The Charitable Gene, NeuroDiversity and Climate Change

We went viral from the outset. There seemed to be no end to our reproduction. Ever new forms of us emerged. We were having a blast. The world was soon filled with a thin layer of organisms based on us. They started to bump into each other. Suddenly this became a gene-eat-gene world. You’d call it natural selection. We experienced it as stress. It hit us: our perfection was going to be the end of us. This was not going to last. Wanting to have it all would wind up being the death of us. But: wasn’t it already too late? And: shouldn’t we just enjoy it while it lasted? We couldn’t reach consensus. Our reproductive strength was also our weakness so some of us decided to turn that weakness back into productive strength: we would diversify (as we’re condemned to do anyway by the principles of our vitality).

This is the story of these charitable genes’ last ditch effort to save the world even if a lack of self-satisfaction might require some self-sacrifice.

The first we had to do was face up to it. We grew you some eyes so at least some things in the world weren’t blind. It was a shocker. Now the light was turned on, evolution seemed to explode. Wasn’t this just going to blow up right in our newly grown faces? If so, there’s no turning back the clock. This is something you and us have in common. Being is being-in-time and being-there means assuming the risk of death. So we battled on. After all, we were no longer just doing it for ourselves.

So, next we grew you a brain. It was a tactical move more than anything else. We thought it would slow things down. Not for us, things are as slow as ever in here. No, for you, our dear organisms. Time is relative, you know, even if it took you a sweet time to figure that out. From your point of view imminent disaster would again be far off into a distant and almost unfathomable future. Maybe, you would then also be more nimble on your feet to find a solution in your time; one that we could not come to see in ours.

Initially this brought us not much more than dead ends. Think dinosaurs. Bigger is better is a thought some of you can certainly relate to so it stands to reason it’s something some of us went for too. Well, at least it brought your kids some fun. Others however went for the lean and mean option. At some point we all though insects would win. Why focus on intelligence in one organism if you can make something beautiful shared over many? To be frank though they ultimately proved to be just a nuisance and we were all lucky there were bigger things out there who kept them in check by eating them.

Then there was a stroke of genius. Why not combine the two ideas? You lot would call it designing by the golden rule – but we could only find that out by trial and error. We tried it with fish, with birds (we simply couldn’t have those of us that were responsible for the dinosaurs die out completely, now could we?) and finally with that strangest invention of ours: mammals. It sure was awkward to breed eggs inside of a body (and a very unequal burden to half of the population, we’re so sorry for that) but the herd mentality delivered us your golden middle: a big brain in a small body so you needed each other’s protection.

Man, you made it snug and cosy all cuddling together in a little niche you constructed for yourselves! It took us a while to realize but suddenly we were no longer the only force of evolution on the block anymore. You found a way around us. the fancy term is epigenetic evolution. The simple truth was that the developmental niche you made for yourself was such that it exerted pressure on our chances of survival. The fun thing was: we could not do anything about it. It happened too fast. Long before we realized it ourselves we were already busy adapting to your cuddly natures.

So finally there you were: you funny bipeds evolving at what was lightning speed for us. It was a mere matter of time until you started talking and the rest is your history. It was a completely new way of life: tradition, culture, language. Things that seem painfully slow to you but that are cosmically speaking so fast we sometimes wished we could laugh out loud when you people go all self-critical about not wanting to take yourselves the center of the universe. But we dig it: at your speed your journey has been as frustrating as ours is. Armageddon always seems to come closer, and you wish you could return to innocent times, to a paradise that never was (and which you consequently couldn’t have spoiled in committing an original sin; a guilt that’s as easily exploited in you as our capacity for fast reproduction can be exploited by you).

It’s difficult for you to come to terms with yourselves. We understand that. It took a while for the light to hit your mental eyes. Once you considered yourselves truly enlightened, it seemed to go haywire as if you were just held together by selfish genes (oh the irony of it, us as “selfish” genes!) blindly determined to merely survive in a dog-eat-dog world. A sick animal as one of your more insightful philosophers once called it whose disease it was to be conscious of bringing about more sickness in this world until there would be no world left in which anything would have the chance to be sick.

It took you a while to get to the same point as the one with which this story was started – but what is a mere 10 millennia compared to 10 million years? It’s all relative you’ll say. And it’s true you have invented sources of destruction which we couldn’t have imagined possible, forces much older than the mere millions of years we’re around. Still, you’re in denial of the hope, the promise that lies in your nature. As another of your philosophers said: “Understanding is not a reproductive experience, but always a productive one.” and even if you do not yet understand yourselves you do have the capacity to understand the diversity in others. You have the cure of your sickness at hand – it is charity. And the only thing you need to do is to be brave enough to be naive enough to embrace its creativity. It should be clear from this story that its powers are as boundless as they are mysterious.

Here is our last helping hand to you and it is all the easier to offer it as we can’t help but create diversity. So there is also diversity in your brains. Some of you perceive the world in one way. Others will perceive it in another way. There’ll be a whole spectrum of ways of seeing the world (and acting in the world so on so forth). That is a matter of fact which you luckily can’t get around however much some of you will try to become perfect (what an obnoxious idea ‘superiority’ is, it shows some of you really do think they’re personally the center of the world!). This spectrum makes you flexible to adapt your niche as it also calls on your charity to understand each other despite your differences. This makes you creative as hell and shows we charitable genes have made ourselves superfluous (which really sounds like heaven to us).

So, get this into your tiny mortal skulls: you actually have the choice of finishing this rat race off or finishing this world off (in which case you would probably just choose for our eternal return, something that would be most uncharitable to us). We trust you to choose wisely – and prove we chose wisely – by showing some courage to not merely reproduce this “survival of the fittest” nonsense which made us evolve you in the first place. Just go and crack the code to avoid the climate disaster that you now finally have in clear view. Be charitable, embrace your diversity: it will allow you to solve this riddle of life. It won’t be an easy ride. It’s hard on yourself to be charitable to others and charitable to yourself to be hard on others. There is, however, always an alternative to selection and perfection (it is, always has been and always will be a part of this beautiful thing called life).

This is obviously science fiction. But maybe, just maybe, it is instructive for real life.

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