If we look into nature, there are plenty of hints for “general” evolution, not devolution. In fact, the very process of evolution is essential for linking several sub-fields of biology together: We acknowledge our DNA is a product of evolution, and we cannot help but laugh about the annual “Darwin Award” handed out posthumously for removing “stupid DNA” from the gene pool. But all too often biological evolution is confused or equated with an assumed cultural evolution of societies. The vulgarisation of Darwinian theory was quite en vogue in the early 20th century Europe – which resulted in the disaster of Nazi Germany.
So if we don’t want to equate cultural values with biological evolution, we have to consider each field alone.
Strictly biologically, we are devolving gradually. Of course, we are still evolving through epidemics, et cetera; but think of the deciding factor your day was so comfortable. It’s technology: Warm houses, plenty of food, excellent medicine and efficient transportation – all due to technology. The consequence for natural selection is quite easy to deduce: You just might not have to be as tough biologically anymore to survive. Sure, it’ll help, but it certainly is not a must anymore. The standard of the human gene pool gradually devolves to the current state of technology. This certainly does not sound good at first sight.
Strictly culturally, we seem to be “evolving”. The arrogance and politcal implications of one society declaring itself leading or superior aside, one could measure the success of a society through the level of happiness of its citizens. Certainly, I would prefer the democratic system as known today to any other system of rules governing my life. On the other hand, declaring the current form of rule as permanent and the most advanced is the greatest misjudgement of history itself. This leads us to the next question: What is history? Only if our history is evolving, and not cyclic or devolving, we could say that there is such a thing as “cultural evolution”.
So what happens if we fuse, not equate these two fields together? In my opinion, the outcome would be that both strains of evolution are overlapping and inter-dependent. What is meant by that?
Humans are the very reflection of this thought – these two spheres overlap and are inter-dependent. Some apes and all humans are able to form with their hands what their mind envisions. But only humans may through parental and institutional education accumulate knowledge. If the knowledge is passed on to the next generation, it becomes immortal. In this light, DNA might be information for biological evolution whereas knowledge might be information for cultural evolution.
But why are we accumulating knowledge? As animals, we might be curious and playful to an extent just for kicks and as a motor for creativity, but there is always an evolutionary mechanism for knowledge. In the end, human society only views such knowledge as worth accumulating that is usable in some form of technology, or simply put, usable for gaining an advantage in natural selection. Technology is simply there to minimize the effects of natural selection on our race.
The accumulation of knowledge, the extraction of technology brings in itself the requirement for some form of organization (society). If we think about the hardships these societies alone have brought upon human beings, one may become thoughtful. Another realization is that with technology comes power, because the one having an advantage in natural selection is preferred in all situations. Additionally, applied technology needs ressources – the one with more will eventually gain the upper hand. I think with these simple terms one could explain quite a lot of social phenomena (war, diplomatics, trade,…).
After thinking this all through I feel grounded. On the one hand, we are of course evolving like every other being through competitive eaters or diseases, on the other hand we employ a giant apparatus called “society” to push away the boundaries of natural selection, thus clearly devolving biologically!
If I understand this debate topic as most writers here as a moral, ethical or religious standpoint, I personally would come to the conclusion (within the above framework) that we should accept biological devolution in exchange for cultural evolution. Because if we gave up on culture, we would not have this debate here; we could not enjoy what we so easily call “Freedom” that cultural evolution has brought us; if we gave up on culture, work would become killing for food. Would you want to live in a world of purely biological evolution? Could you manage with the only concept being ” Survival of the fittest?”