I lamented my frustrations with the selfishness of politicians who betrayed those they serve. My friend replied. “Everyone has the instinct to get ahead. It’s survival of the fittest.”
Elected officials saw the writing on the wall. At least, it scared them enough to sell off their own investments. It did not, however, trouble them enough to act on behalf of the public who also had investments at risk.
I lamented my frustrations. My friend replied. “Everyone has the instinct to get ahead. It’s survival of the fittest.” Then it hit me: America has cancer.
The motivation of the politicians was correct, but the explanation for it was not. My friend’s words expressed a common excuse used to justify selfish acts. Biologists avoid survival-of-the-fittest theory because it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. We know the fittest specimens don’t always survive.
I looked at humans like we do any other species — diseases do not see a line between us—and saw a social species. What has helped humans survive and defined us above all else? Empathy and cooperation. I know; it surprises many people.
Cooperation begets society, and society improves our survival. We must trust others to work with them, so we cannot allow members of society to exploit others. There is a reason when I say, “Have you heard the story about the time the downtrodden peasants revolted and attacked the royalty?” that you have no idea what I’m referencing.
It could be the Revolutionary War or the French Revolution. Humans only tolerate a certain amount of inequity before they rise and change everything. Be a selfish fopdoodle at your own risk is the take-home message.
Are you thinking, “what utopian nonsense is this?” This is biology; bear with me.
Humans do not do well living alone. Banishment used to be a death sentence. Many countries consider isolation as torture. We live in societies to avoid the struggle and loneliness. Living with other people allows us to survive, and we become a part of a greater group that may be a city, a state, a country. We devote ourselves to a single task in the service of the greater community.
The roles and interactions in society acted a lot like cells in the human body. Studying cellular biology, I often wonder what the world could look like if people had the same moral code as healthy human cells.
Human cells specialize. That is, they have jobs; none could survive alone. The cellular job market is broad. Many elements of the human body mirror parts of society: law enforcement (immune system), agriculture (the gut), education (white blood cells undergo testing as they mature), shared environment (bloodstream), cooperation/communication (chemical and electrical messages that allow cells to work together).
Perhaps some cells hold critical jobs that could be seen as more important, while others work in supportive roles. Still, it is not in the body’s interest to shunt more energy to the heart (that would be bad) or the brain (also, bad) simply because those tissues could demand even more.
Does this mean every cell receives the same amount of space and resource? No, not at all, and we know that brain tissue commands more energy than other tissues. The distinction here is they receive more for their work, but the greater sums of energy do not come at the expense of other cells. Yes, this assumes enough resources exist, as is often the case in the body and society.
Just as I found parts of the body matched elements of society, a grim reality struck me. Greedy people do have an equivalent in the body. Medical doctors call this cancer.
It’s not always clear why, but sometimes cells change. They accumulate injury after injury. The damage can cause them to behave in ways that hurt others. Normal cells, living around the greedy ones that excessively consume space and energy, may struggle to work because they starve or don’t have enough space to live.
Much like society, the body has a way to handle the cells that hurt the rest. Unfortunately, just as in life, the corrupt cells can sometimes evolve to slip past law enforcement (immune system) detection.
Free from repercussions, these cells take everything they can. They spread to other parts of the body, taking more space and resources. If they cannot be stopped, parts of the body will fail and slowly decline. Death happens when the corrupt take what they do not need at the expense of others.
If cells weren’t a part of a single organism, then this survival-of-the-fittest approach might not spell danger, but that isn’t the reality for cells or communities. No matter how much the selfish cells change, they are a member of a body that remains subject to the actions of all.
It’s hardly earth shattering to say humans are social. We live in groups to improve our chances of survival, and so we grew to be cooperative. We all gain from it, and sometimes we must sacrifice for it.
We have people denying that responsibility, taking as much as they can, and allowing much of our society to suffer for it. This is cancer.
PART TWO: America Has Cancer due 5/20/2020