Survival of the Fittest

One thing about growing up Mormon in a culture that emphasises “emergency preparedness” and food storage, means that one spends a fair amount of time imagining oneself in postapocalyptic scenarios which would necessitate the fruition of such preparedeness plans. You are taught to have 101 contingency plans to react to any possible eventuality ranging from nuclear warfare to cataclysmic volcanic eruption (like if the volcano under Yellowstone really blew, for example) to worldwide virus outbreak. Although at different points in my life I have been obsessed with natural disasters, like volcanoes, or viruses, in every single one of these scenarios where one person surviving the initial onslaught would then have to fight for survival, I always have one reaction: I hope that I just die in the initial apocalyptic scenario, and therefore don’t have to worry about “how to survive”, in the postapocalyptic world.  Fighting for survival isn’t something that I am programmed to do. There is only one reason that I would want to fight for survival – and that is if some other person (or dog) that was physically dependent on me for its own survival had survived.  For example, if Knightley made it through, then I would want to stay alive because he would need my protection.

Why do I begin on this cheerful note?  Well, finishing Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo has me thinking about survival instincts.  My life has been pretty easy so far.  However, I am sure that the easiness of my life directly correlates with my lack of desire for “survival instincts.” I am also sure that, although I may not be equipped to be victorious in any survival-of-the-fittest necessitating event, that the people who populate the slum of Annawadi would be.  My hands are soft; my clothes are clean; and I don’t know what it is like to feel my belly ache with real hunger or have infected rat bites turn into boils.  In fact, my only personal experience with “boils” involves a friend of my freshman year of college roommate, who had a boil and I found sitting on my bed.  I immediately stripped the sheets and washed them.  My own “softness” probably means that in a Darwinian view of the world, my DNA sequence is doomed not to survive in the long-term.  I have no competitive advantages that will position those possessing my genes to emerge the victor if things really got ugly. So perhaps, with that view of things, it makes a little more sense why I haven’t been able to procreate so far.

In our capitalist view of the world, we view the people in the slums of Mumbai as the global “losers” to our competitive enterprise.  They fight over the leftovers while the rich get fat off the top.  And yet, their very survival in the face of so much blatant unfairness is what actually shows that they will ultimately win.  I survive and live quite well because I have benefitted from so many events and attributes that were gifted to me or that just so happen to be “valued” in our current competitive calculus.  Yes, I worked hard in school, but I was blessed with good parents, a great public school system (Anyone who doesn’t believe in a robust public education system for all children should read this book and see just how they are wrong), and many opportunities to learn.  I never had to face the decision to either work to put food on the table or go to school. So yeah, presently, I am on the “winning side” of global capitalism, but only because I benefitted from systemic inequalities to start with. If you take those advantages away, and put me on the streets of Mumbai, I don’t know how long I would make it; but I don’t know how long the any of the global 1% would make it either.

Here is the point, and it is a correlating point to the one that I made last week, so long as human beings remained entrenched in notions of “competitive” economies, we all are only so fortunate as to what we have that is currently being “valued” as a way to earn points in that system.  For every winner, there has to be a loser.  This is a terrifying thought when you really think about it. If that is all there is to life, making yourself successful at someone else’s expense, then I really don’t want anything to do with humanity at all.

Of course, I don’t think that is all there is.  That should, therefore, inform every thing that I do and how I treat other people in every component of my life.

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