Friday, December 15, 2006

Lights, Affirmative Action

I wanted to write about affirmative action. I wanted to have a strong opinion, and to support it with clear and brilliant arguments. But I have had this conversation now with many people, open minded and of many races and backgrounds. And let me make the supreme understatement that people are not of one mind on this issue. How can so many smart and good people completely disagree over whether an idea is even good or evil, let alone effective? And in this confusion I finally found my opinion.

There is neither a perfect answer, nor a good one. Like many great questions, unbraiding its knots leads us back to the beginning of everything. Even if there was no baggage, no history of enslavement and subjugation, we would still form ourselves into groups. If we looked the same, dressed the same, and spoke with the same voice we would find a way to do this. In this make-believe world of identical people we would still find a way to disagree, follow, polarize, compete, and to judge. There would be winning and losing, and their children and grandchildren would be jealousy and hatred. Disagreeing about rules between racial and economic groups, and about where to draw the lines between these groups is just yet another example of dividing into groups. Why must we be this way?

I could say it is because we are human, but that is not the reason. Not at all. It is because we are here. If we were not this way, we could not have become at all. Since the first time a molecule copied itself before the beginning of observed time, improvement has created its own reward. Continuous improvement eventually produced organisms that had such powerful brains that they were able to engage in complex social organization. The same rules applied to their cultures and social structure. In evolutionary terms, the definition of improvement is a change that successfully continues to replicate.

Each that came along was the product of those that survived. We are the proof of the power and elegance of the simple original principle, and the complexity of our minds and bodies itself drives some who study biology to find religion. How could something so complex have been self-emergent? To me, this is a wonderful piece of humor – that simple rules can create a creature so complex that when studying itself, it goes insane. If I were such a creature, I would say that such a terrible joke must have been divinely inspired. But I am not, and when I stare into the infinite abyss I do not see a light. I think I wish that I did.