Monday, April 29, 2013

The Spirit of a Jewish Mother

                Eli's mother hovered forebodingly beside his bed, hands on her hips, her head shaking slowly back and forth. She always had a way of making Eli sense her disappointment from body language alone. He spent half his childhood feeling like a scolded puppy. 
                This time, she had caught him in a rather compromising position.
                "For God's sake, again?"
                 He quickly covered up and chucked the latest edition of Maxim magazine across the room.
                "MOM! Oh my God!" He hoped an exclamation of utter shock would distract her from present circumstances. It didn't.
                "Don't mom me young man. So this is what you're doing with your life now? You just lie there all day and do...this?"
                "God mom, not all day. Just because you're a ghost doesn't mean you don't have to knock."
                That was stupid. He couldn't control himself.
                "Excuse me? Oh yeah, sure! Lock your dead mother's ghost out of your room! Real nice. This is my soul, you know."
                 Eli's mother was dead, and still she knew how to make him feel guilty.  She even looked the same while doing it apart from the pale, partially transparent skin. She wore the same old dilapidated nightgown he saw her adorn every single night of his childhood. He somehow found a brief moment to contemplate ghost clothing. How can an outfit pass into the afterlife? And is that outfit what the spirit is stuck in for the rest of eternity?
                The exchange continued.
                "It's not that I'm trying to lock you out. It's just...embarrassing."
                "Embarrassing for you? What about me? Having a son who treats his body like it's an amusement park! Do you want to give me a heart attack?"
                "...A heart attack mom?"
                She turned her ghost body and started looking around Eli's bedroom - "What else can I yell at him about while I'm at it?"        
                "And what is going on in here? Did you forget how to clean?"
                There it is.
                "I was going to clean up tomorr..."
                "How can you live like this? It's disgusting."
                "Sorry. You're sorry. I'm sorry. Sorry that I raised such a slob.
                "Ok m..."
                "Why can't you find a girl so you don't have to lie here and waste your life away? Is it so hard? You are a handsome, smart boy. I'd even be ok with you dating a Goy if she distracted you from this nonsense.
                "OK mo..."
                "If you're going to continually abuse yourself, you could at least do it to some nice Jewish girls. Not this Maxim garbage. You could at least get the right image into your head!"
                She hovered quietly for a moment, hands still on hips, head still shaking. It couldn't be over yet.
                "And just how long has it been since you've visited my grave?"
                There it is.
                "Mom, how many times do we have to go over this? You're a ghost. You can visit me whenever you want."
                "Oh yeah, sure, but I better 'knock' first, or I might find my son treating his body like it's the state fair!"
                "Can we please, please stop talking about this now?"
                At that, the ghost of Eli's Jewish mother gave one last sigh, floated up into the ceiling, and disappeared. On the way, she used her lifeless, gray index finger to take a quick swipe of his bookshelf.
                "Would it kill you to dust every once in awhile?" 

For the Betterment of Mankind, Part II - The solution

It may be useful to incorporate something into the everyday lives of humans to remind them of their duty as a species to remain incorporated in evolutionary improvement. This would be an evolutionary "challenge," something that would act discriminately to punish those who chose to embrace idiotic behaviors, reestablishing once again Natural Selection as the ultimate ruler of survival in human populations.

There are many species of predator that could act as such a challenge, wild animals that could easily catch, kill, and consume an incautious human. A lion, for instance, could deal almost certain fatality to a human, if the animal so desired him as a meal or perceived him as a threat. In fact, a human is no match for a lion's stealth, speed, and power. A large serpent such as an Anaconda could also easily swallow and digest even a large human if presented one. However,  its inherent sluggishness and lethargy render it unlikely to manage such a feat, assuming the target is mobile and comprising the five senses. A creature somewhere in between the prowess of a lion and the sluggishness of an Anaconda may well be a good match for a human.

A bear, perhaps, stands as the most appropriate middle ground. Bears can be fierce but often cumbersome, lethal but not exceedingly stealthy, and a human may have a fair chance against a bear, if they are paying heed to their surroundings. Certainly, an unwary human in a famished bear's habitat stands little chance. However, humans have the advantage of intellect, and in a situation where the human is in familiar territory and is aware of the possibility of an attack, he has a fair chance of evading an encounter.

