Al’s a-Musing: In defense of Darwinism (collegiately, anyway)

Darwinism is a controversial subject. On one hand, it leads scientists toward greater understanding of species diversity and adaptation, at the expense of criticism of creationists as intellectual featherweights. On the other, it leads creationists toward increasingly dogmatic polarity. While I don’t claim to be a Darwinism specialist or a scientist (any of my science professors will tell you that), I have found that the Darwinistic terms of survival and fitness seem to be valuable principles, especially in college.

Survival is a common term that needs no definition, while fitness is a bit more specific. Fitness can be defined as the genetic contribution of an individual to the next generation’s gene pool relative to the average for the population. For everyday purposes, we can vernacularly define fitness as an individual’s contribution. Regardless of your major, every college student minors in survival. Universities serve as satellite stations of the Galapagos Islands for academics. No undergraduate who works and has any semblance of extracurricular activity knows anything other than survival.

Fitness is an anomaly. I, for one, have felt “fit” in a grand total of seven subjects, a pittance for a college senior. Those seven subjects happen to be housed in three buildings, three of the 27 total on campus. That means that, if we go by buildings (buildings are simpler than subjects, and math wasn’t one of my fit subjects), I have a fitness level of a whopping 11 percent, by self-assessment. But survival? There have only been two classes I haven’t survived. Out of 118 credit hours, I have a 96 percent survival rating. While I don’t doubt there are very many fit students who have closer fitness and survival ratios, I think that we as a society have moved past the alpha citizen, “king of the mountain” mentality. I think that fitness is glamorous and a worthy end goal, but survival is necessary, and pragmatic.

But is survival of the fittest a collegiate principle? This I’m unsure of. I think that those who are the most talented, the most gifted and determined will do better than others, but the terms of how we grade their success are so varied and subjective that it becomes difficult to make any type of judgment about overall fitness. If we judge by income (the truest modern Darwinism), then a small echelon of graduates will hold the most value, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to contribution. How do you define contribution? It would appear that what is a simple matter of life or death and sex in the wild is much more complicated in civil society.

As such, I advocate that people learn how to survive. I think that we race ahead of ourselves toward fitness when our survival isn’t really secured. I look at my own academic career with half a grin, half a grimace, and know with a surety of a Darwinist and a creationist combined that my induction and deduction (fancy words for academic survival skills, sometimes synonymous with B.S.) are what have secured my ability to graduate — not any subject, not any study habit, but sheer survival and critical thinking. This, to me, has been far more important and useful than course mastery.

So I say to all within the sound of my printed sermon, survive! Learn how to outlast your academia. Let your courses and studies be centered around this. While I haven’t mastered many courses, I can say that my critical thinking, communication and analysis have served me well as a student and professional, more than knowing the stages of meiosis. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, I believe a good deal of employers will agree. I hope so, anyway.

In summary: survival leads to fitness, which is to say that survival leads to contribution and value. Fitness is a marginal and subjective goal to be achieved. The two feed off of each other.

So go and survive now so you can be valuable later, and by all means, prosper — but for your own good, and not at your own expense.

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Posted by on November 5, 2013. Filed under Columns, Opinion, Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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