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The posts on human genetic decline are purely speculative and ignore that evolution is driven not by purpose, but chance. Evolutionary adaptations are as likely to be random as anything (see fly eye coloration). Humans didn't necessarily survive by being "smart"- brutality and dedication work just fine. The ancient Greeks are a fine example.

In the first millennium BCE, we see the rise of several ancient societies. Mahna Graecia is colonized. These early settlers are tribal and eventually developed into armed city states. The dominance is marked largely bu military capacity, with bronze age cultures dominating the neo-lithic peoples from the third through the second millennium and, in turn, bowing to iron age cultures and the development of steel in the 1st. The later half of the millennium is dominated by warfare as rival city states exert dominance. Later, power would shift to the burgeoning Roman Republic and its wars with Carthage.

So, prosperity and "culture" came not by some clever innovation, but by who could muster more spearmen and superior arms. The first western empires were already developing and empire was already well established in the near East (Egypt,etc). Humanity quickly became its own biggest threat. Rome rose ascendant during this period.

Can anyone honestly say that we are that different from the Romans? It is pretty much the prototype for every subsequent western civilization, either in the republican or, much more commonly, imperial mode.

History keeps repeating itself precisely because humans don't change that much. We just develop better weapons, building materials, etc. But in the end, we are still the same short sighted, superstitious, violent, greedy primates we always have been.

Dave Cohen

So, James, do you actually bother to read my posts?

-- Dave

Brian M

Dave: My biggest skepticism is the thesis that "primitive" humans really understood more directly what was happening to them. To borrow the title of a late work by Carl Sagan, in a Demon-Haunted World, you may see what is happening to you, but you often explain it through references to supernatural forces. Solutions are often invented via deferral to oral "traditions" that may be effective...or may not be.

Dave Cohen

@Brian M

Well, you didn't understand my point, did you?

I didn't say "primitive" humans understood more directly what was happening to them. I said they experienced what was happening to them more directly.

If it didn't rain, or game animals were scarce, you didn't eat. Now, people see food prices go up, or their incomes go down, and they don't know the real reasons why that is happening.

These "primitive" humans would do a little dance, or they would perform a ritual sacrifice, to make it rain, or scare up some animals to hunt. Now we consult economists, who tell us it's only a matter of time before the rains come and the game animals return. Whatever.

I'm sorry, but I'm not feeling very tolerant today, especially after writing a post on how dumb people are.

-- Dave

Tom Durkins

Excellent post Dave. I just finished rereading Jerry Mander's "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television" and your paragraph beginning with "Technological "improvements" in mass media have created a situation in which the consensual Reality..." REALLY resonates with his ideas regarding TV and mass media in general. It's remarkable that the book was written 35 years ago. Even for someone like myself, I find it very difficult to sift through all the human layers of BS that cloud what used to be defined as reality/nature.

BTW, I also liked "The thing about smart people is that they seem like crazy people to dumb people". So true...

~Whipping Boy


A very eloquent essay Dave, and one that I am especially glad to read, having recently been in the company of some human biologists (or is it biological humanists) who seem to take exception to the idea that we are a flawed species from the genes up, with all the attendant dumbness and misplaced egocentricity that you have regularly discussed here.

It does occur to me - and it's the only kind of salvation that has any meaning - that maybe there are genetic mutations walking around among us who have "progressed" beyond the Homos sapiens jail cell, and have gained the apparatus to experience Reality - i.e. they are truly smart, not some mixture of clever/sly/crafty/manipulative/scheming/Machiavellian/me-me-me attributes (yawn).

As you indicate, they would seem like "crazies" to the average human ape, because they conduct themselves way out of the ordinary compared to the dumb normality of the great majority.


I've been wondering whether there's only so much intelligence available, and it's being spread thin over an out-of-control population. Crabtree's pointing out that modern human beings don't have to be particularly sharp to survive makes more sense. Weird, the conviction possessed by people of (mostly inherited) wealth that their riches means that they're smart. We need a restart with people whose position rests on actual achievements.

Mike Roberts

Looks like a very readable post but I don't have time to read it right now, so sorry if this comment is irrelevant. I remember reading a preview of a Sciam Article about increasing IQ scores. If that is right, I suspect that IQ tests measure anything but smartness.


Right on, Dave.

I'm posting this as Exhibit A:


The best and brightest at MIT are really pushing the boundaries of human vacuity.


Evolution isn't a linear process. It waxes and wanes as mutations are selected for, or not, by how they fit (survival of the fittest) their environment.
As it stands, our Western/developed world environment seems to select for any old mutation since we have made an extremely cozy environment for the human, i.e. we look after those with disorders, feed those that cannot feed themselves and so on. As we do, their genes propagate.
It goes without saying that that environment is due for a change.
Whether any of our billions of humans can come up with the necessary mutation to take us further into that changed/changing environment, we will not be around to find out.
But life, once established, is very difficult to fully extinguish and I expect that we will evolve into something that will eventually fit, even if it is another species altogether.
Interesting times, indeed.

Ean "Get me off this Planet" Gray

I have nothing more to add, as it would reduce (or repeat, unnecessarily) the intelligence and clarity of this post. That was a solid analysis-- thanks.

Aboc Zed

i liked your comment very much would appreciate a way to contact you for further dialogue if interested

Brian M

Grumpy! I guess I was reacting more to a "Noble Savage" meme than your post per se. What you point out...sure.

We also have to listen to the pseud-scientific blatherings of "geneticists" who (as you actually do note yourself) have absolutely no means of even studying this issue...but maybe the decline in intelligence is better exemplified by the "media".


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