Therefore, and for the betterment of mankind, I propose we introduce bears into society. This will serve a grand purpose, to reintroduce a primal element of Natural Selection into human populations. For without Natural Selection, the idiots continue to reproduce, and our species cannot improve.

This, of course, must be carried out systematically:

Because the United States is the most modern, industrialized nation in the world, its city centers would be the first to incorporate bears. If the goals of this project were being met, or at least if its successes outweighed its failures, bear incorporation could begin elsewhere in the developed world.

It would become legal in all city centers and areas of the US in which bears per capita equaled less than the national average for enough animals to be released to reach that limit. Release of bears would be strictly limited to licensed, federal wildlife officials who were specifically appointed in the management of this project. Specific, mapped points of introduction would be carefully coordinated taking into consideration predicted roaming patterns and habitat usage of each introduced animal, as well as human population densities. This would ensure even dispersion of bears among groups of humans.

Animals to be released would be born of wild bear mothers in captivity, and reared under such provisions until they were able to survive on their own. Thus, the bears would be juveniles at release, old enough to be self-sustaining but young enough to be non-threatening on introduction. This would allow humans in the area to learn the bear's habits before the animal became lethal. Humans who chose to be observant at the beginning would have less chance of an encounter. Only female animals would be released, as to avoid breeding and territorial disputes between individuals.

By growing up in city centers, the bears would learn to live in human areas and to tolerate human presence, which would habituate the animals to human activities and illuminate humans as prey items. Furthermore, naturally occurring bear populations would help keep introduced bears within their desired ranges.

Attacking or killing a bear in situations other than self defense would be punishable by law. All instances of fatality of both human and bear would be thoroughly reviewed by a panel of legal administrators, specially trained forensic examiners, as well as local law enforcement in order to determine circumstances and legality of death.

As to ensure all humans' participation in this project at all times, there would be a strict "no-limits" clause in regard to where the animals could roam. If a bear wandered into a Wal-Mart, college fraternity, or the Jersey Shore beach house, no measures would take place to remove it until it was killed during an altercation or it decided to exit.

Crucial to this project would be to minimize casualties that were not a product of the overall goal. After all, the objectives would not be a drastic reduction in human population size nor to endure copious innocent lives lost. By releasing only enough animals to reach natural, average bear densities per capita, humans would still grossly outnumber bears, and each human's chance of an encounter would remain relatively small. However, the possibility is what would change behavior. One could not completely engross themselves in their fast food burger, bury their head in their mobile device in disregard to the rest of the world, or act otherwise idiotically, because they might get attacked and devoured by a bear. Those that persisted in such a lifestyle would become the individuals most likely to be selected out of the population.

This survival-of-the-fittest schema would drastically increase the overall quality of mankind by producing a human species that was more adept, involved, and aware of their environment. The knowledge that, at every point in the country, somewhere within several miles, there is almost certainly a man-eating bear, would force humans to adapt, to improve. It would force humans to evolve.

For the Betterment of Mankind, Part I - The problem

The defining feature of humans as a species is extreme intelligence. The presence of so many idiots among us, then, is the epitome of irony.

It's true, the idiot is on the rise and can be found in most corners of modern society. Evidence is abundant in your local Wal-Mart, college fraternity, and the Jersey Shore beach house. It has arisen in airports, newsrooms, and city halls, and it is unmistakable on television and the internet. The idiot may be ferociously text messaging on the interstate, boorishly fist fighting at a sporting event, or verbally abusing a Starbucks barista for incorrectly preparing their grande single shot 4 pump sugar free nonfat extra hot no foam light whip stirred white mocha.

