CityBeat’s Living Out Loud – Cincinnati Blog

{October 11, 2006}   Give Society Good Breeding

cockroaches.jpgdarwin_charles.jpgreptiles.jpgIs it possible to expedite progress? Is there anything any of us can do to improve the health, wealth and happiness of society as a whole? On a person-to-person level, it’s obvious that a doctor can improve a patient, and a parent can improve a child. But, even at the level of the seemingly obvious, can we be sure we’re helping a man by giving him a fish if we fail to also teach him how to fish?

We know that humans can play a role in the evolution of animals. It’s called breeding. More recently we also have genetic engineering as a tool. The question remains whether we can play a positive role in the evolution of society.

When Charles Darwin spoke of “survival of the fittest,” he was not thinking of the smartest nor the handsomest, much less the most Aryan-like. No, Chuck had in mind animals such as cockroaches and reptiles. His emphasis was on the “survival.” Cockroaches and reptiles have a history. Boy do they have a history! It is because of their history that the prospects of their future survival seem rosy indeed. By comparison, humanity is a shooting star: A bright streak, granted, but one that could go dark as quickly.

The pattern of evolution of animals is similar to the evolution of human society, even if the time cycles differ so greatly. The overwhelming majority of the “biomass” of human society is the equivalent of cockroaches and reptiles that are our institutions and establishments, and belief systems. These have a history of survival, but are anything but elegant and intelligent. Just a couple of (minor?) examples are the military-industrial complex (which was around long before Eisenhower coined the phrase), and what we euphemistically call our criminal justice system.

So, if we choose to try to “breed” society into something super and Aryan-like, go for it! It’s just that we need to recognize what we’re up against. We must do it while strolling through Jurassic Park. This is not to say it can’t be done. Hell, it already is being done. By many measures, life for humans is getting better each day. I’m an optimist. But you’ve heard about the wall of separation between church and state? Forget about it. It’s a waste of time. Try this instead: throw some planking, as it were, over the swamp to protect the best and brightest of us from the cockroachian, reptilian institutions of society. This is to allow creative thinking to get done in relative tranquility. And admitting that we will never be able to determine who the best and brightest of us are, let’s paraphrase Tiny Tim: Save us, every one.

David E. Gallaher


Benj A. says:

I’m not a writer – don’t know how to express myself in words all that much. I’m glad Dave Gallaher is around to help me out. I like what he said.

Karen says:

As always from David, a smart post.

Polly says:

What’s the first thing I see this morning on your blog? A cockroach. So much for breakfast.

Heather says:

I believe I see what you’re saying, but society’s institutions, while they will no doubt endure, must evolve and adapt.

If we’re using evolution as a metaphor here, then it’s not so much the institutions themselves that have the history, but the ideas behind them. “Religion” endures, but the Greek gods have died out. Christianity and Islam are organisms that may or may not survive. Our military industrial complex, though a descendant of Rome’s, is a separate organism, and like its ancestor, may prove unfit to survive.

The question is not whether we can influence society’s progress, but how will we do it? Will we continue to evolve and progress, or will we cling to ancestors who have already proven that they are not fit to survive?

Gregory Flannery says:

I find David’s statement — “The overwhelming majority of the ‘biomass’ of human society is the equivalent of cockroaches and reptiles” — repugnant. It calls to mind the Nazi notion of “useless mouths” and “subhumans” who should be destroyed for the benefit of some superior race.

Heather says:

Yeah but I think by “biomass” he was referring to societal institutions.

But I see where you’re coming from, and I feel the same way about “super and Aryan-like”

Still, I think he’s speaking metaphorically, and perhaps even a little tongue-in-cheek.

Marilyn says:

I came to my computer this morning, a lot bleary, and opened up this essay by David. It was too much, too early for my befuddled brain, so I shut ‘er down and went for more coffee.

I’m back. David asks: “Is it possible to expedite progress? Is there anything any of us can do to improve the health, wealth and happiness of society as a whole?”

I have no answers.

But I do know this: We humans have been blessed by many great masters come to earth to teach us exactly how to progress. Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King come immediately to mind… there are more.

Unfortunately, we refuse to listen. We’ll do anything to avoid doing it the ‘hard’ way.

I have hope that someday humankind will eventually “get it” and move forward. Sure isn’t happening anytime too soon, though.

Heather says:

Marilyn, I often wonder whether human kind will eventually “get it,” and I have moments where I think, “well, we either will, or we won’t, and either way, I probably won’t be around to see it (unless there’s a hereafter, and if there is a hereafter, then we can be in no real danger of dying out, right?)”

Anyway, I can’t concern myself too much with the big picture because then everything else seems too insignificant to concern myself with.

