An excerpt from the Chapter 6 titled "Death--The Servant of Life" of the book "Why Civilizations Self-Destruct
by Dr. Elmer Pendell.

How many ancestors have you had in the 100,000 generations of man since the great days of Australopithecus ? Even a computer would be incapable of answering, because many of our ancestral lines have merged.

Nevertheless, the number of your direct ancestors runs into the millions. In your great-grandfather's generation, you had eight ancestors. In the tenth generation before you, you had 1,024 direct ancestors, unless there were some cousin marriages. Since each ancestor had two parents, just try doubling the numbers for each generation. Allowing thirty years per generation, in the last ten generations you had 2,046 ancestors. That many forbears since New Amsterdam became New York !

In the 20th generation before you, you had more than a million ancestors. In 100,000 generations the figures would be fantastic, if it were not for the merging of ancestral lines. With all the genealogy in your family tree, it is not surprising that favorable variations and mutations, together with the elimination of the tribal members who did not share them, have given you some special talents--most importantly, talents that have to do with thinking.

Unfortunately, a great deal of suffering took place as these favorable mutations and variations were imprinted in your heredity. The evolutionary process brought about the untimely death of countless individuals who lacked favorable variations and mutations. Hunger, cold, accidents, germs and carnivores also took a frightful toll. Yet, among the many millions of your direct ancestors, not one was a victim of infant mortality. Every one of your forebears had what it took to survive ! Otherwise, you would not be here.

As an example of evolutionary extremism, we can point to the Black Death. What more conclusive proof do we need to show:

(1) That the benefits of civilization are not free;
(2) That evolution's wild, almost hit or miss, method makes evolution awfully costly;
(3) That human reason has done a good job breeding domestic animals and plants, and could also do a good job, given the chance, with humans.

The Black Death struck England in 1348. Within two years, says the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, "a loss of one-third of the population appears to be indicated in many cases, and a much greater loss in a few villages and towns."

Before the plague struck, the English people had been increasing for many years and were outstripping the food production necessary to keep them alive. Conditions were verging on famine when the Black Death arrived from China via Italy.

In London nine-tenths of the inhabitants were lost. Although "lost" seems to imply harm, this is one of those instances in which a short-run minus can be a long-run plus. As a consequence of so many deaths, labor was scarce and land became plentiful. Wages shot up in spite of "controls." Enclosure of lands for use as sheep pasture was profitable. All in all, Englishmen who survived the plague were more secure and worth more per capita than the more numerous Englishmen of the previous era.

There were also some genetic benefits. The Black Death was bubonic plague in combination with primary pneumonic plague. Fleas transported on rats were the main carrier. The Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences tells us that the proportion of deaths among the "richer classes" was low.

We may safely assume that the "richer classes" included more than an average proportion of capable people, and that the crowded slums held more than their share of incapable people. Also, since intelligent persons, whether rich or poor, are more careful about rats and insects than unintelligent persons, a smaller percentage of the former would have been bitten by the infectious fleas. In Scotland, "the meaner sort and common people" comprised most of the plague victims.

The Black Death, a concentrated dose of evolution, helped to usher in a society which was more efficient than the one that had preceded it, while it also set the stage for the agricultural revolution. Because of the scarcity of workers, more attention had to be paid to developing labor-saving devices for the farm. Freed by necessity from the "web of custom," more analytical minds went to work. A new wave of prosperity encouraged improvements in maritime trade, which in turn was a stimulus for the industrial revolution.




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