Random Thoughts

Schizophrenic Justice of Genes and Humans

Evolution is an amoral but inexorable process, aiming for justice by chance, with avowed selfish intentions and lacking foresight or premeditation. In its mindless pursuit of this goal, it reveals its schizophrenia in a pragmatically mixed approach. As Lynn Margolis postulated, the evolution of an eukaryotic cell involved a symbiosis between an anaerobic prokaryotic organism that engulfed another prokaryotic organism, which evolved to metabolize oxygen to generate ATP. Oxygen was a by-product of chloroplast bearing organisms that acquired the ability to use solar energy to manufacture essential ingredients of life while liberating toxic oxygen.

Once an eukaryotic organism was formed, it had two sets of self-replicating molecules based in the nucleus and in the organelles (chloroplasts and or mitochondria which served as the factories for producing ATP). Somewhere along the course of evolution, this organism chose to divert from clonal binary fission to sexual reproduction as a means of successful and prolific propagation to combat faster evolving parasites or escape the road to extinction by statistically unacceptable rates of mutation while copying the genome.

Historically and philosophically, its first and current choice for the subservient engulfed partner was devoid of justice and an unfair pragmatic compromise. All living creatures that we know of take an unfair approach of destroying the mitochondria of the fusing "male" gamete with indiscriminate injustice without mercy or concern. Interestingly in the case of nuclear chromosomes, evolution has gone to unbelievable lengths to ensure a fair division. The best proof of that is meiosis which contrarily quadruples the cells and nuclear chromosomes and then indulges in halving twice instead of once, to whittle down the chromosomes to a single set in the haploid gametes. This is to combat segregation distorter selfish genes that could bias their own propagation by taking advantage of the lottery of a single division.

This incredibly fairly dispensed justice conflicts diametrically to the unfair disregard for male mitochondrial chromosomes and their merciless planned extinction. The uncertain rationale for this is avoidance of civil war that would handicap the selfish purpose of ensuring the survival of nuclear genes dependent on the mitochondria for their existence in an oxygen rich environment. It could be an inexplicable sacrifice of justice for historically accidental or selfish purpose. Thus the seeds of injustice have been sowed in living creatures for nearly two billion years, but do not constitute a rational justification for its persistence in the present.

From the unconscious early evolution of justice in the battle of nuclear chromosomes to the present day partially successful state of behavior of Homo Sapiens is a long saga of the dark middle ages. There is no evidence of a clamor for or even a concept of justice in deer, gazelles or impalas to counter the predation by lions, tigers or cheetahs. There is a slight effort to divert the attention of the predator by enticing it to spare the helpless progeny by parents but it is feeble, half-hearted and directly proportional to parental investment in the progeny. The buffalo fully capable of fatally goring a lion, do not team up in a group to save a fellow buffalo from the predator. In birds and reptiles, this strategy is limited and variably prevalent, and in frogs and fish non-existent. The behavior is strictly proportional to parental investment in the young. Forgetting an inter-species sense of justice, even in the intra-species competition of male elephant seals, evolution shows no inclination towards justice or fairness. In elephant seals, the dominant males a mere 5%, impregnate all female seals by dominating a large harem, while nearly 80% of the young males' genes are doomed to extinction. There is no concerted effort by the deprived have-nots to redress the wrong by an united rebellion against the oppressive tyranny. Thus the level of brain evolution has no concept of inter-species or even intra-species justice, until we come to primates and the human history of the French, Russian or Iranian revolutions.

It is only in primates as shown by many primatologists and anthropologists that fluid alliances for selfish goals leads to a modicum of behavior remotely resembling a quest for justice or injustice, but still darkly tinged with personal gain. Regrettably even in humans, the bulk of the aspirations of justice are darkly colored by personal benefit, despite a small coterie of genuinely decent people. What changes with the evolution of the human cortex is that this selfish desire becomes more universal. It modulates the behavior of the still exploiting power elite, to portray an appearance of concern and justice. It may be only to fool, pacify and benumb the mercurial aspirations of the ignorant masses with short attention spans, limited intellect, profound ignorance and apathy. Nevertheless, the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you takes solid root in human behavior. America is a classic example of these failings of human nature.

It is perfectly rational from an individual American soldier's point of view to develop a pathological hatred and sub-human view of insurgents who unfairly try to kill them. The natural tendency is to over-react and be mercilessly hostile, but this is a vicious cycle with greater long-term damage, individually and economically. It is not the fault of individual soldiers. They react like normal human beings with their evolutionary baggage. It is the crime of the leaders who should know better, hopefully because they are smarter and see the bigger picture. The critical fault of American and many democracies is that leaders are not chosen for their ability, wisdom or foresight, but because they appeal to the baser instincts of humanity which are far more prevalent, pervasive and enticing.

The greatest problem with American foreign policy is that it is mired in the colonial era, where we could exploit the ignorance and lack of cohesion of American Indians, African slaves and third world crooks willing to enslave their populations for personal gain. Times have changed. We however, like old generals addicted to successful strategies of the past, anachronistically persist in these Procrustean policies to our own detriment. In the process, we bankrupt the country for the benefit of a few political contributors, oblivious of the fact that the former submissive have-nots have turned militantly aggressive. The beauty of Rawl's theory of justice is that given time, all will wise up to the fair play necessary to create unintended equality, from selfish purposes. If we fail to adjust and keep up with these changing circumstances, we are destined to be the world's pariahs and go to a debtor's prison of impotent haplessness.

The human quest for justice is and will always be flawed. The Egyptian concept of Mat, where a man's heart was weighed against a feather, the Chinese concept of the mandate of heaven, the Hindu opiate of Karma and rebirth to control and constrain have-nots into subservience, the pathological hatred of life and resignation to the unfairness of life of Buddhism, the promise of greater rewards of Christianity in afterlife, are all passe and get no audience. We are then left with the Islamic believers who put no value on life and are willing to die for their cause. They are exploiting a chink in our armor and this is not a plea to give in or kowtow to them, but to sober us from our intoxicating hubris to desist from wanton provocation. It wouldn't hurt to make a genuine effort to redress their legitimate grievances, as any good Christian would want to do. Human justice like human virtue is based on blind dogma or sheer convenience. Thus the ills of society are destined never to be righted. Vested interests and the inherent conflicts of human nature constrained by evolutionary need for power and money as a means to profligate mating, propagation and selfish personal comfort, leave no hope for utopia on earth. This is what has allowed the snake oil of religion and afterlife to flourish even in the enlightened scientific age of the present.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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