Friday, April 25, 2008

Compensating to Evolve

Humans are probably not unique in perceiving their inadequacies and trying to do something about it. One of the beauties of mother nature's genius is the elasticity of animals' behavior. Some more than others, but those of us critters who have survived a few hundred thousand years are pretty good at changing our behavior in response to our environment. It's all to further the species. We're each an experiment in the drive for survival. Those of us who make successful choices (survivalistically) are, on average, more likely to propagate their genetics and learned behaviors to the next generation of experiments.

We humans are particularly elastic in our behavior ... to a fault. We get so neurotic over our deficiencies (real or perceived) that we end up choosing remedies which make no sense at all.

Ever see a guy at a party make a totally bonehead move with a chick? One that would never, in a million years get him laid? What goes through your mind? Yup, "Desperate."

Ever seen a chick with more piercings than teeth? Maybe some tats and a bad attitude to go with it? "Desperate."

      How about the sexy Hollywood type who makes a hundred mill in a couple years and then spends the next decade shuttling between court, rehab, and bed? Same word comes to mind for me. Desperate.

        Your annoying brother-in-law with the constant need to best your every story. "You think YOU had it bad - I was raised by alligators!" Desperately desperate.

          Or the guy whose whole identity is performing ridiculous death-defying stunts ... the bloodier the better. You know the dude: he was the one at the bar last night showing everyone his scabs and scars. Or maybe your little sister brought him to the family picnic. Double desperate.

However counter-productive one's choices end up being, if we take an evolutionary view, I don't think we can fault any individual for them. In them, we are switnessing one tiny slice of the overall attempt by the species to further survival. One's choices may seem illogical, harmful, or otherwise counter-survivalistic on an individual level. We can blame them on uncontrollable forces, our genes, or our parents. However, looked at from a macro species perspective, they are quite useful. Perhaps the likelihood of their success is low, but it's quite possible that one of these wacky, counterintuitive choices could lead to a whole new evolutionary branch and extend the extinction countdown timer by another few hundred thousand years. Otherwise, how would we ever get bizarre-o critters like the dancing Bird of Paradise or the Anglerfish or the Bloodbelly (see pics).

Frankly, even at an individual level, I see legitimate (dare I say rational?) reasons for such actions. Freaks and grumpy moments aside, humans are a social species. In fact, we've evolved down that track to the point that we are inter-dependent. In order to live the lives we are accustomed to, we need the support and cooperation of many, many other members of society. We need to be allowed to be part of the clan, which means we need to be relevant to it. We're not comfortable unless we "carve out our place" by making our own unique contribution. Like Peter Gabriel, we all "want to be wanted ... need to be needed ... love to be loved" If one of us perceives that he's not desired by the group, he changes himself. If that doesn't work, he tries something else a bit further "out there." He's barking up the wrong tree, but instead of trying a different one, he just barks louder and more desperately. Eventually, if he never feels that warm fuzzy comfort zone, he's off doing things that are horrifically bizarre and destructive.

Bottom line, he's trying to compensate. Just as we all do.

The straight-A student who cries at not getting to be editor of the school newspaper.

    Those boisterous inner-city teens on the subway who vomit a steady, 100-decibel stream of profanity until they reach their station ...

    The Chinese immigrant's daughter who started ballet at 4, piano at 8, tennis at 12, Harvard at 16 and coke at 20.

    The un-athletic momma's boy who ends up wearing skirts and high heels, getting groped by men in dirty clubs by the time he's 21.

    The bond trader who drops fifty grand on an inside straight draw with his co-workers in Vegas. Weekly.

    The 80-year-old bazillionaire who is still at the office by 6am daily.

    The kid-of-a bazillionaire who can't but anounce that fact to everyone he meets.

    The gay guy who's been to 50 countries on 5 continents (and had a conquest in each) by the age of 30.

    The governor who gets caught with the ten-grand hooker (finally)

    The chick who keeps going back to her abusive husband.

All desperate for something. All trying to compensate. All trying to overachieve in their own right in a desperate, breathless race for relevancy. I understand; I sympathize ... 'cause I'm a lot like 'em, and neither are you.

Photo credits:
Bloodbelly, Anglerfish -

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