Submitted by Charles Knighton
In his Time to Reason column of July 26, Mr. Jason Francis takes issue, as so many have previously, with the Social Darwinism espoused by Herbert Spencer. Any who have read Spencer’s work no doubt find his philosophy harsh, but does this harshness render his thesis invalid?
As a species, we’re not as smart as we used to be. My perusal of various studies has led to a belief that human intelligence started to decline when, as Spencer argues, civilization made life easier and allowed dimmer individuals to survive and pass on their genes. I would wager that if an average citizen from Alexandria or Athens of 1,000 BCE were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions.
Stanford University geneticist Gerald Crabtree figures humans reached their intellectual peak 2,000 to 6,000 years ago, when life was so harsh and individualistic that bad judgment generally led to death. Farming progressively led to denser communities where people could collectively ensure one another’s welfare. As a result, evolutionary pressure—the hunt for prey, the avoidance of predators—no longer culls the slow-witted the way it once did. After all, a hunter-gather who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate. Clearly, for better or worse, extreme selection or survival of the fittest, is a thing of the past.