Thursday, 31 July 2014
Doing it by Numbers
Fish, reptiles, amphibians… cold, slimy unfeeling, primitive inhabitants of our planet’s thin, life-supporting layers breed like there is no tomorrow. For them there isn’t; at least in the sense of any notion of legacy. Their offspring burst forth and struggle for survival – like tiny baby turtles being picked off by a deadly Luftwaffe of gull-Stukas as they instinctively dash for the sea, in a literal race for their lives. The numbers game is the strategy of indifferent forebears who will have no interaction other than, perhaps, a fight for territory with their grown-up but unrecognised progeny. It works, but it epitomises the red-in-tooth-and-claw nature of, er, nature.
The cold-blooded appear to be from an earlier evolutionary strain, successful but with small brains and driven by pure instinct. Higher up the chain of life come the mammals and birds which, generally, invest rather more in raising their broods, the young needing protection until they can fend and fight for themselves. But still, when push comes to shove, certain animals will readily devour their own young… and then have some more. All playing the numbers game; the more you have the greater your species’ chances of multiplying and of dominating.
The higher primates however, have a different strategy. With bigger brains and therefore bigger heads, they drop their sprogs before the giant heads make natural birth impossible to survive and then, despite all that pain, they dedicate a huge part of their lives to rearing the young and schooling them in the ways of their societies in order that they may then go on to do the same. It appears to be more than just raw nature driving their actions and the survival of that revered infant is placed at the highest level of their priorities; in humans sometimes coming even before survival of themselves… which is a bit short-sighted, if you think about it, but that’s primal urges for you.
Still, there’s only so much love to go around and there is a limit to how many children can be given the best chances in life. The more you have the more thinly you spread their possibilities and the more you depend on levels of altruism that may not be available when resources are stretched. Breeding in numbers is a survival trait adopted by animals with lower cognitive functions; a trait that fish, reptiles and amphibians appear to share with the worst of welfare dependents, primitive societies driven by authoritarian religions… and certain strains of Labour voters.
Better to give than to receive?
You can almost forgive the chavs for they know what they do, but there’s only so much oxygen to go around. If you want to know who the enemies of human evolutionary progress are you only have to look at who in the world has the biggest families. I mean, for fuck’s sake, how many Kardashians does one planet need?