Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tension And Habitat Part 5: Safety And Adaptation

Once a species becomes dominant in a habitat, it starts to alter that habitat.

Granted, various species possess different degrees of power over their environments. We can't expect nonsentient creatures without manipulative organs to do as well at altering their habitats as Man. All the same, the process gets under way as soon as species dominance is established.

The first of all alterations to be addressed, consciously or otherwise, is for safety.

Safety is a badly abused concept. In reality, it's a matter of degrees and comparisons, but it's often treated (especially by left-liberal political mouthpieces) as if it were a condition that can be made absolute. When a rational man says "We're safe here," or "This [item or practice] is safe," he's not guaranteeing that absolutely no harm could possibly come of it. Such a guarantee would be both fictitious and foolish, by the nature of the laws that govern the universe.

With regard to habitat safety, the usual progression of things is as follows:

  • Category 1: Hazards to the Alpha members of the species are addressed until the rate at which they victimize the Alpha member is reduced to a tolerable level.
  • Category 2: Hazards to the average members of the species are addressed next, with the same effect.
  • Category 3: Hazards to the most vulnerable members of the species are addressed last, with the same effect.

Of course, the above assumes that those hazards have revealed themselves to the species in some unambiguous fashion, but we need that simplification for the purposes of comprehension.

The Alphas must come first, for the most obvious of reasons: They are the species' primary defense. If they fall, mass carnage is likely to follow. The average members -- the "worker bees," if I may -- come next because they provide the sustenance for all members. The weakest and most vulnerable come third and last by default. This might seem odd to a species such as ours, whose alterations of its environment have been going on for so long that we've largely forgotten what it means for our strongest to be continuously exposed to mortal peril.

Note how the above pattern conforms to the pressures exerted on a species by natural selection.

Adaptation continues in the midst of alteration. The species' characteristics will be shaped by the altered environment even as the environment is changed. The successful reduction of Category 1 hazards will cause non-Alphas to become more willing to "stand in" for Alphas, at least rhetorically. The successful reduction of Category 2 hazards will concomitantly reduce non-Alphas' appreciation for, and admiration of, the Alpha class. The successful reduction of Category 3 hazards will further diminish general appreciation for the Alpha class, while simultaneously increasing the support burdens on non-Alphas and adding to the attractions of being (or becoming) one of those burdens.

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Anyone who says that economic security is a human right, has been too much babied. While he babbles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting the sea, fighting the land, fighting disease and insects and weather and space and time, for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security and that some pagan god -- Society, The State, The Government, The Commune -- must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this inhuman earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is. -- Rose Wilder Lane, "The Discovery of Freedom"

Once active threats to life and limb have been adequately addressed, other demands on men's time will become paramount, in particular the provision of nutrition, clothing, and shelter. These things are easily folded into the conceptual envelope of safety -- "security" and "safety" are near to being synonymous, contextual differences to the side -- and a dependent class for whose safety others have labored is unlikely to distinguish between active threats and the passive sort that arise from inability to see to one's own maintenance...or unwillingness to attend to the necessity.

In effect, a species that protects its weakest members too effectively has created a sub-habitat suitable for dominance by a parasite class.

Among men, such a parasite class will be populated both by the genuinely incapable and by those who are merely unwilling to make their own way in the world. The former will provide political cover for the latter (cf. the "starving widows and orphans" defense for a luxuriant welfare state). It is in the nature of things that the truly incapable will reproduce thinly if at all, generally well below replacement rate. But the unwilling will reproduce according to their whims; worse, they'll attract emulation from the "lower margin" of the capable and willing. The burden they represent on the rest of their society will increase over time.

If the Alphas and worker class agree to accept that burden, it will have several effects. Most significant among them will be an increase in the hazards to which Alphas and workers are exposed.

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A grievance is most poignant when it is almost redressed. -- Eric Hoffer

When he emitted the above, Hoffer was speaking principally of injustices and their consequences. However, the phenomenon extends without distortion to "problems" whose remediation has been successful yet short of complete.

Thomas Sowell has written eloquently on the tendency of our era to view any condition that we'd like to see improved as a "problem" to be "solved." One of his most famous formulations is "There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs." That epigram captures perfectly the nature of any effort to ameliorate conditions which some of us find distasteful:

  • If we can achieve an improvement, it will be at a cost.
  • As the improvement asymptotically approaches a 100% remediation, the cost of further progress increases asymptotically as well.
  • He who is disinclined to consider the costs, perhaps because he's their beneficiary, or has averted them from his own shoulders and wallet, will nevertheless demand a "solution to the problem," rather than accept that the condition cannot be completely and finally eradicated except at infinite cost.

Along with this recognition goes the comprehension of the sub-habitat I discussed in the segment above. This is easily grasped in the context of welfarism. "The poor you will always have with you," said Jesus, and as with everything else He said, this is beyond refutation, for reasons that are easy to see. As the hazards and discomforts experienced by "the poor," however defined, are ameliorated by the labors and sacrifices of Alphas and workers, their sub-habitat will become increasingly attractive to new entrants. Therefore, the "problem of poverty" cannot be "solved." Indeed, among the sub-habitats that will arise, we are likely to find a political sub-habitat, occupied by persons whose livelihoods depend on having "poor people" to "serve," and whose class interests require the expansion of that domain to as large a size as the society can support.

Don't try telling that to a left-liberal, of course.

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Clearly, certain kinds and degrees of "safety" for some create large risks for others. This goes beyond the "Type I -- Type II" risk dynamic Aaron Wildavsky wrote about in "Searching For Safety." It's about habitat, the way a habitat can subdivide internally, and the differential responses of its denizens to such internal divisions.

As with all the other segments in this series, there is no Last Graf. I have no solutions; indeed, as you can surely tell from the above, I disbelieve that "solutions" exist. I certainly won't suggest a stark "survival of the fittest" ethic as a replacement for our species' admirable concern for the plight of the weak and vulnerable. That ethic is what makes us more than just the most efficient predators to arise on Earth. Still, the topic is worthy of extended thought.


Sibella said...

Fran, good columns.

Anonymous said...

Excellent as always, sir.

GregRN said...

Awesome Dude