The Evolution Of Civilization
How perpetual conflict between agriculturalists and pastoralists shaped human history by forcing the invention of cities
Despite being misrepresented as “the survival of the fittest” — an unfortunate phrase that nowhere appears in Darwin’s work — evolution is in reality a process of organisms continuously adapting to their environment. As there are many elements operating in most environments it follows that such adaptations must balance competing requirements. By way of trivial example, an animal that invests its metabolic energy in growing a 3-meter-thick outer carapace will almost certainly be impervious to the attempts of other creatures to consume it. Unfortunately, however, it will also find movement rather difficult and this may present significant problems when attempting to gain access to sufficient water and nutrition.
Furthermore, adaptations can only be accomplished on the back of whatever traits the organism already possesses. As has been noted by many evolutionary biologists, evolution is a never-ending series of imperfect improvisations. Nature can’t go back to the drawing-board; instead, it must work with what already exists.
This is why, for instance, we humans often suffer from back problems as we age. Our spines originally evolved to support four-legged locomotion and struggle to cope with our present two-legged gait. For all the inane babble about “intelligent design” it’s apparent upon closer inspection that every animal must deal with equivalent tradeoffs and perfection is nowhere to be found. Moreover, as calories are scarce, species are often forced to specialize because there’s not enough energy available for a multi-faceted approach. Birds, for example, often have beautiful plumage or complex song; rarely does any species of bird enjoy both for each requires considerable investment of metabolic resources. We humans specialize in cognition (albeit very imperfectly); we consequently have weak muscles, feeble nails, and unimpressive jaws. Conversely sharks are notable for the paucity of their literature but are famous for being aquatic killing machines.
Evolution doesn’t just happen at the level of the individual. Despite the idea being contentious among biologists who grew up with a simplified…