly endless subgroups.

And as we all know, the first thing that two species sharing the same environment do is quarrel over resources.

Now, evolutionary science is crippled by a very specific limitation: like astronomers, who cannot travel to farthest space to experiment directly and are forced to theorize from abstract observations, evolutionists cannot travel to the distant past and must make their deductions from an excruciatingly flimsy geological record and the inspection of the distinctly mature ecosystems available to them in the laughably ephemeral span of a few human lives, their own and those who came before and reported. Even so, richly featured evolutionary theories abound, based on painstakingly pieced together clues and deep and hard thought.

One well-founded hypothesis is the idea of the evolutionary arms race: competing species co-evolving counters to the other's strengths. The cheetahs get faster, the gazelles get faster still. This in time leads to a state of stability, where neither side has enough advantage to eliminate the other and both improve rather than deprecate the overall environment. The key phrase here being "in time," as in "after millennia, maybe eons." Random processes are slo-o-ow, and just as in jazz there are no wrong notes, there are no successful mutations, only slightly better ones. Nature may be a mother, but she's a patient one.

People, on the other hand, whatever niche of employment they may inhabit, are living their mayfly lives totally obsessed with the past, the future and everything, and when they achieve power all out of proportion to their size and weight and ephemerality, they generally use it to carve their initials into the wall of history. In us, the processes of random selection are sped up a millionfold. The tragedy of the Holocene has been the inability of the environment to keep up or compensate for the depredations of hairless apes. This has led to the desertification of the Middle East, possibly the extinction of the post Ice Age megafauna, and the current global climate crisis.

But we are natural too, and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves better, harder and far more efficiently. The rampant genocides of the colonial era have given way to the more genteel genocides of late-stage capitalism and kleptocracy. In the battle of human species against species, more and more dire means are being seized by the species in power in order to maintain that power, and a response from those whom with whom they struggle, one well beyond the trivial terrorism and migration we've seen up til now, can only be a matter of time. And we live and plan and act far too quickly for the human ecology to achieve any stability through the glacial natural processes we all unknowingly (or all too knowingly, perhaps) are caught up in.

And that, oh Best Beloved, is how tumbrels appeared in the world. Sleep tight!

(Why yes, yes I have been reading A Tale Of Two Cities. However could you tell?)

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