Interestingly, humans have exclusive rights to idiocy. After all, there are no idiots elsewhere in the animal kingdom. There are no stupid chimpanzees, no moronic salamanders, and no imbecilic salmon. Indeed, all of these species are less intelligent than humans, but as a collective, and only due to a less evolved brain. In the animal kingdom, the only appropriate equivalent to an idiot is the individual that is promptly selected out of the population. It is the individual that does not survive, the one that is killed by a predator or by one of its own or by other variables in its environment, because it is less fit than others of its kind. And is that not the way it should be? Is that not the beauty of evolution? It is the brilliant simplicity with which the "idiotic" individuals die that so gracefully embodies Charles Darwin's central theory on the evolution of life - survival of the fittest by Natural Selection. In the face of challenges within an environment, variability between members of a population heeds differential survival. It's simple, and Darwin made it clear 150 years ago - the idiots are supposed to die.

Alas, the idiot human does not suffer the same fate as the "idiot" chimpanzee, salamander, or salmon. In fact, the idiot human often outlives the non-idiot human, both in terms of longevity and lifestyle. I return to the the Jersey Shore television show, where exemplar idiots live a lifestyle often dreamed of by the non-idiot. These individuals are rewarded for their unhealthy behaviors, in this case with riches and fame. The more they engage in physical confrontation with others, expose their bodies to copious amounts of alcohol and other harmful substances, and have unprotected promiscuous intercourse yielding more people like themselves, the more success they find in life. This may not seem like a problem, but it is a slap in the face of Darwin. Indeed, any other species cannot take part in comparable behaviors, because each one has its own specific, and prompt, consequence on the overall fitness - and therefore survivability - of the individual. Take a chimpanzee. Say this chimpanzee foolishly challenges a much stronger, more experienced chimpanzee to a fight for dominance of a troop. Defeat for this chimpanzee most likely means death of its injuries - Darwin's survival of the fittest at its height. Conversely, a cast member of the Jersey Shore who demonstrates similar foolishness and who suffers the same end result gets a high-five and a ratings boost. Certainly, the entire, overly tanned Jersey Shore cast may die of cancer caused by harmful UV emissions, or of liver disease resulting from alcohol abuse, but these are only eventualities. Such will not occur before they have had the chance to live auspiciously, reproduce plentifully, and pollute the minds of millions of viewers with incessant bouts of idiocy.

The question must be raised, then, why does a member of the Jersey Shore not have to abide by the same rules as a chimpanzee? Are they not both primates? Are they not both products of thousands of generations of continuing evolutionary advancement? Why are human idiots not enduring their due fates? The answer is a paradox: it is a consequence of intelligence that allows idiots to survive in human populations.

Continuing in the vein of idiots on television, reality TV programs like the Jersey Shore are prime examples of this phenomenon. Despite its noticeable lack of surface value, reality TV is a direct product of human ingenuity. The recognition of our society's attraction to such humans as are found on the Jersey Shore television show has yielded a multi-billion dollar industry cashing in on the promotion of idiots. In this way, we are enabling their idiotic behavior. Such cultural exploitation is strictly human and must be attributed to sheer mental capacity.

Society's attraction to observing idiots on television and elsewhere is widely evident and may serve as an indirect source of their success. However, human intelligence has contributed to this apparent hitch in Darwin's evolutionary scheme in a much more remarkable way. Essentially, humans have manipulated their environment to an extent to which it is no longer evolutionarily challenging. That is, after all, a crucial aspect of Natural Selection. In every other species, environmental challenges, be they predation, competition between or within species, or resource acquisition, are what act on variability between individuals and eliminate those that are not fit to survive. Without such variables, survival becomes easy for all, including those that are less fit. The average, modern human is our prime example. His challenges have nothing to do with his inherent, natural environment. Rather, his problems, the things that really threaten his survival, surround elements of life that he himself has created - automobile accidents, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, war. These are all  elements of a strictly human society, because only humans have the advanced intellect necessary to create them. Even disease, seemingly the only true "evolutionary" threat left to mankind, is largely driven by the actions of humans. Even when it is not, it does not act on behavioral discrepancies, and it does not serve to punish an individual's idiotic behaviors.

In summary, because there is no longer a viable evolutionary threat to exploit human idiocy, the species cannot improve. In part II of this commentary, I will suggest that, perhaps, it would be useful to reintroduce that element of threat into human populations.