I too, have no answers. I guess the only thing for each of us to do is to fumble our way through life the best way we can, and hope that in the end, we have done something, anything, “to improve the health, wealth and happiness of society as a whole.”

Beth says:

Man on Man. Just too deep and heavy for me.

Marilyn says:

And, in the midst of this heavy discussion, I take a break. I’ve become a germ-o-phobe since I lost my leg to infection. So, I’m applying some hand sanitizer (you know, kills 99.99% of germs). In looking at the label, I notice it carries an expiration date of 10/06. How in the world can an alcohol gel “expire”?! Life is absurd. Gotta love it.

Biscuit says:

its never the 99.99% that gets you -its always the .01%

Marilyn says:

Biscuit, I’m livin’ proof!

Jack says:

I’ll watch PBS if I want to THINK. Beth is right. toooooooooooo heavy.

Nate says:

“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” -Plato

I like to think of myself as an optimist, but it seems to be increasingly difficult with every passing day. Our leaders can be described as many things, but “philosopher” is one term that rarely applies.

It seems that man has been looking at himself and shaking his collective head for quite some time, convinced that the end times were upon us or just around the corner. And, somehow, we’ve endured up to this point. And like every other age before us, there is ample reason for both hope and despair.

Our technologies are advancing at breakneck pace, global communication is exploding and knowledge is spreading to every corner of the globe. Our capacity to treat diseases, feed the masses, and help our fellow man has increased exponentially just in my short lifetime.

But at the same time, our age-old institutions are plodding along just as David said, amending themselves just enough to adapt to new changes as they come and survive, but never enough to rectify outdated problems. Religion, it seems, is one of the last hurdles we must clear to truly call ourselves a “global society.” National pride, cultural egocentrism, and xenophobia still fuel foreign diplomacy and warfare just as much as they did when Darwin wrote, just as they did when Plato wrote. And that same acceleration of technology that has allowed us to help each other has given those institutions weapons of almost unimaginable power, while simultaneously depleting the planet’s natural resources and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to the point where we’re at a saturation level several times higher than the earth has ever seen; a level that even the most optimistic scientist admits we will never be able to bring down to its original state.

I’m an optimist, and I like to think that we will evolve, and that the information age will help those institutions evolve along with us. I like to think that some day, and someday soon, we will begin to realize that we must change the way we conduct our business and our worship our national affairs to align with the needs of humanity and those of only environment we have to exist in.

But until our leaders stop mimicking Jack’s reaction to serious contemplation and actually take the time to think about the long-term consequences of their actions—-rather than simply thinking as far ahead as the next election—-we’re going to keep digging out hole deeper. And we’re not too far from watching it collapse around us.

Heather says:

Speaking of PBS, I watched a documentary years ago where they did studies that proved that the best leaders are the best liars. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the best leaders are bad people, sometimes lying is necessary. If you’re running for office and you say, “look people, if you want the roads fixed, I’m going to have to raise taxes,” then you may as well not run because that kind of honesty will get you booted right out the door.

So if we know that the leaders are liars, because that’s the only way we will elect them, then we must, at the very very very least, insist upon thinking (Jack!), and keep an eye on the leaders.

At this very moment, our leaders have deployed fully loaded aircraft carriers in the general direction of IRAN! Let me think… hmmm… The republican party is imploding, and they’re going to lose the midterm elections… hmmm… Why might the president be sending ships toward Iran?

John says:


I kind of know what Jack is saying. Just bear with me.

I read newspapers, watch the evening news and consider myself fairly educated on what’s happening around me. A lot of the time when I visit this blog, I don’t want to be hit on the head. I know LOL attempts to be a little bit about everything (like life) but when it turns heavy, a lot of us want to tune out.

Frankly, I think that’s what we should do. If we read a post that is not to our liking, come back tomorrow. I don’t know why so many readers feel it necessary to comment even if we don’t have anything to say.

I hope I’m not ne of them but maybe I am.

Jim says:

Say what you want about David, but he’s always interesting. I’m glad to find him here. Someone told me he had a post up.

I’m new to this blog and I like it. A little bit of everything, the old mixed bag.

The purpose of a post is to provoke commentary. Then the commentary evolves. Like what’s happening right here, what I’m looking for is a way to enable not merely haphazard evolving, but intelligent “breeding.”
What I’m saying has nothing to do with individuals: I’m talking about memes, not genes.
If you haven’t heard of The Santa Fe Institute, check it out. If any group of minds will be able to breed memes, it will be theirs.

it all puts me in mind of a favorite quote from ole pogo who was at the time punting around the okefenoke swamp. “it ain’t progress i’m against. it’s just that there’s too much of it.”

Phil says:


You got it right, my man.

Geri says:

Nothing against David, but I prefer the lighter posts.

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