01 January 2012

Baba Brinkman: The Rap Guide to Evolution

Until I watched Canadian actor and rap artist Baba Brinkman give this TEDx (independently organized TED event) presentation, The Rap Guide to Evolution, I was thinking in the abstract about evolution vs. creationism. No more. Baba explains adaptive behavior in a meaningful, real-world manner; why, in areas where life expectancy is low, teenage males are more prone to violence and teenage females are more likely to become pregnant.

"But wait!" Christian Conservatives might protest, "These teens don't have anyone to look up to, someone to teach them moral values." "But nothing," say the statistics. The numbers are the same across ethnic, cultural and religious/moral divisions, around the world. The whole morality issue is removed from the equation

This tells us that the situation causes the behavior. In other words, the situation dictates the perceived * morality, not vice versa. It also explains today's openly hostile political environment where the GOP is catering to the religious right, which attempts to portray inner city teen violent behavior and pregnancy rates as morality-driven. That is a sham... and a shame.

No wonder so many right-wing/religious conservatives are trying to stop the teaching of the Theory of Evolution in our public schools. Evolution isn't merely an alternative view of how humanity came about, it completely challenges the creationist concept of pretty much everything.

In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle blamed the Los Angeles riots on a collapse of family values. While the statement he made is most notable for its stupidity, it did lead to the meteoric rise of family values as a religious right, i.e., right-wing Republican, cause de jour. However, the claim that violent behavior and high pregnancy rates are caused by a lack of morality is ass-backwards. The evolutionary process is very successful at weeding out any carts that try to pull the horse. Hopefully, someday, it will also weed out stupidity.

What can we learn from the evolutionary viewpoint? How will it assist us in implementing sane programs in our inner cities? Quite clearly, it shows that faith-based sex education programs, or suggesting that teaching teens moral values will lower violent crime rates, are doomed to fail.

However, it's also quite clear that merely addressing the symptoms is futile as well. Changing negative behaviors that are happening community-wide will take a comprehensive approach. One that provides access to jobs, high quality schools, sex education, arts, transportation, and whatever else middle and upper-income communities already have, that poorer areas don't. It will also take the patience and commitment of the citizenry and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, over decades.

The problems facing our inner cities (and other poor areas as well, with their own challenges) were born over many generations; there are no evolutionary shortcuts to learning positive, community-building adaptive behaviors. The only sane approach is working with nature, not against it. We are a part of nature; any attempts to distance ourselves from nature is not only foolhardy, it's committing species suicide by evolution.

* Moral judgments are subjective, i.e., many are unique to each culture. In my limited layman's understanding of this issue, "morals," could well be adaptive behaviors  that serve to keep that most basic of animal instincts, "survival of the fittest," under control, allowing humans to live and function in close proximity with others.

 Last edited 2012-01-03 5:57 PM UTC

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