Evolution, in theory, presumes the change of a species; for example, the ape growing to become the homo-sapien over thousands of years, with new adaptations and skills developing, preferable traits surviving and un-appealing traits 'dying out'. When we look back at the various stages of human-kind's development, we might assume that this evolutionary change occurs over long periods of time. However- this may not be the case anymore.
When we consider that evolution is a process that depends on both the individual and their environment, it's worth noting that the environment of human beings has changed, and rapidly, over the last century. The process of change, previously relatively slow and staggered over multiple centuries due to a particular balance between human and environment, has suddenly accelerated; we have started to develop a level of control (or at least the illusion of it) over our environment.
The blend of culpability in evolution has, until this moment in history, been blurred between environment and humans. Now, as we see a rise of human-sparked change, it begs the question- how much control do we really have? Is there a difference, too, between evolving and de-volving? And, where does revolution fit into this picture?
Charles Darwin was the first to popularise the scientific theory of evolution, a theory... stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.
According to this definition, evolution is something that occurs naturally, so perhaps without any intervention or active engineering. Revolution, then, could be considered evolution that is actively engineered... considering that often-times revolutions are centred around people. This is especially evident in the case of civil rights movements, or even in the industrial revolution - a movement that saw human industrial manufacturing shift the way societies operated.
Evolution has no real agenda, where perhaps a revolution does. Evolution is inevitable, and responds only to it's context- it's not concerned with how humans 'should' end up, or with creating a particular 'ideal'. 'Evolved Humanity' is not an end-point... There is no way to stop time or our environment from affecting us, and vice versa. It does, however, connote positive change, because we seem to be adapting so we can better survive. So, how are we evolving inside our current environment - one in which we seem to have a great deal of control? Is it indeed 'for better' or 'for worse'?
The world we engage in is constantly changing, industry, technology, the kinds of foods we can eat, the kinds of tech we can use, experiential exposure is different with travel, the social constructs... we can have different partners, we can leave relationships and partners and choose to disengage with families and social environments… a blend of societal shifts and access to technology allow completely different patterns to occur inside our lives as a species. If it took us seventy years instead of seventy thousand to get from the homo-sapien to another homo-something, what does that mean for sustainability?
Changes are responses to tension, a response to a conflict, a way to resolve a crisis that has opened up; just as the white moths of pre-industrial civilisation became extinct when their cover was blown in the smoggy streets of metropolis, we as humans have evolved to respond to the needs of our environment; slowly, the Homo sapien became more upright, in order to reach further, go further, achieve more.
The flip side of the idea that it is change that stimulates our growth is, of course, the understanding that certain growth occurs inside stable conditions. It is quite likely that we are thriving when we feel:
in harmony with our internal desires and our environment
a sense of agency and efficacy inside the environment we occupy
like we belong, it is quite likely that we are thriving.
Does this mean that growth relies on comfort? Not necessarily; rather, a state of flow, of being in balance with our environment and able to 'roll with the punches' without strain or trauma. It does beg the question - are we more likely to evolve when we feel we are in a 'flow' zone, or when we're in unsafe spaces where we are forced to change and adapt quickly, and engaging with our fight or flight responses continually?
Despite a lifestyle that connotes an increase of well-being and increased quality of life , there are a number of studies that show mental health problems are related to various behavioural and lifestyle choices that are symptomatic of our ‘modern’ society. There's been no measure of a decrease in mental health presentation - in fact, the opposite seems to be true. Are the technologies we develop impacting our experience of the social world, and therefore shifting the social demands that we face and inventing new and more pervasive threats?
Perhaps anxiety is a remnant of an out-dated sapien model. Anxiety, an evolutionary tool, becomes displaced or has to dissipate somewhere. Evolution is a combination of physical and mental development, and the way you perceive. Is the question not so much what makes us anxious but instead, how we find ways to deal with it, and hence a descent into dysfunction? Are our technologies enabling or covering our anxiety with blankets by replacing them with hyper-stimulation? Or are we beginning to beat anxiety by imposing a revolution of sorts - towards cognitive behavioural therapy and mastering our anxiety, our very thoughts?
Stillness, and the capacity to be self-reflective, is perhaps more possible now than it ever has been before. How will this affect how we evolve? If we are constantly aware of our own behaviour, of the ways in which we interact with your environment- that is to say, you are mindful and alert to the ways in which you evolve and change very day - there needs to be a level of acceptance with the new, and the plasticity of your identity (two ideas that seem incompatible). You need to learn how to connect with, understand and accept. The inability to accept yourself, barriers sometimes placed by your own neurochemistry, is part and parcel of mental health issues. If you are continually changing, there may be a tendency to judge yourself negatively, that this might be the engine behind your rapid changes.
The awareness that we are always changing, and that this is reflective of our ability to be adaptive, is definitely a positive thing- and, this self-awareness is a crucial element towards evolution. Of course, this isn't a new idea; there are many tribal groups in which this has been an ingrained part of their existence, in that self-awareness becomes largely important when one is dependent upon their environment in order to survive. We're disconnected from our own environments (we being the Western World), because we are under the impression that we can control it.
Or, perhaps we as a species have not evolved at all... there are certain evolutionary skills and characteristics that we developed to survive in a pre-industrial context that arguably we should have evolved to relinquish, but instead we've influenced our environment to such a degree that these impulses are continually stimulated and enabled, promising their continued survival as traits despite their relative inconvenience or maladaption.
There is a difference here in which we must distinguish between short term solutions that soothe us versus long term changes that increase our efficacy or cause an actual shift in behaviour - the latter being the thing we consider an evolution. Evolution improves. The idea of de-volution may involve change, too - it might be addressing a need, but rather than adapting to it in an effective way, what happens when we create an environment in which we compensate for the problem by developing short-term solutions that aren't advantageous. One person's devolution, of course, might be another person's adaptation, however... so, in the grand scheme of things, it's rather hard to tell what is and isn't allowing us to move forward and survive better in the future - because we don't know what is around the bend, as much as we may feel we have control over it.
Evolution isn’t a comfortable process. It’s a dream out process, without any signposts that give us a clear hint as to where it is we're going. This is because 'survival of the fittest', or this idea that only positive or successful traits will survive in certain environments, is a very subjective term. The 'fittest', hundreds of years ago, may have been the people who could literally use their physical strength to ensure their survival and therefore guarantee their genetic material was passed on to the next generation. Sure, there are people now who could probably survive well under such conditions (see: gym junkies), but we don't live in a world in which physical strength will determine whether or not (for the most part) we'll live to see another day. What are the things that guarantee our survival, the traits that will be bred into succession, and what are the traits we are not continuing? This is harder to see... especially given that we appear to be living in a state of extreme 'safety' and comfort, in which we dominate and therefore dictate our environment.
Where do we think the next evolution will occur? Do you think it will happen in the back suburbs of modern Australia or in the middle east? Or are we moving backwards? I guess we just have to sit back, and evolve...