August 2, 1990

Human Predators

Such quackeries suck in the botched, and help them on to bliss eternal. When these botched fall into the hands of competent medical men they are very likely to be patched up and turned loose in the world, to beget their kind.

H.L.Mencken: Chiropractic, 1924

We hear a lot these days about the essential role of the predator in natural ecosystems. Some people are proposing the re-introduction of the wolf.

One purported function of the predator, besides surviving, is to destroy the weak and infirm; the dull individual who doesn't have the sense or quickness to escape; the individual who doesn't have enough sense to remain on safe turf. As a consequence, the cleverest and fastest of the prey remain to reproduce their kind.

To date, I have heard no one, except the sheep and cattle ranchers, say that "natural" predation is bad. There has been no outcry to protect the fawn from the mountain lion. The same people who find the human hunter an abomination may even admire the mountain lion. At least they can see its function in the total scheme of things.

Many who extol the role of the mountain lion or wolf, decry the activities of similar human predators. It doesn't occur to them that the deer who fall prey to human hunters are the weak, slow, stupid and unlucky ones. A large buck got to be large by virtue of his intelligence and speed, plus a little bit of luck. It's the rare hunter who bags a trophy buck in his prime. Usually he kills some young buck who has neither the sense nor the agility to escape, or an old buck who has lost his agility or good sense. The hunter serves the same function in nature as does the mountain lion. As a predator, he really isn't any improvement over the mountain lion. Give the mountain lion a high powered rifle and man would be on the road to extinction. Anyone who thinks that the hunter kills the best of a deer herd doesn't know much about hunting. The hunter may claim to do so, but hunters, like fishermen, are notorious liars.

Since there are no longer any significant predators of man, he has created his own. There are human predators who prey on their fellow humans. They serve the same purpose as the mountain lion does to a herd of deer; they cull the weak, stupid, slow and infirm and, thus, improve the species. Who are these human predators? They go by many names: dope peddlers, quacks, faith healers and many others.

How do predators improve the species? They do so by increasing the chances that a mentally more agile pair of individuals will out-survive and out-reproduce a stupider pair.

This "selection" process not only applies to genes, but to cultures. Cultures which reproduce well and take good care of their young, are better able to control their environment and food supply, are more likely to survive over cultures which live under constant risk. Cultures which band together for their mutual benefit may do better than strictly individualistic cultures.

There is a value in genetics called "reproductive fitness". It can be given a numerical value and equated against other such values. A gene or a variety with high reproductive fitness will do better in the competition for survival than will one with a lower value. It is a complex value and it is not solely dependent on the number of offspring; but takes into account the number of offspring that survive and, in turn, also reproduce. It can also be applied to races and cultures. A celibate priesthood reduces the reproductive fitness of Roman Catholics. By the same token, not practicing birth control will increase Catholic reproductive fitness.

Since what these human predators are preying on is me and mine, I detest them. Yet, I have to admit that they may serve an important function in society. When a Christian Scientist's child dies of some treatable disease, I sympathize with the parents, because I, too, am a parent; and I know the pain that they must be feeling. Yet, as a scientist, I can also say that the death of that child and others like it, reduces the reproductive fitness of Christian Scientists. Incompetent physicians tend to cull the people who believe in them rather than in the power of prayer.

How I react to human predators is in a large measure a function of whether I consider myself as one who can easily outwit them or whether I see myself as the prey who is about to be killed.

I am quite able to outwit the ones who expect the willing participation of their victims. Those with guns, I would like put away. I am not at all sure about the ability of my children and grandchildren to outwit the con artists, so I have an emotional stake in getting rid of them as well.

As a scientist, I find it very hard to be objective about the whole business. I think that I'll disqualify myself as a judge of human predators. Or should I call them cannibals?

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