Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

I hadn’t heard the term in a while but it came up the other day–survival of the fittest (SOF). It has always made me cringe, especially when it is applied to new life arriving on the planet, be it sea turtle, squirrel, dolphin, whale or human. It seems so cold, so removed from compassion. So I decided to do a bit of research.

Herbert Spencer coined the phrase as an alternative to natural selection after reading Charles Darwin’s book and Darwin, in the 5th edition of On the Origin of Species published in 1869, credited Spencer with the phrase.

Biologists today don’t really use the phrase but rather use the term natural selection to reference differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. SOF is inaccurate because survival is simply a normal prerequisite to reproduce (duh) and fitness in biology has a different meaning than the way pop culture uses the term. It’s not about how strong or big or fast something or somebody is in biological circles.¬†What Darwin meant by fitness was ‘better able to adapt to changing environments.’

Extinction of various species happens because of large shifts in the environment. So truly, fittest means those animals most suited to their environment.

If we ponder the sea turtle on the coast of Alabama, we see the natural environment has been substantially altered in most locations. Dunes have been bulldozed or significantly altered, light pollution abounds and roadways criss-cross what used to be natural habitat. So sea turtles, in essence, would become greatly reduced due to human alteration of the environment (they have already been greatly reduced in numbers). NOT because of weak hatchlings, but because the environment has been altered to the point where the turtles simply cannot survive there.

And if we look offshore, we see the environment has also been significantly altered through use of nets and fishing practices that have harmed large numbers of turtles. Even though some commercial fisheries vessels use TEDs (turtle excluder devices), not all do. Onshore and offshore, the environment has greatly changed and thus made it difficult for sea turtles to live and reproduce.

I think of cancer rates in humans and mysterious diseases and see that natural selection is playing out in our own species. We alter the environment, fill it with toxic waste produced by corporations, we purchase products by said corporations and invest in the very culprits altering our ecosystems to the point where we cannot survive.

Corporations can donate endless funds to politicians. This opens the proverbial door to the rape and destruction of our planet on a scale unimaginable to us. Profit-at-any-cost is how corporations operate. There is never enough wealth to fill their coffers. So profit-hungry corporations buy more and more into our government (contributing to campaigns), elected officials then ‘owe’ the contributors and therefore legislate to please whoever donated the most money. And no matter what ‘side’ you may lean, the Earth is going to lose and that means you, me, children, wildlife, wild places….all of these precious, sacred elements of this water planet will become expendable as corporate control of our country expands.

People ask why spend so many hours and put so much effort into a nest of sea turtles. Share the Beach was originally formed because sea turtles were not able to adapat to the human-created changes in the coastal environmental. That’s why they ended up protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We have to move beyond the idea that species that cannot adapt to human-created changes (over-fishing, lights, destruction of habitat, pollution) are not worth saving. Otherwise the human species would be extinct…there would be no need for doctors, nurses, medical researchers.

Because we have the ability to be compassionate and recognize value in all life, we can move beyond human arrogance and the belief that altering the ecosystems to suit our own needs is okay. We can refuse to buy into the belief that corporations have the right to continue their pillaging of the planet. For every hour spent holding a space of compassion and light in endeavors to help others, whether its humans or wildlife or wild lands, we magnify the spirit of unity and love that is the answer to healing our wounded world, to healing our own woundedness.

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