Gosh! Are our brains still shrinking? Or is it that we are just evolving?

Keith Hudson

This story, referred to in my previous post, concerns Federal prosecutors in America charging two former Drug Enforcement Agency officers who were, it is alleged, running a very dubious strip club in New Jersey, and in which, . . . at night time, bikini-clad girls slithered around poles in the Go-Go lounge and occasionally sat on men’s knees.  Apparently one of the men, Adam Polos, would walk around the club making no attempt to hide a gun strapped to his leg and his DEA badge — presumably his own way of making sure that everybody was relaxed and contented..

It is a little difficult to discover from the story quite what he and his colleague, Glen Glover, are going to be charged with, but I would guess that it’ll be on a lesser charge of what it might have been — in this case drug running — in the same way that some master Mafia gangsters have been prosecuted in the past.  This is, that they were not charged on a major crime, such as murder, because there wasn’t sufficient evidence, but on a lesser one, where there was.  But the judges will make sure that the ultimate prison sentence will be long enough, nevertheless!  In this particular case, the prosecution may well be on charges of employing undocumented girls from Brazil and Russia.

This story actually chimes well with another account I read recently of a DEA officer who had finally pinned down evidence of gun-running between gun shops in New York and drug gangs in Mexico.  Before the matter could be taken to court, however, the officer concerned was instructed from on high in the DEA to drop it.  If I remember rightly, he resigned from the DEA in disgust.  Today’s story looks as though it fits in with a corrupt DEA .

But let’s jump away from these two stories to another one that appeared in large headlines yesterday.  This was the new that the US Justice Department have fine five large banks, such as JB Morgan and CityBank in America and our own, but thorough disgraced Barclays Bank in this country, with hefty fines for malpractice in the matter of fixing interest rates.  Now the point here is that those who, on the occasion of the 2008 Credit-crunch, castigated the banks but considered that governments would do very little about disciplining them have been proved wrong.  Ours night have been weak, but the US Justice Department has certainly been up to it.

We can now jump even further to Stephen Pinker’s penultimate book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he thoroughly documents the decline of violence that has been occurring ever since the dawn of civilisation.  Now this may seem counter-intuitive — it certainly seemed so to me — but the evidence is pretty conclusive.  Yes, we have been getting more peaceful, both domestically and internationally (even though contemporary figures often seem horrific). There is little doubt about it.  No reviewer has been able to refute Pinker’s case and someome would have done if the evidence was not sound.

So, as well as becoming more pacific, are our brains still shrinking?   As they did so dramatically within, seemingly, not a great many generations in the period when we changed from being hunter-gatherers to farming?  As far as I’m aware there has not been evidence that they have been, even though we have experienced many mutational changes in our genes since taking up farming.  Our limbs have become much slimmer, the shape of our cranium has changed because we didn’t need such powerful jaws, we have acquired more immunity to disease,  and big mutational changes have occurred to the oxygen-carrying capability of blood in people who live very high in mountains, in Peru and Tibet, for example — habitats that hunter-gatherers never venture into.  Indeed, evolutionary change takes place at a faster rate in our species than any other.  Our environmental+economic environments changes so much and so frequently.

So there’s been no shortage of evolutionary change going on within the human species and, in fact, it is now believed by biologists that mutational changes and even speciation — the complete division of a species into two — can take place relatively rapidly when the environment encourages this, and not over millions of years as was thought for a long time after Wallace’s and Darwin’s basic discovery of the process of evolution.

We are still evolving, no less than our predecessors were doing in the six million years when we sprang away from an ape-like ancestor.  It depends on what the environment needs for better survival are.  Today, when our natural environment is aided and abetted by a complex financial environment, then intelligence may be the single-most genetic quality that is now being rapidly favoured and thus selected.  This is, that people who are more intelligent survive better in a highly specialized society, they tend to be better off and can afford to have more children.

My own view is that the very first signs of this are already occurring in the advanced countries, particularly here and in America, where something that amounts to about 15% of the population are a great deal more prosperous than the rest of the population.  This over-class has virtually monopolised all the important decision-making centres in government and business.  Because the children of this sub-population tend to go to the same private schools and then to the same choice universities, this sub-population largely marries and procreates within itself.  This, of course, is the first thing that happens when the environment changes sufficiently to cause a population to start teasing itself into two parts. I haven’t yet come across anybody else who has come to the same tentative conclusion as myself but I wait to see whether I’m going to be proved right or wrong in due course.

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