Random Thoughts

Evolution, Super Powers and Achilles' Heels

Survival of the fittest is based on diversity of genetic material, its Mendelian heritability and the fickle whims of a capriciously altering environment. There is however a more ordered and less random arms race, prevalent between predators and prey, which is independent of the unpredictable and infrequent vagaries of the environment. The faster the cheetah gets, the greater the culling of the genes of the slow antelope, to enhance the proliferation of individual antelopes with more fleet-footedness. Thus the genes of slower antelopes are scrapped in the dustbin of extinction. The cheetahs have to get better. This then filters out the slower cheetah genes by dooming them to extinction and relentlessly continuing the arms race to absurd levels, without any marginal benefit for either the predator or the prey. It is like the oft quoted query of Alice in Wonderland to the Red Queen, "Why is everyone running here and not moving forward?" The classic reply is, "My dear, here you have to run hard and fast to stay in the same place, if you stay still, you fall behind." This was the era of the multipolar Europe of Metternich and the bipolar world of the US and the old Soviet Union. It was a kind of balanced polymorphism.

Times change and sometimes even the Masters of the Universe fumble and stumble and one class emerges with unchallenged superiority, as it occurred in the age of the dinosaurs. These behemoths acquired insurmountable physical superiority or what we could call military might. It could only be achieved at the cost of such an immense increase in bulk and muscle power, that the metabolic needs could only be fueled by disproportionate consumption and the inexorable exhaustion of fuel to sustain the military muscle. A chance meteorite or the ability of small prey with smarter brains, to use camouflage by blending themselves with their surroundings and feeding at night, while their predators slept, was enough to lead to the extinction of the invincible but intoxicated Tyrannosauruses, lulled by power.

There are other scenarios in evolution, which reveal a strategy to combat hegemony, based on military superiority. There is the evolution of co-operation amongst the weak, where the preyed upon or oppressed band together to resist. The wolves, a species of lesser predators did that by banding together and this is evident in the co-operation between Russia and China, Russia and India and the European Union. They are pooling resources and in the long run will stand up against bullying. The insect societies use a different strategy. They have a class of warriors or individuals with genetic identity, which allows them to sacrifice individual lives for their idea of greater good. This is the ideological path opted for by the Islamic terrorists. In addition they take a leaf out of HIV practice, by hiding in an intracellular fortress and thus present no target for our immune systems. The interplay between hosts and parasites should be a revealing insight of what else can occur. The malaria parasite is another example of this strategy of the guerilla fighter, which even George Washington used against the British. Another alternative is that of drug resistant bacteria, a product of our profligate and irresponsible misuse of our antibiotic defense. They transfer drug resistance like gratuitous Bad Samaritans by giving the ideological terrorists, access to their expertise in WMD. Lastly they behave like Leishmania by changing their antigenicity, before our intelligence or immune system can detect their alien or antagonistic nature and sometimes present the familiar antigenic credentials, thus masquerading as a friend or being one of us, while harboring selfish parasitic and destructive intentions. The purpose of this analysis is not to feed the national paranoia or promote the arrogant hubris of chauvinistic jingoism, but to alert the intelligent, that there are no certain means to insulate ourselves from harm, and fiat, xenophobic discrimination or absolute power cannot spare the king from the pain of the princess pricking her finger by a banished sewing machine needle of terrorism. It is the love of, and adherence to our principles and the alluring beauty of fundamental truth and integrity of our ideas, which will banish the slumber of our arrogance and the intoxicating torpor of our power and bring about our awakening to blissful happiness and security.

Lastly, we come to some of our recent wars and strategies. In Vietnam, we lost because of the fact that our philosophy of bombing opponents to subjugation, failed. A peasant society oblivious to the inconveniences of lack of potable water or functioning electrical power generation or sewage systems, with an infinite capacity to take pain (a definition of genius by Cardinal Neumann), cannot be subdued by an advanced society, held captive by instant gratification and a self-serving media and leadership, incapable of sacrifice and unwilling to risk life or limb, because of loss of religion, principle or belief. Now I am the first to accuse that religion is opiate for the masses and beliefs when not thought out are manacles for the stupid and ignorant. I am equally certain that life is meaningless and apart from ensuring the promiscuous perpetuation of your genes, like buying as many lottery tickets as you can afford, the only rational alternative to give meaning to existence, is to draw one's own line in the sand, like the Hindu 'Lakshmanrekha'.

The wisdom of the American military establishment is that like the Jewish Defense League, they learnt "never again". They wisely decided never to allow the media enough access or to allow the ignorant and naive public, susceptible to the winds of emotionalism, to have access to the truth and to serenade them with the emotional appeal of patriotism, to smother their scarce intellect and barely existent curiosity. This has worked well because as Walter Lippman said, "Nobody ever went broke under-estimating the intelligence of the American public." More importantly, this is not a tirade and condemnation of the American public, but a fact that the populace in all countries is naturally stupid and therefore democracy, though the lesser of all evils, is still susceptible to manipulation, corruption and exploitation, because it is based on the false premise of equality of human beings, antithetical to the nature of humanity. Similarly Marxism, in spite of its ideological allure of from each according to his ability and to each according to his need, is incompatible with the nature of man. This is why Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Christianity, the religions of renunciation are a great but impractical ideology merely being paid lip service to by their professed followers.

The sad irony, but also the redeeming salvation of evolution is the beautifully true statement of Tennyson. "The old order changeth, yielding place to the new and God (read Nature) fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world". The Bhagwad Gita verse, which Oppenheimer mistranslated as 'Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds', really means, "Now I have become Time, the destroyer of all things, good or evil". Thus the new American strategy to use overwhelmingly superior airpower to soften opponents, before committing troops likely to lead to unacceptable casualties, is going to push the capable, to develop WMD preferably nuclear (as China has done), which will make America hesitate. North Korea and Iran are already taking that route. The other thing likely to happen is, insecure countries developing missiles capable of shooting down US planes or sinking American aircraft carriers, thus putting a limit on the exercise of US military power. The well-known reluctance of America and its citizens to accept human casualties is reminiscent of the doting mother of Achilles to buy him immortality, while publicly announcing his vulnerability by advertising that his heels were fatally vulnerable. This turned out to be an open invitation to a Paris, to appeal to some Allah to guide his arrow to the fatal spot. Thus it is the irony of destiny, to sow the seeds of destruction in the fertile soil of success, to be nourished by the rain of chance! 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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