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Dave and Anke
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fit for Paradise: Another Angle on Evolutionary 'Struggle'

Ducks at Play by Frank W. Benson

...Nature, red in tooth and claw...
From In Memoriam A. H. H. by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This survival of the fittest... is that which Mr. Darwin has called 'natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life'.
Herbert Spencer

The struggle for life. Nature, red in tooth and claw. The survival of the fittest.

Since Darwin proposed his Theory of Evolution, such bleak slogans have summed a view of natural selection that has resonated perfectly with the conceits and obsessions of civilization.

On the one hand, civilization is supposed to protect us from all that blood, presumably bathing our city walls and plowed fields. On the other, it has been called upon to excuse the eradication of wilderness, appropriation and concentration of wealth, war on every pretext, slavery and genocide.

So I'm sitting here, looking out at the ducks. I've watched them closely through a rather harsh stretch of local winter. Watching for signs of struggle. Shivering misery. Sudden death at the talons of desperate eagles.

Hmm... the eagles are there, alright. Sitting in trees with commanding views, round about this cove. They preen. Look lazily about. Occasionally take flight to change limbs or disappear around the point. They look, in fact, pleasantly, sleepily bored. I haven't seen a single eagle swoop on a duck - this year or last - much less a strike.

The ducks ignore them.

The ducks have been swimming about, diving to feed along the shallows. Socializing. Bathing. Preening. Sleeping, heads tucked cozily under wing. And now that the temperatures have warmed a bit, fornicating. Pretty much what I'm about, behind my windows.

It's obvious that the 'fittest' are those 'fit for Paradise'!

Natural Selection does indeed operate with a measure of bloody death, and total indifference to the comfort of the individual. But the gene pool  is constantly being pruned to express individuals perfectly fit to their environment. Not so much that they are fit, but that they do fit. Natural selection - far from being cruel - blindly fits the living to their environment. Any viable environment comes to be Paradise enow for the life within it.

These ducks pretty much know when to shift (they relocated to open water bights when the bay froze over, were back the day it broke up). Where and how to find morsels clearly delicious to them. When and how to evade their predators, in the main.

It's why predators target the feeble. Predators, too, are bargain hunting. For certain among the prey population, a combination of disease, age and poor luck in the genetic draw or timing can attract sudden and spectacular demise... that which has so caught our imaginations. Most, only one or two of whom could be called the fittest, scamper expertly to safety. One or two in many generations, embodying more advantageous genes, may reach safety first, or more reliably... genes they'll be happy to share.

These ducks out my window have spent a winter in enviable peace and plenty. The plants and fish upon which they feed, have met their end, as individuals. One might say that they are martyrs on the path to earthly Paradise. But I'm not inclined to. Their lives - every pulse of it - was lived in the paradise for which and into which they were born. Part and parcel of a complex and joyous dynamic.

Each and every duck will one day follow, as will, eventually, the entire lineage of ducks. Red death may find them, or misstep, or the strange, sweet dreams of hypothermia. We each of us have our many hours of life. We have but one of death.

Until then, let us eat, drink and make merry in this wild and beautiful paradise.

Behold the fowls of the air: 
For they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; 
Yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.
Jesus of Nazareth

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