Size matters, but it doesn’t make you superior. I’m talking about finch beaks, of course. In the last political campaign we heard a lot about size, but more thoughtful commentators are speaking of evolutionary change or correction. So it seems appropriate to revisit one of Darwin’s original observations of evolution in action.
Finches eat nuts, and they need to break the nuts with their beaks. Depending on the prevailing climate, available nuts are either large and hard or small and delicate. Finches with big beaks are good at eating hard nuts, but they starve to death when the nuts get small. And vice versa. The lesson, as Darwin saw it, is that evolution rather quickly selects for the beak size that fits the available nuts – that is, “survival of the fittest.”
Human beings adapt to their social environment in similar ways. People who are thriving in the current social environment have, metaphorically, the right sized beaks to consume the available resources. This says nothing about the appropriateness of the environment or the inherent superiority of its denizens. All it says is that, in a particular social environment, some people are better adapted to survive than others.
So-called President Trump clearly has the right sized beak for the current media-driven social environment – he is eating it right and left. At the same time, he is cynically promising the people with wrong-sized beaks that he will change their environment so they can eat better. He and his coterie of disrupters can’t do that, but the boastful promises are part of their big media beaks.
Of course, the social environment is “us,” collectively. We should be concerned about how we are supporting an environment in which Trump and the alt-right crazies are adaptive. Is it just our acceptance of social mediated news? Or does it go deeper into our reluctance to accept collective responsibility for our social creations?
It is time to revisit Berger & Luckmann’s observation in their classic 1967 text, The Social Construction of Reality (edited for gender):
… Despite the objectivity that marks the social world in human experience, it does not thereby acquire an ontological status apart from the human activity that produced it…. people are capable of forgetting their own authorship of the human world, and further, that the dialectic between people, the producers, and their products is lost to consciousness…That is, people are capable paradoxically of producing a reality that denies them.
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