Evolution’s Eccentricity: Head Injury Savants And The Right Way To Organize Society

Imagine banging your head and suddenly having a talent for piano playing (or oil painting, or doing complex mathematics).

It’s a real phenomenon. Here’s an example:


To my mind, this suggests that individuals are a lot like birds. Birds make nests. It’s what comes naturally to them. You wouldn’t want to get between a bird and its natural impulse. It would be a great cruelty to do so.

So it is with individuals.

A person’s contingent (that is, accidental) history—genetic and environmental—draws him or her to particular orientations, habits, and compulsions to expression.

A good society gets out of this individual’s way. Acknowledging evolution’s experimental nature—its eccentricity—the leaders of a good society don’t presume to know what’s best for individuals. They’re not totalitarian. They set up the conditions for the “birds to build their peculiar nests” and get out of the way. They let freedom ring.

Of course, a bird compelled by its nature to build a nest isn’t really free, nor is a human individual, compelled by her nature to prefer one thing to another, really free. All creatures are slaves to their compulsions, which they acquire via the tyranny of their inherited genes and environment. They don’t choose what they don’t already desire. They’re slaves of inherited desires.

But people are happiest pursuing this slavery, or resisting it, without hindrance, in “freedom,” and don’t really want to be interfered with by paternal forces (politicians, psychologists, clergy, police, bosses, family). Human beings are happiest this way, free to be slaves to their obsessions and compulsions (or to resist them, as best they can, on their own, and through affiliations of their choosing).

Aren’t they?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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